Tronc and Investor’s Business Daily are working together on a paid newsletter

With duopoly-squeezed publishers on the hunt for more reader revenue, some have joined forces to go after it.

Tronc and Investor’s Business Daily are launching Trophy Funds, a paid newsletter product designed to give its readers advice on investing in mutual funds. IBD staffers, with some input from Tronc, will create the content, while Tronc’s consumer marketing and audience teams will handle marketing and build an audience for it. Subscriptions cost $7.99 per month, and the publishers will split the revenue; while exact details of the arrangement were not disclosed, the split is “pretty equal,” according to IBD President Jerry Ferrara.

The two publishers hail from different corners of the media landscape – Tronc’s roots are in the newspaper business, while IBD’s are in delivering a specialized, finance-focused publication – both have tried to diversify the paid products they offer to readers, and both say the partnership could be the start of a broader trend — not just at their respective companies, but across the digital publishing landscape.

“I think it’s super important, for independent publishers in particular,” Ferrara said. “If you’re not part of a giant publishing house, it’s going to get increasingly difficult to do it on your own.” 

Trophy Funds, which publishes monthly, will feature a combination of introductory articles (the first issue includes an article titled “Mutual funds 101”), lists of high-performing mutual funds, in-depth looks at specific funds and strategies for how to beat the performance of the market. Each issue is expected to run around 16 pages.

Although the price point is significantly lower than many of IBD’s products, the most expensive of which costs $1,500 per year, Ferrara said the level of sophistication is the same. “We didn’t really hold anything back,” he said. “We took the same scope we normally have.”

Trophy Funds is IBD’s first foray into finance newsletters, a market Ferrara is eager to wade into: IBD estimates the market for paid financial newsletters is easily worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

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That’s good news for Tronc, which has made growing its subscriber base a high priority over the past year. It reported a total of 220,000 digital subscribers in the second quarter of 2017, according to the company’s filings. That was up 89 percent from its 2016 second quarter, but it also barely eked out $6.8 million in net income for the quarter, against revenues of $369 million.

While some of those subscribers were people who signed up for digital subscriptions to Tronc’s core products, which include large metropolitan dailies like the Los Angeles Times, a large number were people who signed up for one of Tronc’s new paid newsletters. Trophy Funds is the fourth paid newsletter Tronc has launched this year, along with Heart Monitor, a newsletter about cardiac health; and Retire Ahead, a financial advice newsletter. Unlike Trophy Funds, all three were produced in-house by the Tribune Content Agency.

To build an audience, Tronc will begin by targeting its free newsletters’ subscriber base, as well as readers interested in finance content. It will also use segments of its audience for look-alike targeting on Facebook and Google, according to Mark Campbell, Tronc’s svp of digital marketing.

Although the first three newsletters Tronc launched this year seem targeted at the grayer edges of its customer base, Campbell said Trophy Funds is different. “It’s less about age and more about behaviors and other types of content affiliations,” he said.

Note: This story has been updated to reflect the monthly cost of a Trophy Funds subscription and to clarify Tronc’s digital subscriber growth. 

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