Tronc starts its new digital strategy with a majority stake in product review site BestReviews

Tronc, the company formerly known as Tribune Publishing, announced today that it now owns a majority stake in BestReviews, which publishes in-depth reviews of consumer products. According to an SEC filing, Tronc agreed to pay a total of $66 million, including $30 million in cash and $36 million in Tronc’s common shares, for a 60% stake in BestReviews.

In another announcement today, Tronc said that it intends to use funds from the sale of its California News Group, which included the Los Angeles Times, to focus on a new digital growth strategy that includes investing in or acquiring more online companies like BestReviews.

BestReviews’ current owners will retain minority ownership and continue to manage operations.

Founded in 2014, BestReviews is similar to other review sites like the Wirecutter and Consumer Reports in that it buys products for reviews, instead of relying on company-provided samples, and publishes detailed articles with information about how items were tested and ranked. The site claims it now has more than five million monthly unique visitors.

In statement, Tronc chief executive officer Justin Dearborn said “BestReviews dedication to independent and high-quality content aligns with our ongoing mission to provide valuable information and experiences for our readers. We look forward to combining BestReviews deep product research and fully optimized commerce engine with Tronc’s digital properties, a combination which we believe will strengthen our e-commerce efforts.”

The Wirecutter was acquired by The New York Times in fall 2016 for a reported $30 million in cash. Like Tronc, which owns newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News and the Baltimore Sun, the New York Times wanted to expand its “service journalism” category.

Publishing in-depth product reviews not only attracts more online readers, but also creates a new revenue stream, since sites get a portion of sales made through e-commerce affiliate links. So far, the New York Times’ purchase of the Wirecutter has been worth it. In September 2017, about one year after the deal, the publisher said the Wirecutter’s sales had grown 50 percent thanks to new categories that expanded its scope beyond tech products.

Tronc is trying to recover from a difficult transitional period after investor Michael Ferro Jr., former owner of the Chicago Sun-Times, took over as its majority shareholder and chairman two years ago amid controversy and clashes with other investors. Its challenges have included a much maligned name change, an AI strategy that was also widely ridiculed, layoffs at several of its publications, including the New York Daily News, and conflicts with journalists at The Los Angeles Times, which Tronc recently sold to healthcare billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong.