For Shaw Media, the most promising source of digital revenue growth is through their digital subscriptions, which is why the organization recently launched Shaw Local, a digital local news network covering northern Illinois. It includes all of Shaw Media’s local news coverage from its 53 Illinois newspapers and magazines.
According to J. Tom Shaw, vice president and chief product officer, the discussions for what would become Shaw Local goes back to 2019 when the organization was self-reflecting on their successes and the failures. They had experienced a few years of digital subscription growth, but it had traditionally been a small percentage of their total revenue. So, they began to explore how to grow it. Research suggested that by chasing a larger audience there would be a better chance of growth.
Once Shaw Media landed on expanding their brand, they upgraded their technology, including a switch to Arc Publishing, the Washington Post’s content management system. From there, Shaw Local was created.
Shaw Local launched on Dec. 18, 2020. It is available online at ShawLocal.com and as an app, which can be downloaded at all major app stores. On both platforms, users will find stories from all publications sorted by sections such as news, high school sports and the coronavirus. In the drop-down menu, users can also access the website of individual Shaw newspapers. The app also includes additional sections such as Starved Rock County, which promotes tourism in the greater La Salle County area. Shaw explained that a subscription to one of their newspapers allows users access to Shaw Local and all publications.
Previously, Shaw Media’s news consumers may have had trouble getting into another publication’s website even though the policy was that a consumer subscribed to one publication could have access to others. Shaw explained that the old technology required nearly 30 different URLs to talk to each other and caused some troubleshooting. Now, with Shaw Local that issue has completely vanished.
When E&P spoke with Shaw, Shaw Local had only been live for a month. However, he said early indications show it has been well received, and readers are enjoying the extra content.
Moving forward, Shaw said that they are trying to identify what regional content might be relevant to a local reader. For example, there might be football teams from two cities they cover playing against each other.
Shaw explained that the organization currently still has many print readers, and the bulk of their revenue comes from print, but they are aware that this won’t always be the case.
“Our goal is to grow our top-of-mind awareness of us as a significant news brand in Illinois and to reach a much greater population than we would have from our individual audiences,” he said. “Also, to accelerate our growth of digital subscription revenue because we currently—and in the future—see that this is our best opportunity for revenue growth to offset continued declines in traditional advertising revenue.”