Consumer Reports Is Dead; Long Live ConsumerReports.org

In September, ConsumerReports.org announced it had passed the 2 millionth subscriber milestone, which is quite impressive considering that consumers still resist paying for content online. CR's online success goes to the power of its trusted brand, its relatively unique content, and some skillful SEO and distribution deals.

However, earlier today I got an email solicitation presenting me with a "deeply discounted" offer ($20 per year versus $26) to subscribe to Consumer Reports, the print magazine.

No way.

I previously got the magazine, and I naively assumed that by subscribing I'd also get access to the online articles and product reviews. Wrong. There was an additional subscription fee.

When I found that out, I promptly subscribed to the site and let the magazine lapse — never to renew. The site, which has all the content archived in browse and searchable form, is so much better than a pile of dusty magazines in the corner — "Honey, where was that issue with the stoves?" There's no question about the relative value of the two products.

Eventually, CR may figure out that, in order to keep the magazine going, it will need to bundle the two offerings for one "low, low price" — as it should have done originally. That would have kept me subscribing to the print magazine . . . to get access to the site.

But, to date, CR hasn't done it that way. I don't have any subscriber data to see if .org is cannibalizing print. I would imagine it is or will, if it hasn't yet, as happened with me.

Reading magazines is generally more enjoyable than reading articles online (in my view). But CR is different; it's not entertainment. It's purely "utilitarian" content (product reviews). So I want to search for the desired information, find it and get on with my purchase process. The site is much better suited to that behavior than the magazine.

CR may be somewhat unique because it doesn't rely on advertising. It may also, paradoxically, emerge as both something of an example and a cautionary tale for other traditional publishers.

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