Consumer Reports is a fantastic story of how an old-line, traditional publisher has transformed itself into one of the larger success stories in consumer publishing on the web.
Recently, Consumer Reports announced its two millionth active paid subscriber to their online service. That’s two and one-half times that of WSJ Online. And, they have gotten there while maintaining the core principles that led to their offline success.
A large part of their growth has been attributed to affiliate partnerships they have signed with sites like Yahoo, AOL, BabyCenter.com and others. MarketingSherpa provides a great interview with Jerry Steinbrink, General Manager Information Products at Consumer Reports on this subject.
Consumer Reports is a great online product. As I’ve previously written, rating sites are big winners on the web. With e-commerce continuing to grow, and product research (even when the purchase is made offline) growing even faster, rating sites are thriving. Consumer Reports can take this one step further in that they are a rating service backed by a trusted brand. While community-based rating sites such as Trip Advisor, Amazon, eBags and others are valuable, they are also subject to manipulation (just look at the ratings for books by Al Franken or Ann Coulter to see examples where most of the ratings are authored by those who’d never even read their books). With Consumer Reports, you get the benefit of ratings backed by a well-defined (and clearly communicated) methodology. There are very few companies on the web that can offer that – perhaps S&P and the recently acquired (also by McGraw Hill) J.D. Power carry similar quality cache.
Of Consumer Reports’ online subscribers, roughly 25% are existing print subscribers, meaning that 75% of their online audience are subscribers they would not otherwise reach. I count myself in that group. I signed up initially when purchasing a new car a few years ago, but continue the service “just in case”. While I may go months or even a year between visits, it’s nice to know that it’s there when I need it. I am sure that many others feel the same.
Going forward, I would like to see if Consumer Reports can bring in some level of user opinions in conjunction with their “official” ratings. Even though they are (relatively) anonymous opinions, I love the ratings and comments on Amazon and Trip Advisor. If there were a way for Consumer Reports to capture and expose feedback from its readers without negatively impacting their “official” ratings it would be the best of both worlds. I think that there are ways to do this effectively without damaging the brand; after all, Consumer Reports’ used vehicle repair records are based upon the input of their users. In addition, they’ve introduced some moderated message boards to their site. They key will be to bring these two together without letting reader reviews overwhelm the Consumer Reports ratings.
Consumer Reports has done an effective job of bridging the gap between the demographics of their traditional subscribers and their new online subscribers. And that assures them of continued growth for years to come. And, it assures them of a spot on my "50 Content Companies that Matter" list.