Consumer Reports Has Three Million Paying Online Subscribers

I just read an interesting story on CNET about Consumer Reports, a site that bucks the advertising trend in online content:

A reader of the printed magazine might be “someone who generally wants to be a well-informed consumer,” said Giselle Benatar, editor in chief of online media. “But on the Web site, we’re attracting very transaction-minded consumers. They are shoppers. They’re looking for a product, they want ratings, they want recommendations, and they want it now, not once a month.”

Growing up, my family were huge users of Consumer Reports, the magazine. Maybe I’m blurring things in my head a bit, but I don’t think my parents made any big purchases without first consulting Consumer Reports back issues down at the library.

The article indicates that the average online user is fifty year old, which is a little worrying for their longterm sustainability. Still, I’ll probably subscribe to the website when we’re building our house and spending cash on appliances and the like.


  1. Why is “average online user is fifty year old, which is a little worrying for their longterm sustainability.”?

    At that age people are in their peak income earning time (meaning peak discretionary disposable income time).

    At 50, people can reasonably look forward to a further 30 years of life (life expectancy for men is 77 years; for women it’s 83 years). Thirty years ago the internet (as we know it today) didn’t even exist and you were probably just out of diapers.

    In short, you’re missing the entire point: CR is directed toward a specific market (one which is so lucrative that they don’t need ad revenues to survive) while others need those ads to survive (uh, that would be people who need income from “ads by Google” just to cover their bandwidth costs). They’ve got 3 million *subscribers* while that other group has got how many unique impressions?

  2. JohnB: What that average age indicates to me is that CR hasn’t converted many young people to their online offering. That sounds like a longterm problem. Not an unassailable one, but one they shouldn’t ignore.

    You’re right to point to other websites–nearly all of them–who can’t convince people to pay for content. Most those people refusing to pay for content are under 50. If those folks don’t change their ways, who is CR going to sell to?

    And yes, while 50-year-olds have 25-35 years of life left, they probably don’t have 25-35 years of CR subscription left in them. Also remember that the average age is 50, so that half of their subscribers are older than fifty, and all the likelier to cancel as they get older.

    In five years, will CR’s average user be 55 or 45? If it’s the former, then that’s a more serious problem, isn’t it?

    So that’s why I said it’s “a little worrying”.

  3. CR sells to me – at 27 I’m a bit younger than their average subscriber for sure.

    The website is gold for big purchases though. It’s helped me feel confident and informed when shopping for bigger ticket items in a way that crowd-sourced recommendations just can’t.

    But I’m one of those increasingly rare people who believe in expertise, be it reviewing products, prescribing medication, or teaching classes. A CR test and review holds a lot more weight with me than 20 anecdotal reviews from random people over the net.

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