consumer_reports We all know by now that the big problem most news outlets are having in converting to the digital world is the collapse of the advertising market in print, coupled with the low-paying nature of the advertising market in digital.

But one well-known news outlet has never accepted advertising, and is all the more trusted as a result. Consumer Reports is well known as the go-to source for testing-based product comparisons and reviews. Even people who don’t subscribe will often spend time reading through back-issues in libraries before coming to a decision on a major purchase.

Consequently, the Consumer Reports website has always kept most of its content behind a paywall, simply because it relies on subscriber payments and donations to finance the operation of the magazine. Now, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports, Consumer Reports is engaging in product testing to figure out what the best price is for its “next-generation” iPhone app.

“Because we are Consumer Reports, we test everything,” [Jerry Steinbrink, vice president of publishing,] told me. “We depend a lot on focus groups. We’re trying to determine, with user input, what an acceptable price point would be.” Steinbrink wasn’t prepared to give a likely figure for the Consumer Reports iPhone app, but considering its functionality — it allows you to take a picture of any barcode, which will pull up all data Consumer Reports has on the product — and CR’s business model, don’t expect it to be a run-of-the-mill 99-cent app. Steinbrink thinks it might require a subscription fee that is renewed a few times a year, perhaps putting it in the range of their website which costs $26 per year.

Consumer Reports already has a cross-platform mobile website with a number of the features that will be in the app, which operates on a 99 cent day pass, or $4.99 per month (free if you subscribe to the regular Consumer Reports website).

The prevailing rhetoric around paywalls has been that they’re usually evil, misbegotten things that will end up killing the site that implements them. Consumer Reports, however, shows that when properly implemented, a paywall can compliment a paper magazine subscription in keeping a news outlet in business.


  1. It’s early in the ebook industry. Its early…
    (Gotta keep repeating it to myself almost daily.)

    It’s the only rational explanation for all the urban myths and overgeneralizations in common currency…
    Like, DRM is *always* evil.
    Or, paywalls are just the result of greed incarnate.

    Consumers Reports isn’t the only outfit with a paywall that makes sense. Nor is the WSJ the only other prominent one. There’s also the Economist.

    The shock is that there aren’t more, especially for specialty publications. Obviously, charging for content that is readily available online (daily news, for example) isn’t going to draw many willing customers. But for sources of *original*, useful, *valuable* content, a paywall isn’t going to discourage genuine customers as long as the subscription fee is the *only* charge. (ie, no ads or selling of aggregated personal data.)

    Most consumers today do realize that if they pay with their eyeballs or their privacy, they sure as heck can’t be expected to pay in hard currency too. Mixing paymentt systems is what muddies the waters and drives away the paying customers.

    Now it’s up to the content providers to understand the rules of the game.

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