While our car was in the shop, we rented a van and it dawned on us that for a 2-child family that’s on the road quite a bit, a van might be a better choice than either of the current chariots, a tiny lovable Golf diesel or a slick but space-challenged Audi wagon. So we’re kind of car shopping. As a side-effect of this process, I begin to think that Consumer Reports is maybe ahead of the world in effective integrated publishing.
Lauren subscribes to their website for $26/year, and it’s just the thing when you want to look up cordless drills or baby strollers. The price seems fair, maybe a little low actually, and the potential market of subscribers seems almost infinitely large. Since the site offers a task-oriented approach, why would you ever subscribe to the paper version?
Doesn’t mean you wouldn’t buy paper. In fact, I just bought this big thick magazine, 192 pages for $6.99, Consumer Reports Cars, which rates pretty well every mainstream car, SUV, and truck on the market, 264 in total. The subtitle, “Best & Worst New Cars 2006”, is reassuring; nothing adds more weight to a collection of reviews than some of them being negative (CR’s best of 2006: the Audi S4 and BMW M3, tied. The worst: the Jeep Wrangler).
It’s a superb publication, with well-written articles in the front and back about selling practices, new technologies, fuel efficiency, safety, and so on. Then the capsule summaries for each model are triumphs of effective “get out of the way and let the information through” typesetting; and there’s a lot of information. Computer display screens are years and years away from being able to achieve this much information density and usefulness.
Once you’ve decided what you want to buy, they’ll sell you one-off information packages about dealer cost, current supply and demand, and typical financing packages specific to that model, for $14; delivery by mail or FAX. For another $12 they’ll give you the seller’s-side view for your trade-in.
Of course, a key premise is that this whole thing is unpolluted by advertising, CR has built a terrific reputation for integrity; which in their case is a key to the business model. And what a great business model; they work to assemble and produce high-quality high-value information, and the customers buy it from them directly. No advertisers polluting any part of the pipeline.
I’m not naïve enough to claim that this is the future of publishing—after all, the world needs advertising—but it sure is a refreshing change.