Consumer Reports gets it right (*finally)

By Steve Outing

* at least on the smartphone platform

ConsumerReports.org is the classic example of a once-primarily print publisher having content valuable and unique enough that it can charge for it online. The site for years has had a subscription model, with a monthly or annual fee to access its product reviews.

I subscribed for a while, but I rarely needed to look for product reviews; I got tired of paying for a service that went unused most months and canceled. (The rate has changed since then: It’s now $26 a year, or $5.95 a month, auto-renewing.)

I’ve long been annoyed by ConsumerReports.org because it only offered subscriptions — no day passes or even a pass for a single month’s access without automatically dinging your credit card every month.

While CR’s regular website is still crippled in that way, the company’s new mobile website for smartphones finally offers a day pass for 99 cents, or a non-renewing month pass for $4.99. Hurray!

CR mobile payment screen

You have to wonder what took CR so long. Having CR reviews in your hand while out shopping for a new dryer is a handy thing, and I’d gladly pay for a daily or month pass during periods when I’m shopping for a major purchase.

So, CR, how about doing the same with your non-mobile website now? You can start getting customers like me — who refused to pay for a long-terms subscription — back. (Many years ago, I even subscribed to the print magazine.)

From a business perspective, I can understand why the one-off pricing for reviews or the day pass might seem to be an option to be avoided. Get enough people hooked into having their credit card charged automatically each month and that’s a sweet business model.

But the days when that was possible are gone, in my view. Too many websites and online services want to charge a monthly fee. Sorry, CR, but there are only so many monthly online fees I’m willing to pay.

I’ll use CR’s mobile website with the day pass option when I’m in a position to need the product reviews. I’ll avoid the regular website until it dumps the subscription-only silliness.