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					                                          Assignment 2

    The strengths and weaknesses of online and print magazines
                         – a comparison

The internet revolution of the nineties brought great opportunities for magazine
publishers to potentially reach a broader audience with their publications. The thought
was that simply a web-edition of the printed issue would be enough to generate more
revenue with a little effort, but the truth has proven to be otherwise. This essay will
start out with a brief introduction of these early stages of online publishing to provide
a background for the differences that exist between print and web-publishing today.
Secondly, it will take a look at the print edition and the online edition of Consumer
Reports magazine, compare the contents and design of the two, and clarify the
differences. By taking into account several general analyses of online and print
publications, as well as examining Consumer Reports, it will be able to identify and
distinguish the particular strengths and weaknesses that make up both the paper and
the web edition of the magazine.

In the early ages of web publishing, newspaper and magazine publishers saw a
potential goldmine for their businesses. By cutting the costs of paper, printing and
distribution, the thought was that this would generate a considerable increase in
income at a small effort – it was simply a matter of cutting and pasting the print
edition onto a suitable web page. J.C. Herz writes about these early attempts at web
publishing in an article in Mediaweek, where she describes the typical early web
edition as a “media amphibian, [...] adventurous but fragile”, suggesting that it was
merely “a paper product, based on a paper business model, repurposed for the
screen”.1 In other words; reproducing the print edition in its entirety and publishing it
on the web did not work as well as first hoped. Instead the publishers were forced to
come up with new ideas to succeed, and in the last seven or eight years since the start
of magazines on the web, the evolution in online media has been considerable. So

    J.C. Herz, “Evolution of the online species”
           Mediaweek, 5 March 2001, p. SR12.

what we see today is that online and print media complement rather than substitute
each other.2

In the case of Consumer Reports Online compared to its printed companion, the
difference is clearly noticeable. While the hard copy edition relies more on long
articles,    reviews      and     feature     stories     in    general,      the       web   edition functions more like a dynamic database, constantly
updated and with a substantial search engine.3 And that is also where the main, most
important difference lies; as Herz puts it, “it boils down to the distinction between
entertainment and utility”. 4 Surveys on reading habits merely confirm this –
InsightExpress L.L.C., an online market research firm based in USA, conducted an
analysis which showed that 73% of the respondents who regularly read online
magazines would never swap their printed issue for a web-based edition. 5 Jupiter
Media Metrix analyst Robert Hertzberg also supports this theory, and concludes that
for leisure reading, print is a far better format than the computer. 6 After all, such
content is much better read in an armchair than in front of a computer screen, and so
we see that the main strength of printed magazines is that they are far better suited for
longer feature articles with in-depth analyses. Another advantage is the mere layout of
the print edition itself, which combined with the traditional aspect of curling up on the
couch and turning the pages of your printed copy, also makes it more of a reading
experience rather than a matter of simply looking up what you need in a database. As
Herz puts it, “[the] resolution of the text, the saturation of the images and the sense of
indulgence […] makes it a premium experience that will not be matched on a screen
for the foreseeable future”.7 In other words, the sort of reading you get out of a printed
edition is unique, and totally different from what you get from the online version.

So what we see here is that there are some very obvious differences between print and
online magazines today. In the case of Consumer Reports, the distinction lies

  Herz, SR12.
  Herz, SR12.
  Matthew Schwartz, “Survey finds majority still prefers print over online magazines”
         Business and Industry, 6 May 2002, volume 87, p. 2.
  Unknown author, “The online reading room”
         American Demographics, 1 June 2001, p. 34.
  Herz, SR12.

primarily in the contents and the layout of the magazine; and as we established in the
last paragraph, the print edition consists largely of more in-depth, longer articles and
feature stories which makes a good read in your favourite armchair or on the bus. But
what then are the weaknesses of the print edition? One disadvantage is the fact that
the possibility to interact with the journalists and other readers is less considerable
than it is with the online version.8 While certainly possible, one would for instance
have to type the e-mail address from the magazine instead of just clicking on a link on
the web – and to get a reply from your mail from other readers, one would have to
wait until next month when the new issue is printed. Joel Gurin, executive vice
president of Consumers Union which publishes Consumer Reports, says that "[if] you
have a refrigerator that you don't like, you'll go to our magazine when we update our
refrigerator information. But if your refrigerator breaks and you need to buy one
tomorrow, then you're probably going to go to the Web site." 9 So in other words,
another weakness is the immediacy of the web, which is hard to match for the paper
edition. By using this example with the broken refrigerator, we see that the printed
edition would do little good for the reader on the lookout for a quality replacement –
unless of course there would happen to be a review of new fridges in the latest issue.
While certainly a possibility, this is not likely to occur often, and thus Herz even
argues that “Consumer Reports Online is, in fact, a better magazine than its paper
counterpart because it's searchable and because the ratings are updated as new models
reach the market.” 10 In other words, as a utility for the reader, the web edition is
superior to the print issue.

This brings us directly to the strengths of Consumer Reports Online. As discovered in
the previous paragraph, we see that the database model of the online edition serves as
a source of useful information – ready for the reader to search, find and take
advantage of whenever he or she needs it. Bill Walker, executive Vice President of
B2BWorks Inc., a Chicago-based online marketing firm, says that ''[print] products are
used for more in-depth information, and the Web can be used for archival materials

  Ambroz, Jillian, “Integration and The Digital Duel”
         Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management, March 2002, n.d.
  Rafat Ali, “ Rates with Paying Public”
         Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management, 1 September 2001, n.d.
   Herz, SR12.

and research needed to buy and sell, which you can't get from a magazine.”11 As we
have discovered, the latter description does indeed fit the online edition of Consumer
Reports. On their website,, one has the option to search for
the best mortgage, the best car – and the best refrigerator.12 It is as Joel Gurin said
upon launching the website in 1997; “[we] realized that people read the magazine and
Web site differently”.13 Today, as we can see, the difference is clear. As with news
web sites in general, the mere immediacy of the internet provides the option of putting
news online just minutes after they occur – and Consumer Reports Online shares this
advantage. With a web magazine, you also have the ability to interact much more and
much easier than with the printed edition. Things like discussion forums, often in the
form of weblogs, or „blogs‟, the ability to e-mail the author of a particular article with
your comments, or in the broadest sense the possibility to have your own articles
published online, makes interaction far more easier.14 On,
you are for instance able to communicate with editors and fellow readers via their
discussion forum.

Still, there are weaknesses to the web edition of the magazine as well. Even when
taking into account the spread of Palm and similar hand-held computers, the
simplicity of just picking up a magazine at a news stand to read on the bus or at the
front porch is far more convenient than logging on to a computer to check the web
edition.15 Another disadvantage with many online magazines is the fact that you are
often asked to download a certain software to your computer or palm to actually be
able to read the magazine online. This software is seldom the same from magazine to
magazine, thus readers will be prompted to download different software for each
magazine he or she reads.16 While Consumer Reports Online has wisely avoided this,
it does affect the general public‟s views on online magazines, as they want it to be as
convenient as possible. Vin Crosbie, the president of digital media consultanty firm
Digital Deliverance, sums it up when he says that “People won't download separate

   Schwartz, 2.
   Ali, n.d.
   Young, Simon, “Taking it online”
          New Zealand Marketing Magazine, June 2002, 31.
   Herz, SR12.
   Ambroz, n.d.

applications for separate publishing subsectors. What's needed is a common

In conclusion, this essay has shown that the strengths and weaknesses of the print and
online edition of Consumer Reports are much of the same. As the publishing industry
embraced the possibilities of online magazines, they have discovered that the web
edition is a complement rather than a substitute to the print edition. This essay has
clarified that the printed magazine is used primarily for leisure purposes; with longer
articles, more focus on feature stories and general design, but with weaknesses when
it comes to interaction and feedback with journalists and other readers. Similarly, it
showed that the web edition functions more like a database, with considerable search
options, as well as interaction possibilities and constant updates – but with
weaknesses in the form of convenience.

     Ambroz, n.d.

                      Selected bibliography


Ali, Rafat " Rates with Paying Public"
        Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management
        (1 September 2001): n.d.

Ambroz, Jillian "Integration and The Digital Duel"
        Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management
        (March 2002): n.d.

Herz, J.C. "Evolution of the online species"
        Mediaweek (5 March 2001): Vol. 11, p. SR12.

Schwartz, Matthew "Survey finds majority still prefers print over
        online magazines"
        Business and Industry (6 May 2002): Vol. 87, p. 2.

Unknown author "The Online Reading Room"
        American Demographics (1 June 2001): p. 34.

Young, Simon "Taking it online"
        New Zealand Marketing Magazine (June 2002): p. 31.

Web resources:

Consumer Reports website:


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