The first time I used Consumer Reports was probably when I bought my first car. In 1990 I was moving off of campus at college, and having a car would be handy for running errands and buying groceries and such. My Mom had a big stack of Consumer Reports in a cabinet in the living room (along with many, many women’s glamour and housekeeping magazines, plus a fair number of New Yorkers). While I was technically online in 1990, this was before the World Wide Web, so there were few online resources for buying things. Consumer Reports was basically the gold standard of independent consumer review publications. Its information made me decide that the best car for me in my price range (well, my mother’s price range, as she was technically buying the car) was a Honda or Toyota, which were the two most reliable brands. I ended up buying a light blue 1987 Honda Civic hatchback from Acura of Boston (which is still there!) for a whopping $5,000. I kept that car for 9 years across four states before selling it for $500 and replacing it with… a 2000 Honda Civic.
Sometime in the 1990s I subscribed to Consumer Reports myself, thumbing through each issue. I kept 3-4 years of issues at a time, recycling the older issues at the end of each year. It came in handy, and sometime in the late 2000s I decided to take advantage of an offer of theirs and extended my subscription for ten years.
Consumer Reports has not had a great decade, though. Its reporting on computers and other high tech has always been iffy at best, but its reports about the iPhone 4 “Antennagate” controversy led me to completely disregard their reporting in tech. But more significantly, the proliferation of online review sites (The Wirecutter at the high end, but a dizzying assortment of specialized sites for almost everything you can want to buy is also out there) has reduced its value significantly.
My long-running subscription expired with the October 2020 issue, and I decided not to renew it. While I still flipped through it every month and sometimes found something interesting or useful, that was happening less and less. I imagine Generation X will be the last generation which reliably subscribes to Consumer Reports – and we’re a small generation. I have no idea how much revenue they get from their online presence – it could be a lot, for all I know! – but if they’re still primarily relying on their print arm for revenue, they’ve probably got 20-30 years of life left, unless something radically changes in the world.
Anyway, maybe it’s time for my fourth go-round of subscribing to The New Yorker. It’s much more of a time commitment to read, but I bet I’ll get more out of it.