Re: the iPhone 4 antenna hubbub, Apple held firm in the face of constant coverage from tech blogs, a class-action lawsuit, and vocal customer complaints. So it’s interesting that the company finally blinked in response to an old school media outlet: Consumer Reports.
In large measure, the article in Consumer Reports was devastating precisely because the magazine (and its Web site) are not part of the hot-headed digital press. Although Gizmodo and other techie blogs had reached the same conclusions earlier, Consumer Reports made a noise that was heard beyond the Valley because it has a widely respected protocol of testing and old-world credibility. Mr. Jobs acknowledged as much, saying: “We were stunned and upset and embarrassed by the Consumer Reports stuff, and the reason we didn’t say more is because we didn’t know enough.”
Consumer Reports got taken seriously because it’s so different than other media outlets. It’s been around since 1936. It’s part of a nonprofit organization. It has a mission (“to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves”). It doesn’t allow advertising or accept free samples. It doesn’t go for a snarky tone. It does tons of extensive lab testing. It doesn’t focus just on glamourous products (for every iPhone it tests, there are tons more mops, air conditioners, and other “boring” products it examines). It doesn’t rely on page-view-pimping bloggy business as its bread and butter. Instead, it sells thoroughness and trustworthiness.
And that’s why when CR raised its red flag, it was taken seriously.
Consumer Reports’ approach is working too. It’s one of the top-ten-circulation magazines in the country. And its various outlets have a combined paid circulation of 7.2 million, up 33 percent since 2004.
Reminds me a bit of how Cook’s Illustrated thrives while other food publications are going down the drain. Everyone’s wringing their hands about the fate of media outlets, but these two publications show how a strong philosophy and a willingness to buck trends can lead to success.
Tangent: The CR site has a neat archive of vintage photographs showing its tests of consumer products over the decades.