I happened upon it at the magaziney depot the other night and, as a certified cheapskate, got positively agog. More deals! More advocacy! More ways to feel secure in my selection of one Toast-R-Oven over the next!
My enthusiasm deteriorated the second I cracked it open and found an ad waiting for me on the reverse side of the cover. There are only two in the April issue, but that's not the point. A title like Consumers Digest must be unimpeachably credible, or else its recommendations carry no weight.
That's right, don your crash helmets and swimmies: Uncle Larry's in righteous-squawkhead mode this morning. Even the barest hint that a mag like Consumers Digest might be for sale, that it has an agenda beyond steering consumers virtuously, renders it worthless. Look at what Consumer Reports did following that we-kinda-blew-the-baby-seat-tests fiasco: It immediately withdrew the report, hired independent consultants to review the incident, put into place new policies regarding the use of outside testing labs, and loudly communicated the changes to anyone who'd listen.
Contrast that with the following house ad that appears in the April Consumers Digest: "Your editorial coverage in Consumers Digest is transformed into a valuable marketing tool when you reinvest in your exposure through reprints and e-prints." Uh-oh. If I were a shady product marketing minion -- oh, to dream -- my first impulse would be to ring up the mag's national sales director and drop an ever-so-subtle, "Say, when are you going to be taking a closer look at our glow-in-the-dark cutlery? And I'll be able to purchase reprints after the fact, assuming the review is a positive one? Right-o."
This doesn't give the writers and editors any credit for independent-mindedness, I know. But in the absence of a mission statement of any kind, either in the mag or on the Web (where Consumers Digest has only a placeholder site), I'm left to assume the worst.
Not that it really matters. Even if Consumers Digest boasted the Great Wall of China of ad/edit divides, the content itself is bland at best and uselessly dated at worst. The mag might as well ditch its entire front of the book, which consists of several sections ("Healthy Living," "Car Smart," etc.) offering little beyond half-rewritten press releases. Does this sound like the type of incisive reporting that belongs in a consumer pub: "Other noteworthy additions include pinpoint LED reading lights, a dual-DVD entertainment system that can play different media at the same time and a hard-drive-based storage for digital music, photos and movies"? A hint to fledgling marketing writers out there: "noteworthy" isn't a descriptive adjective so much as an indictment of your facility with a thesaurus.
The features come off slightly better, if still nowhere near as precise as they oughta be. I haven't read the "America's Top Amusement Parks" story, which approaches the subject from a bang-for-your-buck perspective, anywhere else. The survey of garage-door openers comes closest to Consumer Reports territory; it's the one feature in the April issue that doesn't lack for specifics.
Still, I'm not sure how a nanotechnology guide makes any sense for a consumer-advice publication, nor why a range of kitchen products (cabinets and countertops and flooring and fridges -- oh my) are lumped together in a single jumbo-sized piece. For the knowing, research-happy audience that reads empowered-consumer mags, the primer on Internet scams registers somewhere around belly-button lint on the usefulness scale. And predictably, the writer of the fairly comprehensive guide to adoption just can't help herself: the story leads with references to Madonna and Angelina Jolie.
Competition is good, and lord knows there's enough product flotsam out there to justify 15 edumacated-consumer publications. But when the leader in your sector does backflips to affirm its credibility and you whore yourself out via house ads and filler "news," you've lost the battle before it has even started. And so it is with Consumers Digest. If there's something this publication adds to the general consumer discourse, I don't know what it is.