The new Web site draws on the reputation of U.S. News for producing comprehensive "best of" rankings--including its ubiquitous annual report ranking America's Best Colleges. The brand has subsequently grown to include America's Best Graduate Schools, America's Best Hospitals, America's Best Health Plans and America's Best Leaders.
U.S. News cited a survey by Zogby International, which found that 78% of adults with incomes above $50,000 a year said they did research online before buying a car. Furthermore, the average consumer spends four hours on the Web researching a new car purchase--which holds out promise for the new site's ability to engage visitors for long periods.
According to U.S. News, the new Web site relies on the same ranking methodology used in its college and hospital rankings. The ranking methodology calls for the collection of copious statistical information and a review of all professional and journalistic opinions on the subject, including articles in the trade press and expert assessments. The Web site then boils these down to a single numerical grade, from 1-10, for each car or truck.
As the regular news magazine suffers at the newsstand, the U.S. News brand has increasingly turned to printing "best of" rankings to boost sales. Every year, America's Best Colleges is its best-selling issue, with its hospital and grad school rankings also popular.
The site, however, seems to exclude one of the more controversial inputs used in the college rankings: self-assessments, coupled with critiques of competitors by major players in the field. Its America's Best Colleges rankings have come under fire for relying on partisan reports by academic deans, which critics say are untrustworthy and ethically untenable.
Overall, however, the newsstand performance is lagging--falling 6.1% in the first half of 2007, compared to the same period last year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. It has also seen an almost 20% decline in total readership between spring 2005 and spring 2007, according to MRI (from 11.5 million to 9.2 million).