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Not All Consumer Product Raters Are Equal

Q. How credible are the product ratings and recommendations of consumer magazines?

A. Consumer Reports magazine anonymously purchases all products for review and bases its ratings on subscriber surveys and its own testing, or that done by reputable and closely monitored third-party labs.

Owned by the nonprofit Consumers Union, the magazine carries no advertising on its pages and forbids companies from citing in their own advertising its highly respected "CR Best Buy" and "Recommended" designations.

Smaller rival Consumers Digest also reviews a wide range of products too. For cars, it hires freelance writers who are lent vehicles by manufacturers. It allows manufacturers to cite its "Best Buy" awards in their advertising if they pay it a licensing fee. For automakers, fees are typically $35,000 for the first "Best Buy" award and $25,000 for subsequent ones, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Consumers Digest insists its licensing policy doesn't influence its picks and that licensing comes only after the review process.

There's a big collection of other publications that review products. It's not unknown that some issue awards to manufacturers that pay a fee, that are valued advertisers, and that allow their staff or freelance reviewers to accept products for personal use.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about health and consumer affairs.

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