Zagat Went Free And No One Noticed
I’m a couple days late on this thanks to Consmr’s 100,000 new friends, but I was surprised that a big story on Zagat was missed this week despite all the coverage of the Google+ Local launch. On Wednesday, Google’s announcement of Google+ Local integration officially marked Zagat.com becoming a free website and all of Zagat (seemingly) going free.
An era ended, but not many people noticed. While everyone was caught up in the Google+ aspect of Local, no one noticed that Zagat.com became a free site. After years as a subscription product, Zagat is now allowing free access to its venerable ratings and reviews. That leaves the Wall Street Journal, Consumer Reports, and The New York Times as the top subscription content platforms.
Let’s step back 33 years and realize that Zagat very quickly went from a handout to a paid publication. With the exception of a brief period in the early 2000s, Zagat’s digital content has always been behind the subscription barrier. Even mobile, where Zagat became a perennial top seller on the iPhone and iPad, apps were priced between $10-$25 annually depending on the platform.
It’s not clear that Zagat went 100% free to most people. My first clue came when I was asked tonight to meet someone at Gramercy Tavern. I did a quick Google search for the address of the restaurant so I could plan ahead. Right under the first natural search result (the website of the restaurant), was a Zagat 27 / 30. On the right hand side, there’s the ZAGAT Food 27 score and the famous quotation filled Zagat review. If you’re not signed in, you’ll see “Sign in for full scores and summary” right on the SERP.
Placing Zagat reviews behind the Google+ wall drew away from the fact that a $24.95 subscription just went to $0. In fact, you really have to dig in to Zagat.com to realize that a free Google+ account will grant you access to ratings and reviews that would have cost you $24.95 the day before. Here’s what the process looks like:
What used to be an upsell to pay $25/year is now an upsell to register.
Currently, the iPhone app I took much pride in (although the performance is unrecognizable now and it has dropped from years of a 4.5 stars/Top 3 ranking to 2.5 stars/Top 25) is still being sold at full price. I really wish Google had not allowed it to fall into disrepair, and I don’t know how much longer it will stay in the store. On Android the app went “freemium” several months ago, leaving a ton of confused buyers who, according to the user reviews, did not understand how to transition their accounts. My guess is this too will go away completely. And what’s the future of the print guides if a Google search will give you the contents of the guides for free?
While this looks like the end of the “paid” empire of Zagat, it also looks like the beginning of a larger digital opportunity. I’m impressed with what I’ve seen with the embrace of the Zagat brand in Google search results proper and within Google Maps on Android. Saving the 30 point scores and the 0-3 rating system is also a bold step that I would not have predicted. There could be potential here for “Zagat” as a brand to grow larger than it ever was before. Can you imagine an international print media company growing larger than ever by joining up with a large technology company? Suddenly, we’re looking at a genius move…