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Productopia launches product review site

Productopia officially launched its Web site this week, becoming the latest in a slew of destinations offering customer reviews online.

Productopia officially launched its Web site this week, becoming the latest in a slew of destinations offering customer reviews online.

Productopia's launch comes a day after Consumerreview.com re-launched its site and two months after Deja.com revamped its site to include product reviews. Newcomer Epinions.com expects to join the conga line, launching its site next month.

The new--and newly revamped--sites join Consumer Reports Online, operated by the revered offline magazine, which has been offering product reviews to Web subscribers since November 1997. Product reviews are also a central part of CNET, the parent company of News.com.

Firms launching product review sites go online with high hopes for future profitability. Just as new Net users have turned to portals like Yahoo and Excite to find their way on the Web, online product review sites expect customers to turn their way for buying advice. The firms can also sell their content to e-commerce sites that lack the resources to provide customers with their own reviews

The sites generally come in two flavors: sites like Consumer Reports or Productopia that offer professional reviews, and sites like Consumerreview.com or Deja.com that provide reviews from unpaid volunteers.

Except for Consumer Reports, which has some 310,000 paid subscribers, the sites generally depend on advertising revenues. Additionally, sites can charge referral fees, per purchase, for recommending retailers on the site. And sites like Consumerreview.com plan to license content for use on other e-commerce sites.

But it remains to be seen how these startup product review sites will succeed and whether a lucrative market exists. Deja.com, which filed for its initial public offering last month, lost $8.8 million on $5.1 million in revenue last year. Additionally, e-commerce sites like Amazon.com, Cdnow and the former BrainPlay.com already offer product reviews on their sites.

But sometimes the bias of reviews posted on sites is questionable.

In February, Amazon, which allows its customers to write reviews of books and music, was accused of charging publishers to recommend books on its site. The company pledged afterward to identify which title placements were paid for.

While other sites have tried to introduce customer-written reviews, many have failed to generate a critical mass of information that would make it valuable to the user, said Max Mancini, president and chief executive of Consumerreview.com.

"Most fail pretty miserably," he said.

Gartner Group analyst Adam Sarner said he sees a market for product review sites.

"I've never bought anything online without reading exhaustive reviews on it," he said.