Reader’s Digest to Mr. Magazine™: “We Will Transition to Deliver Content How, When and Where Our Customers Want it”December 3, 2009
Earlier today Eva Dillon, President of Reader’s Digest Community and I had a good phone conversation in response to my earlier blog on the need to reinvent our magazine publishing business model. Ms. Dillon shared with me some of the ways Reader’s Digest is evolving and is addressing the future needs to one of the world’s largest print companies. Ms. Dillon, who is as passionate about the future of our industry as I am, if not more since she has more at stake than I do, wrote me the following letter explaining Reader’s Digest transformation and the plans for the future. What follows is Ms. Dillon’s letter in its entirety:
You make an accurate observation in “Must Have” vs. “Nice to Have” magazines: the print industry must transform to respond to the changing media landscape as consumers increasingly want and get their information from multiple sources.
I must point out, however, that you challenge us to come up with a transition plan, one which we (Reader’s Digest) have made public (see Mediaweek, Folio, Delaney Report, Minonline, Mediapost, Crains, DM News), yet then point to elements of that transformation — such as going from 12 to 10 issues a year in order to transition content to digital options — as ills that will result in our demise. With all due respect (and I do mean that), you are talking out of both sides of your mouth.
As the largest circulation magazine in the world with 50 editions in 22 languages generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues and healthy margins, I challenge your declaration that “none of the three magazines make much money from their subscribers.” We do. Lots of it. Eighty percent of Reader’s Digest’s revenues come from subscriptions, not advertising. That said, Reader’s Digest has significantly out-performed the advertising marketplace which ended the year collectively down 21% in ads vs. RD’s 7% decline. Seven percent down is the new up in this economy. And to your assertion that we “did not have too many ads in previous months,” Reader’s Digest had more ads in 2009 than 70% of the magazines measured by MIN. You also single out the three magazines as charging a dollar per issue for subscriptions. This is a standard intro offer across the vast majority of magazine publishers, and certainly not the model for the larger part of our (RD’s) sub file, so your point on this front is not well made. Certainly, the fact that consumers do not pay for broadcast or internet (or this very newsletter) does not mean they don’t value the content. Today’s bigger question is how all media will find new models that are not over-reliant on advertising revenues as their sole source, a process we have begun with our own transformation plan.
And finally, to respond to your overall premise about “Must Have” vs. “Nice to Have” magazines: Reader’s Digest continues to have 5.5 million subscribers, one of the top 3 paid magazines in the country. Last year the magazine won the American Society of Magazine Editor’s prestigious General Excellence award. Our subscriber satisfaction and renewal rates are up, as readers focus on the back-to-basics values that have always been key to our appeal. Most important, our brand has long been much more than a magazine, with books, video and music collections that do well for us all over the world, now supplemented with a global website platform being rolled out in 40 countries. With our unique global reach and a culture of sharing content across borders, we have every expectation that we will continue to be a lucrative and relevant brand, and will make a successful transition to deliver content how, when and where our customers want it.
President, Reader’s Digest Community