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Saving Reader’s Digest…take two

July 15, 2007

As you may recall, I published a blog two days ago on Saving Reader’s Digest. I also published a response from Reader’s Digest editor in chief Jakie Leo. (See both my blog and her response here.) Two more responses on Saving Reader’s Digest follow. One is from a former employee of Reader’s Digest Association who requested, for very good reasons to withhold the name, and the comments from Bob Sacks on his blog regarding Reader’s Digest. First is the former employee of RDA and second is Bob Sack’s.

Spot on!
Your observations about Reader’s Digest are right on the screws. They tried to turn it into a women’s service magazine–but one without the physical size needed to splash the photos up big. The formulaic face of this thing carries the same shouting cover lines everyone else on the newsstand uses. And one celebrity photo, one health story, a sex story, some government scandal, maybe a big numeral played up…..They mainstreamed it, made it a “me-too” magazine, and wonder why the rate base had to fall from 12 million to 10 million to 8 million in fewer than 10 years.
Geez, it just had to be competition from the internet, not that they’ve made something that emulates everything else shouting at people from the newsstand these days.
When they dropped the rate base from 12 to 10 million, they advised the investment analysts, “We’re not in trouble, we’ve just right-sized it!” And then guaranteed that 10 million circ. for 5 years. It was all smoke and mirrors…they held that number with 4-for1 and 5-for1 gift offers among other tricks tolerated by “the new ABC”. They gave it away.
Then, when Ripplewood buys the company and there is a regime change, the number drops 20% virtually overnight. Hmmm……
DeWitt Wallace, and later, Roy Reiman, did not face some of the same pressures that plague publishers today, but they did understand one truism that still holds: If you make something absolutely unique, and focus like a laser on the reader, you will succeed. Every other publisher out there would nod in agreement and say they do just that. But they don’t. In practice, they focus on the advertiser or the shareholder first and make bad decisions because of it. And instead of listening to the reader, they myopically look at what “the competition” is doing, and say, “We can do a magazine like that, but we’ll do it our way….and do it better!”
Bunk.
That’s why everyone is aping everyone else on the newsstand.
These days we could use a lot more DeWitt Wallaces and Roy Reimans. Energetic men of humble beginnings not afraid to be different. Or to work hard themselves. Egotistical know-it-alls who do nothing but hire freelancers to do their work while they fly to conferences, network, sit in endless meetings and find other pompous ways to play business are in trouble now. And they wonder why.
It must be the evil internet…..it couldn’t be that we are making something so mundane nobody wants to read it.
–A Former Employee of RDA

Bob Sacks response to my blog follows:

BoSacks Speaks Out: I had no idea that DeWitt Wallace who conceived of Reader’s Digest was such a visionary. Please read the article below (click here to read it) and send me back your thoughts. I think that the 87 year old wisdom of DeWitt Wallace displayed below, could help save our industry today. I have been preaching for over a decade, that the path to our success will be in developing addictive content. I have my own particular definition about that, but I am in love with Mr. Wallace’s excellent interpretation. I truly wish I could have had the opportunity to have a cup of coffee and a conversation with him about the industry.
Sometimes Samir Husni and I are at very opposite ends of magazine punditry. Today we are in total agreement. I must mark that down in my calendar

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