Commentary

Try Not To Dwell Too Much On Publishing's Golden Age

“Jeopardy" last month reminded me of how much luster the publishing industry has lost when none of the game show's contestants could identify a picture of Graydon Carter. They stood speechless, buzzers in hand, after host Alex Trebek read the clue: "An era in show-biz journalism ended when he stepped down from the editorship of Vanity Fair in 2017.”

I shouted the answer at the TV, again feeling like an unrecognized genius, but also astounded that no one could name one of the most prominent figures in the publishing business.

The incident burst my filter bubble, but I don't want to dwell too much on the idea that the publishing industry's best days are behind it. As I've said before, the industry is going through a painful transition that's unforgiving to publishers that don't adapt to the changing media market.

The evolution of the industry is a central theme of CNBC story last week about the digital rebirth of Reader's Digest, the storied publisher that went bankrupt twice within five years. Under the management of Bonnie Kintzer, the publisher has gone through a dramatic transformation in the past six years and is now profitable.

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The company, which was renamed from Reader's Digest Association to Trusted Media Brands, has doubled its digital revenue in the past five years and forecasts a 48% gain in online ad sales for this year. Its media properties, which include Reader's Digest, Taste of Home and Family Handyman, reach more than 60 million consumers a month in print and digital.

Last year, Trusted Brands rolled out its first digital-only brand, The Healthy.com, that now counts 2.6 million visitors a month. It also plans to launch additional single-subject websites this year, CNBC reported.

Digital publishing is more central to the company's operations, with digital and print editors working together to decide where to publish between 500 and 800 stories a month on each of its websites. Trusted Media Brands is also cultivating a new generation of readers, one-third of whom are millennials.

The company's digital rebirth is a sign that traditional publishers can adapt and thrive in the digital era despite relentless adversity.

The article has been updated to reflect TheHealthy.com counts 2.6 million visitors a month, not 2.1 million, as previously noted. CNBC has updated its numbers.

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