Commentary

Reader's Digest

Wonders of technology aside, some things in life just can't be improved upon: mashed potatoes made from scratch; a dozen red roses wrapped in green florist paper -- and the venerable Reader's Digest.

Who among us geeky media types doesn't remember reading it when we were kids? My parents subscribed for years, and it was always in doctor's office waiting rooms. Sections like Word Power improved our vocabulary while the G-rated jokes made us giggle. The inspirational articles gave hope that most people are basically good.

Today, the Digest is published in 50 editions in 21 languages, in Braille, on cassette, in large print and in a digital version. First published in 1922, it has a circulation of over 10 million in the U.S. alone and a readership of 38 million as measured by Mediamark Research (MRI). According to MRI, Reader's Digest -- despite its just-folks charm -- reaches more readers with household incomes of $100,000+ than Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and Inc. combined. That's nothing to sneeze at.

While the magazine has a fresh look and feel with Peggy Northrop taking the lead as editor in chief last summer, she's wisely avoided messing with success. You'll still find all of the old departments including Word Power (around since 1945, incidentally), Laugh (jokes, still G-rated ) and Life (reader-submitted true stories).

For those of us who get most of our news online, a few of the pieces seem a little hokey, like "Beat the Cheaters! 9 New Scams To Avoid." The article reminded me of emails my naive friends and family have forwarded to me. But at least it left out the urban legend about the guy in the mall parking lot who flattens your tire, then hides nearby and then offers to change it when you come back to the car. (Spoiler alert: the guy is a serial killer, of course.)

The Outrageous section, by The New Republic editor Michael Crowley, is a good read, chronicling a hall of shame of greed and abuse. The magazine has a long history of watchdog journalism and it's nice to see it continue.

One thing I don't remember about Reader's Digest as a kid was celebrity coverage, but there's a Q&A this month with Emma Thompson. She's a classy lady and the article provides an interesting glimpse inside her head (she's irked by both bigotry and tea leaves in the sink). The inclusion of this story is probably a sign of the times; we are, after all, a celebrity-obsessed culture. But they didn't put her on the cover, so bonus points for that.

The cover story is ideal for everyone making and already breaking the top New Year's resolution: "13 Things No One Ever Tells You About Weight Loss," which is accompanied by a "simple eat-healthy plan for busy, real people." Here's one of those 13 facts behind the new fat-busting science: Recent research shows that along with cigarettes and alcohol, your mom's consumption of sugary and fatty foods before you were born might be the cause of your skewed appetite control and metabolic system. Who would have thought?

There's still a fair share of inspiration, including "Back to Basics: How We Can Renew America's Dream" as well as a captivating piece appropriately titled "The Seeker" on Conor Grennan, who trekked into the Himalayas in hope of finding the families of 24 children he had grown to love after volunteering at an orphanage near Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. The piece includes a handy map of the country as well as a globe showing where it's located.

Remarkably, the magazine has held fast to its general interest appeal. With so many publications (and everything else) designed to appeal to a narrow niche of consumers, it's an anomaly to find a magazine that can be enjoyed by 8- to 80-year-olds, conservatives to liberals, and everyone in between. The holidays are over, but I'm getting my parents a subscription to that large-type edition. Consider getting one for yours, too.

MAG STATS

Published by: The Reader's Digest Association

Frequency: Monthly

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6 comments about "Reader's Digest".
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  1. Kelly Samardak from Shortstack Photography, January 8, 2009 at 3:30 p.m.

    I have always loved Reader's Digest. And, they've done a really great job embracing social media through Twitter - -though I haven't seen a tweet go by recently. They would have contests for people following the RD's twitter. Easy, quick, and a nice touch for their sort of old school image

  2. Tiffany Lyman Otten from Tiffany Otten Consulting, LLC, January 8, 2009 at 3:34 p.m.

    What's up with your proofreading lately, guys? This is the 2nd mediapost email in a row with some pretty gross errors (an article about Hyundai that lackadaisically uses Honda in its place at one point just a day or two ago).

    I'm pretty sure poor Mr. Crowley is not responsible, along with cigarettes and alcoho and someone's mom's consumption of sugary and fatty foods, for anyone's metabolic system issues.

    I can excuse a sea vs. see here or there but this is a basic spell-check 101. I am pretty sure there's a great article in here if I can get over my cringing and get back to it...

    **note, my typos are deliberate and intended to reference the source.

  3. Gail Early, January 8, 2009 at 4:17 p.m.

    I too just became reacquainted with RD while in a doc's office. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it all over again. Heck, don't just get one for your parents...get one for yourself. Congrats to Peggy Northrop for a nice "freshening" and not an overhaul. There's a good reason RD continues to thrive...they recognize and stay true to their formula of success...knowing their readers, and giving them what they want. Here's to many more years of RD.

  4. Tim Mccormick from McCormick Fields, January 8, 2009 at 7:03 p.m.

    Reader's Digest has always had a place in my reading diet.
    Something of a comfort food. In some ways I think that RD
    was a graphic/format/content precursor to what we often
    view or look for on the internet. Just don't get me started on the RD condensed books.

  5. Rebecka Rodriguez from Icon Media Direct, January 12, 2009 at 7:48 p.m.

    I'm with Tiffany. I had to click on the link to figure out what the Mr. Crowley had to do with my mom, cigarettes and alcohol...or maybe that was intentional. Hmmm......fishing for web hits, MediaPost? :)

  6. c m, January 16, 2009 at 9:45 a.m.

    Readers Digest has just started a massive layoff plan. It started with the first cut of layoffs yesterday. I knew a few employees that were let go. It seems after all the past issues RD has had, they would be smart not to go through this again.

    I am on that is very happy not to work at RDA. It seems manaagement does not know what they are doing.

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