Reader's Digest is an American general-interest family magazine, published ten times a year. Formerly based in Chappaqua, New York, it now has its headquarters in New York City. The magazine was founded in 1922, by DeWitt Wallace and Lila Bell Wallace. For many years, Reader's Digest was the best-selling consumer magazine in the United States, losing the distinction in 2009 to Better Homes and Gardens. According to Mediamark Research (2006), it reaches more readers with household incomes of $100,000+ than Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and Inc. combined.
Global editions of Reader's Digest reach an additional 40 million people in more than 70 countries, with 49 editions in 21 languages. It is believed that the printing system MEPS was used to achieve this multi language translation. It has a global circulation of 10.5 million, making it the largest paid circulation magazine in the world. It is also published in Braille, digital, audio, and a version in large type called Reader's Digest Large Print. The magazine is compact, with its pages roughly half the size of most American magazines'. Hence, in the summer of 2005, the U.S. edition adopted the slogan: "America in your pocket." In January 2008, it was changed to: "Life well shared."
Inception and growth
The magazine was started by DeWitt Wallace while he was recovering from shrapnel wounds received in World War I. Wallace had the idea to gather a sampling of favorite articles on many subjects from various monthly magazines, sometimes condensing and rewriting them, and to combine them into one magazine.
Since its inception, Reader's Digest has maintained a conservative and anti-Communist perspective on political and social issues. The Wallaces initially hoped the journal could provide $5,000 of net income. Mr. Wallace’s continuing correct assessment of what the potential mass-market audience wanted to read led to rapid growth. By 1929, the magazine had 290,000 subscribers and had a gross income of $900,000 a year. The first international edition was published in the United Kingdom in 1938 and was sold at 2 shillings. By the 40th anniversary of Reader’s Digest, there were 40 international editions, in 13 languages and Braille, and it was the largest-circulating journal in Canada, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, Peru and other countries, with a total international circulation of 23 million.
The magazine's format for several decades consisted of 30 articles per issue (one per day), along with a vocabulary page, a page of "Amazing Anecdotes" and "Personal Glimpses", two features of funny stories entitled "Humor in Uniform" and "Life in these United States", and a lengthier article at the end, usually condensed from a published book. These were all listed in the Table of Contents on the front cover. Each article was prefaced by a small, simple line drawing. In recent years, however, the format has greatly evolved into flashy, colorful eye-catching graphics throughout, and many short bits of data interspersed with full articles. The Table of Contents is now contained inside. From 2003 to 2007, the back cover featured "Our America," paintings of Rockwell-style whimsical situations by artist C. F. Payne.
The first "Word Power" column of the magazine was published in the January 1945 edition, written by Wilfred J. Funk. In December 1952 the magazine published "Cancer by the Carton", a series of articles that linked smoking with lung cancer. This first brought the dangers of smoking to public attention which, up to then, had ignored the health threats.
From 2002 through 2006, Reader's Digest conducted a vocabulary competition in schools throughout the United States called Reader's Digest National Word Power Challenge (NWPC). In 2007, the magazine said it had decided not to have the competition for the 2007–08 school year, "but rather to use the time to evaluate the program in every respect, including scope, mission, and model for implementation."
In 2006, the magazine published three more local-language editions in Slovenia, Croatia and Romania. In October 2007, the Digest expanded in Serbia. The magazine's licensee in Italy stopped publishing in December 2007. The magazine launched in The People's Republic of China in 2008.
For 2010, the U.S. edition of the magazine planned to decrease its circulation to 5.5 million, from 8 million, to publish 10 times a year rather than 12, and to increase digital offerings. It also planned to reduce its number of celebrity profiles and how-to features, and increase the number of inspiring spiritual stories and stories about the military. It has been increased back to 12 times a year from 2013. The regular features include the cartoon series Reynolds Unwrapped by Dan Reynolds.
Business organization and ownership
The magazine's parent company, The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. (RDA), became a publicly traded corporation in 1990. As of 2010 RDA has reported a net loss each year since 2005. In March 2007, Ripplewood Holdings LLC led a consortium of private equity investors who bought the company through a leveraged buy-out for US$2.8 billion, financed primarily by the issuance of US$2.2 billion of debt. Ripplewood invested $275 million of its own money, and had partners including Rothschild Bank of Zürich and GoldenTree Asset Management of New York. The private equity deal tripled the association's interest payments, to $148 million a year.
On August 24, 2009 RDA announced it had filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy court a pre-arranged Chapter 11 bankruptcy, in order to continue operations, and to restructure the $2.2 billion debt undertaken by the leveraged buy-out transaction. The company emerged from bankruptcy with the lenders exchanging debt for equity, and Ripplewood's entire equity investment was extinguished.
In 2010, the US the company cut the number of issues it published a year from 12 to 10. It also cut its circulation guarantee for advertisers to 5.5 million copies from 8 million. However it returned to monthly editions beginning in January 2013.
RDA Holding filed for bankruptcy for a second time on February 17, 2013.
In 2001, 32 states attorneys general reached agreements with the company and other sweepstakes operators to settle allegations that they tricked the elderly into buying products because they were a "guaranteed winner" of a lottery. The settlement required the companies to expand the type size of notices in the packaging that no purchase is necessary to play the sweepstakes, and to:
- Establish a "Do Not Contact List" and refrain from soliciting any future "high-activity" customers unless and until Reader's Digest actually makes contact with that customer and determines that the customer is not buying because he or she thinks that the purchase will improve his or her chances of winning.
- Send letters to individuals who spend more than $1,000 in a six-month period telling them that they are not required to make purchases to win the sweepstakes, that making a purchase will not improve their chances of winning and that all entries have the same chance to win whether or not the entry is accompanied by a purchase.
The agreement appeared to adversely affect Reader's Digest circulation in the U.S. Its 1970s peak circulation was 17 million U.S. subscribers.
RDA offers many mail-order products included with "sweepstakes" or contests. U.S. Reader's Digest and the company's other U.S. magazines do not use sweepstakes in their direct mail promotions. A notable shift to electronic direct marketing has been undertaken by the company to adapt to shifting media landscape.
Reader's Digest in the UK has been criticised by the Trading Standards Institute for preying on the elderly and vulnerable with misleading bulk mailings that claim the recipient is guaranteed a large cash prize and advising them not to discuss this with anyone else. Following their complaint, the Advertising Standards Authority said they would be launching an investigation. The ASA investigation upheld the complaint in 2008, ruling that the Reader's Digest mailing was irresponsible, misleading (particularly for the elderly) and had breached three clauses of the Committee of Advertising Practice code. Reader's Digest was told not to use this mailing again.
Although Reader's Digest was founded in the U.S., its international editions have made it the best-selling monthly journal in the world. Its worldwide circulation including all editions has reached 17 million copies and 70 million readers.
Its international editions account for about 50% of the magazine's trade volume. In each market, local editors commission or purchase articles for their own market and share content with US and other editions. The selected articles are then translated by local translators and the translations edited by the local editors to make them match the "well-educated informal" style of the American edition.
Over the 90 years, the company has published editions in various languages in different countries, or for different regions.
Usually these editions started out as translations of the US version of the magazine, but over time many non-US editions became unique, providing local material more germane to local readers. Local editions that still publish the bulk of the American Reader's Digest are usually titled with a qualifier, such as the Portuguese edition, Seleções do Reader's Digest (Selections from Reader's Digest), or the Swedish edition, Reader's Digest Det Bästa (The Best of Reader's Digest).
The list is sorted by year of first publication. Some countries had editions but no longer do; for example, the Danish version of Reader's Digest (Det Bedste) ceased publication in 2005 and was replaced by the Swedish version (Reader's Digest Det Bästa); as a result, the Swedish edition covers stories about both countries (but written solely in Swedish).
On February 17, 2014, The Guardian had this headline: "Reader's Digest sold for £1. Mike Luckwell buys struggling title from Jon Moulton's private equity company, Better Capital, with plan to target over-50s".
- 1938 – United Kingdom (sold in 2010, operated under licence)
- 1940 – Latin America (in Spanish) (as Selecciones)
- 1942 – Brazil
- 1943 – Sweden
- 1943 – Egypt (Arabic) (Al-Mukhtar)
- 1945 – Finland
- 1946 – Australia, Denmark, Japan
- 1947 – Belgium (French), France, Norway, Canadian French
- 1948 – Canadian English, Japan, Germany, Italy (operations discontinued in 2007), South Africa, Switzerland (in French and German)
- 1950 – Argentina, New Zealand
- 1952 – Austria, Spain
- 1954 – India and Pakistan (in English)
- 1957 – Netherlands
- 1965 – Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia (in Traditional Chinese)
- 1968 – Belgium (Dutch)
- 1971 – Spanish speakers in the United States (in Spanish), Portugal
- 1978 – South Korea
- 1991 – Hungary, Russia
- 1993 – Czech Republic
- 1995 – Poland
- 1996 – Thailand (operations discontinued in 2014)
- 1997 – Slovakia
- 2004 – Indonesia (operations discontinued in October 2015)
- 2005 – Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria
- 2007 – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Ukraine
- 2008 – People's Republic of China (operations discontinued in 2012)
The second effort and the first Reader's Digest franchise agreement was negotiated through the efforts of Frederick Pittera, in 1976, an American entrepreneur, who sold the idea to Lebanon's former Foreign Minister, Lucien Dahdah, then son-in-law of Suleiman Frangieh, President of Lebanon. Dahdah partnered with Ghassan Tueni (former Lebanon Ambassador to the United Nations, and publisher of Al Nahar newspaper, Beirut) in publishing Reader's Digest in the Arabic language. It was printed in Cairo for distribution throughout the Arab world under title Al- Mukhtar. In format, Al-Mukhtar was the same as the U.S. edition with 75% of the editorial content. Philip Hitti, Chairman of Princeton University's Department of Oriental Languages and a team of Arabic advisers counseled on what would be of interest to Arabic readers. The publication of Al-Mukhtar was terminated by Reader's Digest in April 1993.
The Canadian edition first appeared in July 1947 in French and in February 1948 in English, and today the vast majority of it is Canadian content. All major articles in the August 2005 edition and most of the minor articles were selected from locally produced articles that matched the Digest style. There is usually at least one major American article in most issues.
"Life's Like That" is the Canadian name of "Life in These United States." All other titles are taken from the American publication. Recent "That's Outrageous" articles have been using editorials from the Calgary Sun.
Under new management—the new editor is Robert Goyette—the Canadian edition continues to publish.
The Indian edition was first published in 1954. Its circulation then was 40,000 copies. It was published for many years by the Tata Group of companies. Today, the magazine is published in India by Living Media India Ltd, and sold over 600,000 copies monthly in 2008. It prints Indian and international articles. According to the Indian Readership Survey Round II of 2009, the readership for Reader's Digest is 3.94 million, second only to India Today at 5.62 million. The India edition Chief Executive Officer is Ashish Bagga. The India Editor is Sanghamitra Chakraborty.
Reader's Digest Australia today has an any issue readership of 1.5 million (according to Nielsen) and a circulation of over 200,000. The magazine has a guaranteed audience with a 90% subscription rate. The editor-in-chief is Sue Carney.
New Zealand edition
With a readership of 299,000 per month Reader's Digest remains a firm favourite magazine for kiwis. This magazine circulates approximately 50,000 copies per month.
Reader's Digest publishes bi-monthly a series of softcover anthologies called Reader's Digest Select Editions (previously known as Reader's Digest Condensed Books). During the 1970s, there was also a Reader's Digest Press, which published full-length, original works of non-fiction.
- Lila Bell Wallace and DeWitt Wallace (1922–64)
- Hobart D. Lewis (1964–76)
- Edward T. Thompson (1976–84)
- Kenneth O. Gilmore (1984–90)
- Kenneth Tomlinson (1990–96)
- Christopher Willcox (1996–2000)
- Eric Schrier (2000–01)
- Jacqueline Leo (2001–07)
- Peggy Northrop (2007–11)
- Liz Vaccariello (2011–2016)
- Bruce Kelley (2016–present)