Hard to Digest

Having referred to a Reader’s Digest article yesterday (yes, I still read the magazine… though just very occasionally), it saddens me to learn that this august magazine is set to file for bankruptcy in the US. It appears that this 87-year-old publication, which at its peak had a circulation of 18 million a month and was often found in the magazine racks of households and, as many liked to quip, in the dentist’s or the doctor’s waiting room, cannot stand the test of time.

Few people of the older generation have grown up without at least some memory of this iconic magazine. Remember, for example, its logo, with its Garamond font, immense R, and Pegasus next to it? Remember “Your 101 Favourite Melodies” and numerous other vinyl records that the magazine used to promote with the strategy of letting you sample and then return if not satisfied? Remember the sweepstakes?

My memory of the magazine started very early, when my school teacher recommended it as healthy reading and as good language model. I soon fell in love with the jokes and the uplifting true stories. I started subscribing it as soon as I could afford to, all the way until, much later, the stacks of unread copies reminded me that I had simply become too busy to read them anymore. And after being a consumer of jokes the years, I also tried writing and contributing them, and had the immense satisfaction of having a couple of jokes published and getting USD150 each time.

Gone are the good old days when Reader’s Digest enjoyed distribution in 60 countries, in 50 editions and 21 languages, reaching 40 million people worldwide. And it was barely four years ago that the magazine celebrated the publication of its 1,000th issue. It was not as though the company had not tried to change. The new logo, with its more modernistic Gill Sans font, a techie look, and a website address at the bottom, says a lot about what they tried to do. But either the changes were, like the new logo, rather ineffective, or they came too little too late. With circulation dropping to less than one third of its peak, it is obvious that Reader’s Digest has lot its hold on this generation.

As the cover of the 1,000th issue shows, one of the featured article was "Life-changing BIG ideas". One wonders whether Reader's Digest ever used some of those ideas to change its own life.

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