Requiem for Reader's Digest? | Bleader

Monday, August 17, 2009

Requiem for Reader's Digest?

Posted By on 08.17.09 at 12:59 PM

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Oh, no: Reader's Digest has filed for Chapter 11 (h/t Mike Riggs).

It may surprise you, but that hits close to home for this liberal hippie type. I know it's not true, but I tend to assume that 99% of Americans my age grew up reading Reader's Digest (and Guideposts, which we had two subscriptions to at one point), either at home or at least at their grandparents' house.

Think of it this way: Reader's Digest was UGM before UGM was a gleam in Jeff Jarvis's eye. "Life In These United States," "Humor in Uniform," and their kin were reliably the best thing about it, and though I don't have the numbers handy, always paid generously to contributors.

Plus: "It was DeWitt, an 'errant son' and college dropout, who in 1913 hit on the 'stunt' of digesting government pamphlets into shorter circulars for farmers. By January 1922 (about the time he married former social worker Lila, who would inspire and collaborate with him for half a century to come), the idea had expanded."

Sound like anything you know? Square? Hell, Reader's Digest invented the Internet.

And then there's "Drama In Real Life." If you didn't dig that feature, check your pulse.

[Update: I almost forgot to mention one thing. In college, one of my suitemates had a subscription to Reader's Digest, in which I read about the then-Soros-funded American University of Bulgaria (the magazine's eternal anti-communist stance, in this case, outweighed any fears it might have had about the progressive-leaning financier). One of my best friends was looking for schools in foreign countries at which to complete his education, so I gave him the piece; he ended up at AUBG, where he met his wife.]

But what finally drove them into Chapter 11? C'mon, guess.

The most popular magazine on earth got sold to a private equity firm in 2006 for $2.4bn. Now it's "reached an agreement in principle with a majority of its senior secured lenders on terms of a restructuring plan to reduce the company’s debt from $2.2 billion to $550 million."

No points if you guessed right, since "driven into bankruptcy by an ill-timed, overleveraged purchase" should be your default answer by now.

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