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'Readers Digest' Fails To 'Adapt To Internet Speed'

Feb 19, 2013
Originally published on February 19, 2013 12:33 pm



One of the country's most famous magazines - the 91-year-old Reader's Digest - is filing for bankruptcy for the second time in less than four years. The digest originally offered just what the title promises - short versions of stories that had appeared in other publications. Now, it's filled with perky consumer news you can use, as well as a long-running advice columns, puzzles and jokes. Reader's Digest claims it still has 26 million readers worldwide, but the magazine's revenue took a big hit last year from falling sales overseas.

We're joined by Peter Kreisky, he's a media industry advisor and strategist, founder and chairman of the Kreisky Media Group.

Mr. Kreisky, welcome to our program.

PETER KREISKY: Nice to be here.

WERTHEIMER: Mr. Kreisky, two bankruptcies within five years, that sounds dire. What does that mean?

KREISKY: Well, Linda, the heart of the matter is that Reader's Digest built the most incredible direct marketing machine that works very, very well in the 1950s and the early '60s and it simply failed to operate and adapt to Internet speed, or the way in which customers want to interact with content.

WERTHEIMER: Is there a way - can you see away - for Reader's Digest to get through this?

KREISKY: It's going to require a revolution, quite frankly, and a lot of disruption. And that means devices like smartphones and tablets. And that's the challenge, to translate the values and the voice they honed and developed so effectively in print into a digital form. And digital is a very different medium. It isn't just as they used to say, you know, television was radio with pictures. Well, digital is not print on a screen.

WERTHEIMER: I assume that Reader's Digest audience on the old side. It doesn't feel like it would have a young readership.

KREISKY: I consulted to Reader's Digest some years ago and I guess this is not proprietary anymore because the data is at least 15 years old. But back then Reader's Digest readers average age was in the 70s and I don't know whether they've recruited enough young people to make up for those who are no longer with us.

WERTHEIMER: One of the things I remember about Reader's Digest was its sweepstakes program - that was, it was huge and I gather very profitable.

KREISKY: Well, Reader's Digest discovered sweepstakes in the 1950s and the early 60s and created a direct marketing machine that would get staggeringly high response rates. When the sweepstakes were banned by a number of state attorneys generals, Reader's Digest found it almost impossible to find a substitute that would provide the same kind of uptake that sweepstakes had.

WERTHEIMER: What do you think the odds that in 10 years time we'll still find this fat little magazine sitting on the table in the doctor's office?

KREISKY: It may still be in the doctor's office - oddly enough - but I'm not sure that it'll be the same mass circulation magazine that it has traditionally been. There's always a market for old media. I mean, if you think about it, even stone tablets still have a place in our society. They just happen to be in cemeteries.


WERTHEIMER: Peter Kreisky, of Kreisky Media, his company is focused on the media and entertainment industry, including publishing in all its forms - including tablets, stone tablets.

Thanks for your help this morning.

KREISKY: It's been a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.