RD Returns to Aggregator Roots

Reader’s Digest, often billed as the original content aggregator under founders DeWitt and Lila Wallace, is returning to its roots as it continues its struggle for relevancy amid a decline in general-interest publications.
 
Starting with the February 2011 issue, Reader’s Digest will start running mostly condensed content from other sources—confirming a Mediaweek report in June that it was considering such a move as part of a massive financial review by parent Reader’s Digest Association.
 
“We’re returning the brand to its historical role as the original curator of content,” Dan Lagani, president of Reader’s Digest Media, said Sept. 14, announcing the change.
 
In fact, the magazine has made small steps in this direction in recent years, launching a small, front-of-book aggregated section called The Digest and occasionally picking up stories from outside sources (without boldly acknowledging it).
 
With the revamp, The Digest will expand to about 30 pages per issue and the feature well will consist of mostly stories from other sources, said Peggy Northrop, global editor in chief of Reader’s Digest.
 
The tagline “Life Well Shared” will go away, and the magazine will make more explicit to readers the fact that articles come from other sources. (A mockup of the future cover touted hundreds of tips from elsewhere, for instance.)
 
The parent company, under president/CEO Mary Berner, has been under immense pressure to improve efficiency since it emerged from bankruptcy earlier this year, but Lagani said the format change was not about cutting costs but about giving readers a way to cut through the onslaught of information available to them.
 
“It’s not about expenses, but serving a consumer need,” he said. “That’s the reason we’re doing it.”
 
“There is a tremendous need for everyday information,” added Northrop, who said that a few sections would stay, like the magazine’s popular and original humor and heroes features.
 
Northrop noted that the curated content that already runs in the magazine has been most popular with young readers, a group that’s been particularly hard for Reader’s Digest to reach.
 
They still may have some convincing to do with buyers, though.

One, Roberta Garfinkle, svp, director of print strategy, TargetCast tcm, questioned whether the loss of original content and opinion will “leave readers a little flat.”
 
“I wonder if in this day and age, with instant access to everything, if people will want a magazine with repurposed content,” she said.

Lagani mentioned the planned switch to an aggregation model at the end of a larger presentation to the media and advertising community that was given across the street from Reader’s Digest’s new HQ at 750 Third Ave., where it recently moved from its costlier suburban NYC digs.
 
The presentation focused on a new suite of Reader’s Digest-branded and other products that the company plans to roll out in the next 12 months. It’s part of a continued de-emphasis of the flagship, whose rate base has shrunk by nearly two-thirds over the past decade, to its current level of 5.5 million. Lagani said the rate base will stay at that level in 2011.
 
At the hub of the new initiatives is a series of products branded Reader’s Digest Version that repurpose the brand’s existing service content.
 
Also on tap are five new newsstand-only titles that will, with Reader’s Digest’s existing SIPs, seek advertising for the first time. A magazine iPad app is in the work, too.
 
Best You, a planned health magazine for women that got shelved earlier this year, will finally see the light, though not as a magazine but as a daily e-newsletter and book imprint.