Reader's Digest - R.I.P.

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Reader’s Digest Goes Under

The folks over at Reader’s Digest have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This may not be the end for the mag, but the handwriting’s on the wall. As a formerly fervent reader of the Digest, my first thought at this news is: so what? The RD I loved disappeared a long time ago.

Like probably everyone else who has read or heard this news, I have my own thoughts about why this is happening.

The first culprit that will be trotted out will probably be the internet. Who needs magazines full of month old articles when you can get instantaneous news at the tip of a finger—some of it even factual and (an admittedly smaller portion that’s) well-written?

As a former patron of Reader’s Digest, though, I think the mag’s problems are less about outside forces than inside forces.

Pick up an old RD (from, say, 20 years ago—you probably have one on the back of the toilet right now) and you’ll find a completely different publication from the one on sale at your neighborhood check-out stand.

20 years ago, RD had articles. In fact, if you go back far enough (my child hood), RD had 30-31 articles every month—the idea being that you could read a different article every day of the month and get pretty well caught up on the top stories of news, human interest, entertainment and even sports.

Now, for every page of article, there’re two pages of medical disclaimers. No, they aren’t disclaimers about the articles, they are disclaimers about the advertised pharmaceuticals. See, someone over at RD realized that most of their subscribers were the elderly, so they started double-billing them and selling advertising space to pharmaceutical companies that made drugs for senior citizens that, apparently, don’t do exactly what they advertise, hence the disclaimers.

About that double-billing (and here we get to the reason why I dropped my subscription to RD). The people in their subscription department are either stupid or crooks. Here’s how the RD scam works. You purchase a one-year subscription that starts (for the sake of ease in the illustration) in January for (say) $25. By March, you start getting advertisements that read something like, “Renew you subscription today for $21.95!” If you fall for this and send in your check on, say, March 12, the new subscription kicks in on April 1. Get that? They didn’t sell you a new subscription that will kick in the next January, they negated the last 9 months of that first $25. So, essentially, they suckered you into paying them $21.95 for the first three months of the next year (which would be sort of appropriate if they ONLY did this on April Fool’s Day). By June, they’re sending you another “Amazing offer” which, if you follow it through, too, will also negate your last subscription.

Even with that, they couldn’t manage to turn a profit. I feel sorry for the people who will be out of work, but I have little sympathy for crooks who took a once great magazine and ruined it. They shouldn’t worry, though, they’ll probably get bailed out by the government with all those profits we taxpayers are getting from Government Motors.