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June 19, 2009 10:27 AM   Subscribe

“They are brands that may not be considered cool by the often elitist and self-absorbed standards of New York media,” she said. She had taken a car from Manhattan that morning, and wore a pink wool shirt-dress, patent leather Manolo Blahnik heels, and diamond hoop earrings.

Reader's Digest jumps the shark. (NYT)
posted by squalor (177 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
“In one of the Latin American countries, we were selling vibrators,” she said.

I tried to work this into a "Humor in Uniform" joke, but came up empty.
posted by jquinby at 10:30 AM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


They are aiming *more* to the right? Even back when I was completely politically unaware I found their "OUTRAGEOUS" column to be complete rightwing nutjobbery. The thing had Jindal-like denunciations of money spent on scientific research and working social programs.
posted by DU at 10:32 AM on June 19, 2009 [25 favorites]


Hmm... isn' t Readers Digest, as broad aggregation of relatively shallow encapsulated stories, basically a pre-Blog Blog?
posted by Artw at 10:33 AM on June 19, 2009 [12 favorites]


They are aiming *more* to the right?

My reaction too--this is a change how?
posted by LooseFilter at 10:33 AM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's good to know Reader's Digest just jumped the shark. Because if you had asked me prior to reading this, "When did Reader's Digest jump the shark?" I would have guessed somewhere around 1958.
posted by The Straightener at 10:34 AM on June 19, 2009 [37 favorites]


I don't understand the "jump the shark" phrase in this instance. It implies there was a time when Reader's Digest didn't completely suck.

Related: Reader's Digest got weird.
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:35 AM on June 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


“It’s an unabashed commitment to and focus on a market that’s ignored but is incredibly powerful,” she said.

Stopped reading here.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:35 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Didn't Reader's Digest jump the shark when Dwight Eisenhower was still president? Wasn't Reader's Digest something that Benjamin Braddock burned to light up a postcoital cigarette in "The Graduate"?
posted by blucevalo at 10:35 AM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


This would at least make it less bland
posted by poppo at 10:36 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem with Reader's Digest is that every potential reader has 300 old Reader's Digests in the basement. And they are indistinguishable from the new issues.
posted by msalt at 10:36 AM on June 19, 2009 [20 favorites]


I don't even understand how there's any "more to the right" than the current Reader's Digest. What audience are they going for? Monarchists?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:36 AM on June 19, 2009 [47 favorites]


I Am Joe's Failing Business Model
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:37 AM on June 19, 2009 [32 favorites]


Ms. Berner cut costs by about $25 million in the last quarter, but is under pressure to increase revenue. She is reorganizing the company’s brands around subjects like food and home. She has sold some educational units and is moving away from the widespread branding that put Reader’s Digest on everything from caskets to pet insurance. “In one of the Latin American countries, we were selling vibrators,” she said.

Because we all know how non-conservative and non-traditional-values those hot-blooded equatorial Latin countries are.
posted by blucevalo at 10:37 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


So it's going to become Guideposts as edited by a bunch of Fox News types?
posted by Any Moose In a Storm at 10:37 AM on June 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Ironically reading Reader's Digest is hipster as fuck, though.
posted by The Straightener at 10:38 AM on June 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


Awwwwww. Look at that, it's My First National Review.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:38 AM on June 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'll miss the section:
"It Pays to Increase Your Firepower"
posted by ahimsakid at 10:40 AM on June 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


My mom's gotten Reader's Digest forever, and my experience pretty much meshes with DU's. I used to read 'em when I was a kid, mostly for the survival-in-the-mountains stories and the medical horror stories, and as a pre-teen I asked my mom something like, "Is it just me, or is this a magazine for old conservative people?" She was like, "Yeah, but I like some of the stories, and I like the 'Test Your Vocabulary' page."
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:40 AM on June 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


When I was little I loved reading Reader's Digest for the funny stories (some of them still make me giggle) but around the age of nine I made a very strict rule for myself that I would never again read any of the actual articles because they made me so paranoid. They were all things like "Is Your Car Really Safe?" or "Are Surgeons Stealing Your Organs While You're Asleep?" and the answer was always "Things are HORRIBLE! Everyone is out to get you!" and it was terrifying.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:41 AM on June 19, 2009 [9 favorites]


I think RD came post-shark-jumped, there never was a before shark moment for it.

Either that, or jumping the shark for RD means they moderate their ingrained drivel.
posted by edgeways at 10:42 AM on June 19, 2009


$2.1 billion in debt. Billion.

I *knew* that paying $50 for each of those "Life in These United States" anecdotes would catch up with them sooner or later.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:42 AM on June 19, 2009 [22 favorites]


the 114-acre Reader’s Digest campus

Sounds like they are still doing okay.

A few years ago I was doing a project that involved looking at circulation rates of magazines. I seem to recall that for every year of my lifetime, Reader's Digest has been either the biggest-selling English-language periodical or the second-biggest (TV Guide being its only competition). I can now look online to fine TV listings, but where am I going to find a good source of gentle "Life's Like That"-esque anecdotes online, hmmmm?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:42 AM on June 19, 2009


Good god, I thought I was the only one who got that slant. I was picking up on it when I was thirteen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:42 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, I suppose being forced to thumb through Reader's Digest in the dentist's office beats being forced to thumb through Details or Golf World.
posted by blucevalo at 10:43 AM on June 19, 2009


We don’t choose our partners to change the world, we choose them because we’re running a business. I guess it sounds cynical if you believe that to run a business to make money is cynical. But that’s what I’m paid to do.
I thought this was refreshingly honest and BS-free. At least she doesn't claim to be a true believer; she's there to make money and turn the brand around. If that means pandering to social conservatives, by god they'll be the best panderers around.

Most times when companies do this, they put on a disgusting facade of authenticity that we're expected to take at face value. Here, they're pretty bluntly saying "the old plan wasn't working, so we're moving to the Right. Prepare to get moralized."

I think if I was a social conservative I'd be insulted by the whole thing, and the ease with which she's obviously planning on using "family values" to generate cash flow, but I suppose I'd be used to that by now.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2009 [10 favorites]


Maybe the new owners are taking Reader's Digest into a new, much more conservative and religious direction because they have done their research and found out that one of the largest group of "people-who-still-consume-old-media" is in that direction? Time will tell if this is a successful move or if its like trying to re-decorate the office when the Old Media Building is about to collapse.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, I suppose being forced to thumb through Reader's Digest in the dentist's office beats being forced to thumb through Details or Golf World.

I stick with Highlights. It insults my intelligence less.
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:47 AM on June 19, 2009 [18 favorites]


I figured I'd point out the irony that the famous Jump The Shark website actually jumped the shark, big time, in the past year. Guess who wrecked it? That other rag, TV Guide.
posted by crapmatic at 10:47 AM on June 19, 2009


Readers digest jumped the shark years ago and has always had a conservative slant.
--The condensed version of this thread for those who dont have the time to read the whole thing.
posted by TedW at 10:48 AM on June 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


The problem with Reader's Digest is that every potential reader has 300 old Reader's Digests in the basement.

omg, I thought my parents were the only ones!
posted by DU at 10:48 AM on June 19, 2009


Wait there pro-obama leadership is willing to make this an anti-obama magazine? I'm confused, and also with the people that always thought it was a right-wing magazine that sometimes profiled Tom Hanks or some other celebrity and had stories about hikers that had to cut off limbs to survive.
posted by djduckie at 10:49 AM on June 19, 2009


um, Their not there.
posted by djduckie at 10:49 AM on June 19, 2009


I can now look online to fine TV listings, but where am I going to find a good source of gentle "Life's Like That"-esque anecdotes online, hmmmm?

I can forward my aunt's emails to you.
posted by Doohickie at 10:49 AM on June 19, 2009 [12 favorites]


They made awesome forts for my army men.
posted by No Robots at 10:49 AM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why did the Times feel the need to revisit a story they covered thoroughly in November?
posted by zarq at 10:49 AM on June 19, 2009


I was a very early reader, and I'm pretty sure my first independent memory is of reading a story in Reader's Digest. I suspect I would have been about 4 at the time. It was a story about a young woman who shared my first name and who was dying of some dreadful thing (probably cancer) and a motorcycle trip she took across the US prior to her death.

Looking back, I'm sure the article was supposed to be an uplifting "do what you can with the time you have" story, but what stuck with me was the gruesome details of her death at the end. I think I remember this moment so clearly because it was the first time I'd really understood what death entailed.

I don't really know where I'm going with this, but that's my Reader's Digest story.
posted by anastasiav at 10:51 AM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


"It’s traditional, conservative values: I love my family, I love my community, I love my church."

Because liberals absolutely hate those things. Look at Obama: he hates his dysfunctional family, never did a damn thing for his community, and I bet he falls asleep in church.
posted by yeti at 10:51 AM on June 19, 2009 [52 favorites]


Not only is there no shark-jumping going on, they are not making the magazine available at Wal-Marts and churches. That's the "new multifaceted effort" produced with Rick Warren (previously), the evangelical pastor, called the Purpose Driven Connection.

For about $30, subscribers get a quarterly magazine with religious workbooks, along with DVDs featuring Mr. Warren, and membership in a social-networking Web site, including tips on what to pray for each week. It (Purpose Driven Connection) is available through churches and at Wal-Marts, and Ms. Berner wants to introduce other unorthodox distribution strategies.

“That is the model going forward,” said Mary Berner, the president and chief executive of Reader’s Digest Association.

“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care what the religion is, what the spirituality is, as long as it’s legitimate, there’s a built-in community and it’s global,” Ms. Berner said.

The editorial team had even considered turning Reader’s Digest into a right-wing handbook, a companion to Fox News. “It was a supposition,” Ms. Berner said, that half the country is annoyed that Barack Obama is president.

The best-selling cover of the last six months showed a harried-looking baby with the cover line “Oh, Cheer Up!: America’s Funniest Jokes.”

---------------

They're looking to tap into whatever niche of pocketbooks they can, and it sounds like they're still feeling out what conservative focus(es) the magazine will have. They've been conservative for quite a while, but not with enough emphasis to really grab a significant group, which is what they're trying to change. The article was a bit jumbled, which seems to reflect the scattered efforts of the magazine.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:51 AM on June 19, 2009


I am Jack's total lack of surprise.
posted by Electric Dragon at 10:51 AM on June 19, 2009


They are aiming *more* to the right?

Yeah. They've always had that slant, but maybe it wasn't too pronounced. Maybe they felt that the Free Republic made 'em look like the Village Voice. I dunno.

Most of the issues of Reader's Digest that I've digested were found at a distant relative's summer home, so my memories of the magazine involve humid-damp pages and a pervading musty smell. That and the memory of the mailing label or whatnot being sort of glued to the cover and when you removed it, it left this little streak of dried paper glue.
posted by Spatch at 10:52 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


She had taken a car from Manhattan that morning, and wore a pink wool shirt-dress, patent leather Manolo Blahnik heels, and diamond hoop earrings.

DRAMA IN REAL LIFE!
posted by Ratio at 10:52 AM on June 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


It's good to know Reader's Digest just jumped the shark. Because if you had asked me prior to reading this, "When did Reader's Digest jump the shark?" I would have guessed somewhere around 1958.

No, no, that's when the shark was first sighted. Shark jumping takes a long time for pre-Internet media.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:53 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


much more conservative and religious direction

Reader's Digest was already pretty damn conservative, and very "Chicken Soup for the Soul"-style religious.

I hope they start printing the ill-informed e-mail forwards I get from my gun-toting immigrant-hating uncle.
posted by graventy at 10:54 AM on June 19, 2009


I figured I'd point out the irony that the famous Jump The Shark website actually jumped the shark, big time, in the past year. Guess who wrecked it? That other rag, TV Guide.

I had not looked at JumptheShark.com in a very long while. I can't think of a more complete evisceration than what TV Guide's done to it. They should just throw up a 404 error message and be done with it. Holy crap.
posted by blucevalo at 10:54 AM on June 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Why did the Times feel the need to revisit a story they covered thoroughly in November?

The same reason Readers Digest (and most other checkout isle publications) can churn out the same pulp week, issue after issue. People forget, or don't pay enough attention to the details, they get pulled in by the pictures and the taglines. More ways to pinch pennies, improve your sex life, and fit into your summer clothes, except there really can't be that many ways to do these things, so you're bound to repeat yourself.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:55 AM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


“We don’t choose our partners to change the world, we choose them because we’re running a business. I guess it sounds cynical if you believe that to run a business to make money is cynical. But that’s what I’m paid to do.”


What if you believe it's cynical to embrace a subculture and champion its values solely to achieve a hopefully profitable business model for your magazine?


“It’s not as cynical as you think,” she said..


Well, okay, then.
posted by darkstar at 10:57 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


she's there to make money and turn the brand around. If that means pandering to social conservatives

Here's the thing: "pandering to social conservatives" is hardly turning this particular brand around. They've been pandering to social conservatives for decades. 'LET'S DO MORE OF WHAT ALREADY ISN'T WORKING!' is rarely a successful business strategy (and it comes as no surprise to me that the New York Times doesn't realize that, given that that's their trajectory as well).
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:57 AM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Reader's Digest is totally the kandy korn of periodicals. Each issue is the same, and they're all too saccharine to enjoy for any period of time longer than waiting for the dentist. Plus, you can get both for cheap next to the check out.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:58 AM on June 19, 2009


I like reading Reader's Digest in the waiting room. It lulls me into a gentle sense of easeful paranoia and I can quietly think about how I can support myself for the rest of my life on invented Life in Uniform stories. Also, unless you look at the date, any issue could have been published at any time in the last fifty years, which gives it a weird timeless quality, unlike the June 1997 Southern Living on the other chair, which has half the recipes torn out. Nobody ever tears the recipes out of Reader's Digest.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:59 AM on June 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


I can't even imagine what a Reader's Digest pandering to liberals would look like. Just a pocket version of the New Yorker?
posted by graventy at 11:00 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love the picture at the top of the article. Ms. Berner looks like her coworker just told her that there might be an atheist in the office.
posted by diogenes at 11:00 AM on June 19, 2009


THIS MONTH IN READERS DIGEST: WE PILLORY BILL BUCKLEY, WELL KNOWN EDUCATED MAN AND PROBABLE LEFTY
posted by boo_radley at 11:01 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


how I can support myself for the rest of my life on invented Life in Uniform stories.

Oh man I used to dream about spending the money I'd get for the jokes I'd send in.
posted by graventy at 11:01 AM on June 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


ALSO PAGE 32: A REBUTTAL OF THE SOCIALST'S ARGUMENT THAT NEOCONS DO NOT UNDERSTAND OR CARE FOR HISTORY. (NOW IN LARGE TYPE)
posted by boo_radley at 11:02 AM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


I always thought that Reader's Digest was pretty slanted right from the begining, as well. I think I probably noticed it about when I was 12, especially in the "That's Outragous!" column, which read a lot like something out of the CATO institute. I pretty much condemned them entirely when I saw an article that said that corporations were so eager to voluntarily reduce their pollution, even when it would be at a loss, that environmental regulation was unnecessary. That's like saying we don't need any yield signs just because I let somebody merge ahead of me when I wasn't in a hurry.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:02 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Associated Press: "Reader's Digest Association Inc. is embracing multimedia content and in the process reducing the number of times it will publish its flagship magazine. The company said Friday it will publish its U.S. magazine 10 times a year beginning with the February 2010 issue, down from 12. It will also adjust its rate base from 8 million to 5.5 million over an 18-month period. A rate base is the circulation the company is guaranteeing to advertisers. Total global circulation will be 14.5 million."
posted by blucevalo at 11:05 AM on June 19, 2009


I can forward my aunt's emails to you.

I have an aunt of my own, thanks. One who, come to think of it, will probaby greet this news story with exictement.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:06 AM on June 19, 2009


“It’s an unabashed commitment to and focus on a market that’s ignored but is incredibly powerful,” she said.

Wait a minute. I'll buy that this church/family/country-loving market exists and is "powerful" but ignored? Ignored, really? Really? But...but...oh, whatever Reader's Digest. Whatever.


I remember my sixth-grade language arts teacher had racks of old Reader's Digests and Watchtowers in her classroom for us to browse if we finished our work early. I have always enjoyed the size and shape of Reader's Digest. All portable and almost-a-book...
posted by Neofelis at 11:07 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also detected the conservative bent of RD as a kid reading my grandmother's issues. It's kind of funny how even those of us who hate the rag are quite familiar with the regular features and editorial style.

I don't care that they're moving right, because they have never really been centrist. I don't reject the magazine because of its ideology - I reject it because it's downright stupid. Even as a kid I could tell it was written on maybe a third-grade level; the stories are predictably formulaic; the humor is facile; and none of the factual articles ever dared to approach an in-depth analysis. For RD, thinking was never too hard and life's moral choices were simply not complicated. People who wish the same were true in their lives will love the new mag.
posted by Miko at 11:08 AM on June 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


Reader's Digest Association Inc. is embracing multimedia content

Flash ads of epicene grandmothers embracing tow-headed children in front of a cozy fireplace?
posted by benzenedream at 11:10 AM on June 19, 2009


My maternal grandparents subscribed to Reader's Digest. After my grandfather died, Grandma went through his stuff. She found a Life in Uniform submission that he had written up but hadn't sent in. She kept it in her scrapbook instead of submitting it, even though I'm pretty sure she needed the $50.

So Reader's Digest is the source of some good in the world.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:11 AM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nobody ever tears the recipes out of Reader's Digest.

There are only so many things you can do with an atheist's heart, and really, they're better broiled with a little squeeze of lemon.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:12 AM on June 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


For some reason, copies of Reader's Digest were given out with rations sometimes, during the war in Bosnia. We used to grab for them - more for the occasional pictures of food than anything else (it had the same general appeal as pornography - we were pretty hungry), because most of us, including me, had little or no English. With a little pocket dictionary, we used to try to translate the jokes, about 90% of which made no sense to us at all . . . but these were often funnier than the ones we could figure out. I also learned somehow that the original point of the magazine was to provide one easy-to-read article per day, and if you look at older copies, they actually do have the exact number of articles for the days in that month, plus one longer feature. Do they do that now, with only 10 issues a year?

For me, the most useful feature was the one in which you could test your vocabulary. I regard that as the main reason I have a little of English words I don't use. But it "jumped the shark" for me when they stopped providing etymological explanations for the words - too tough for people, I guess.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:14 AM on June 19, 2009 [17 favorites]


I had not looked at JumptheShark.com in a very long while. I can't think of a more complete evisceration than what TV Guide's done to it. They should just throw up a 404 error message and be done with it. Holy crap.

301 redirect to lemonparty.org.
posted by ryoshu at 11:14 AM on June 19, 2009


“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care what the religion is, what the spirituality is, as long as it’s legitimate, there’s a built-in community and it’s global,” Ms. Berner said.

Sounds like a good, honest working relationship can be established.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:15 AM on June 19, 2009


It's called Reader's Digest because everything in it has already been digested. This supposed shift to the right is scary, because a lot of the people who will welcome a more conservative and spiritual publication will have no problem with having that conservatism and sprituality spoon-fed to them.

I am eagerly awaiting the Condensed Books version of the Left Behind series, though. All the rapture in half the time.
posted by Shohn at 11:16 AM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've just realised that since I got an iPhone last year, I haven't bought a magazine or newspaper. And my dentist has WiFi.

Maybe they should just put out an app or 5..?
posted by i_cola at 11:20 AM on June 19, 2009


For about $30, subscribers get a quarterly magazine with religious workbooks,

I read that as "religious workouts" and briefly considered ponying up the $30, just to see what that entailed. Step-aerobics with Jesus?
posted by ahdeeda at 11:22 AM on June 19, 2009


A few years ago, my parents (who are not particularly religious or conservative) got me a subscription to Readers Digest for my birthday. I hadn't read it since I was a little kid waiting to see my dentist, so when I flipped through the first issue to arrive on my doorstep, it made me wonder if my folks had a) forgotten who I was, b) started to go senile, c) been replaced by alien replicants or b) all of the above.
posted by you just lost the game at 11:23 AM on June 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


I can't even imagine what a Reader's Digest pandering to liberals would look like. Just a pocket version of the New Yorker?

Not saying that the New Yorker isn't a liberally-bent rag, but I despise the false dichotomy of "if you're not right, your left," or, "if you're not conservative, you're liberal," and vice versa.

I also despise the use of the words "conservatives" and "liberals" as proper nouns, and prefer seeing them only as adjectives. I can almost hear the sneer everytime I read the words. And when I visualize these words, I picture a group of people sitting around who, when looked upon more closely, are actually a group of straw men.

Readers Digest has become very Alarmist in the past decade that I've had a chance to read it, I'd argue without political bent. In the same issue, you'll see a story about how medical malpractice lawsuits have gotten out of hand and should be curtailed, and another story about a woman whose doctor misdiagnosed her cancer, causing hundreds of thousands in medical bills. But perhaps the false alarms to be rung these days are all right-wing nuttery.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:23 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have fond memories of Readers Digest.

Back when I was eighteen, I dated my high-school sweetheart. I met her parents and they loved me. We all got along great. Eventually I moved away but every other weekend I'd come to visit and they would let me stay at their house. I'd sleep in the guestroom directly across the hall from my girlfriend. There was always a stack of Readers Digest magazines that I'd lay and read until I was positive that her parents were asleep upstairs. Then I'd sneak into my girlfriend's room and we'd fuck til' the sun came up or until her parents heard us.

Yes, I loved the Readers Digest.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:26 AM on June 19, 2009 [21 favorites]


"They are aiming *more* to the right? Even back when I was completely politically unaware I found their "OUTRAGEOUS" column to be complete rightwing nutjobbery. The thing had Jindal-like denunciations of money spent on scientific research and working social programs."
Exactly. The Canadian version has been weirdly right-wing for a long time (in a slightly left of centre country), with lots of headlines about scary youth crime and articles about how we're overtaxed taken from Macleans magazine. My senior citizen Dad has subscribed to RD for over forty years and even he's sick of it.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:27 AM on June 19, 2009


IS IT TIME FOR READER'S DIGEST MEMORIES

YES

Burned into my brain is a Reader's Digest article about a woman whose accelerator got jammed going 80 on the highway, forcing her to drive...so long, in a...a dangerous way--I don't know, it seemed compelling at the time. The story made a point of saying that the woman attempted to just turn off the car, with her keys, the way you do, but that totally didn't work for magic reasons, even though the cops who examined the car after the ordeal said the ignition was working fine. ANYWAY, my mind was blown. It never occurred to me that the lady just f'ed her key try, and I was forced to content myself with the explanation that since the Lord Jesus God had filled the world with mystery, sometimes your car would just turn sentient and try to kill you.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 11:28 AM on June 19, 2009 [20 favorites]


It's kind of funny how even those of us who hate the rag are quite familiar with the regular features and editorial style.

RG was pretty much inescapable when you were growing up in a particular period of time, and you had to come across it and read it for one reason or another, because you were bored waiting in the orthodontist's reception area or the church vestibule, or your aunt stuffed one into your hands to occupy yourself with while you were waiting for her to get done baking a casserole in the kitchen, or whatnot. There were also all of those Reader's Digest Guides to Fix Your Leaky Kitchen Sink that you could order through the mail (and your parents or relatives had on the bookshelf next to the New Testament and James Michener or Jacqueline Susann's latest novel). There is a certain amount of hate being expressed here, I guess, although that may be a strong word, but I think it's maybe more a recognition that there's not much around anymore than has the kind of insidious media presence that RG once had, along with a certain nostalgia for its familiarity and dependability.
posted by blucevalo at 11:30 AM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


When I was growing up, my mom had some regular house- and office-cleaning gigs, and us kids would go along to (in theory) help out sometimes, doing stuff that wasn't too complicated and didn't require too much of an attention-span like emptying wastebaskets or vacuuming a hallway, etc.

When we would do offices with waiting rooms, I would sometimes sneak off and read the magazines that were sitting around. I was pretty young at the time and didn't have much interest in e.g. Sports Illustrated or Cosmo or that kind of thing, but I liked that Reader's Digest had those joke sections.

So I'd be sitting around at five in the morning, hiding in a lobby chair while the vacuum ran a room or two over, huddled up with some RDs and paging through for Laughter Is The Best Medicine or Humor In Uniform and so on, just plowing through these family-friendly jokes and cornball anecdotes, maybe skimming the pages for those little filler jokes they'd put at the bottom of the final pages of their long-form articles as well.

Later on, as I grew up into more of an actual reader, it was weird grappling with the tension between those early happy childhood memories of reliable (if tepid) humor and the seriously blech content and editorial bent of the magazine outside of the jokes. I wonder if I react more strongly negatively now to RD than I would if it hadn't been my inadvertent slack-time buddy back in my single digits.
posted by cortex at 11:30 AM on June 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


All this talk about the supposed "right wing bias"! WTF? Readers' Digest has been pandering to the literate since it's inception! I mean, come on - it's right there in the title!
posted by Navelgazer at 11:31 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait, what? Conservatives actually read for pleasure these days?

No, I'm not being snarky. I wish I was. I'm being deadly earnest. All of the self-professed conservatives I know in my family and friends pretty much don't read books. Or magazines.

They sure watch a whole lot of cable news though. And listen to a lot of angry blowhards spouting off on the radio.
posted by loquacious at 11:31 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, I distinctly remember sitting in a cabin in Montana, reading a longish RD feature about The Unabomber, back when he was just a police sketch and a mystery.
posted by cortex at 11:32 AM on June 19, 2009


IS IT TIME FOR READER'S DIGEST MEMORIES

YES

I remember that car-out-of-control story, Powerful Religious Baby.

My grandma had lots of these at her cabin, later home, in Northern Michigan, and I would read them because there was nothing much else to do. The stories I remember most were about things like being buried alive in a box with an airtube--that one has really stayed with me. And then one where a teenager was kidnapped and his ear was partly cut off and sent to his parents. I had no context at all for these stories, or any understanding of why these kids would be kidnapped, so it was all very surreal.

I was a grownup before I realized that kidnapping the children of really rich people was a trend in the 1970s, and that's what all these stories were about.

Also, I know a woman who for many years made her living writing "Drama in Real Life" pieces for Reader's Digest.
posted by not that girl at 11:33 AM on June 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


I loved the "I AM JOE'S ISLETS OF LANGERHANS" stories. A lot.

Also, snippets from James Michener, because who has the time to read one of those giant books all the way through.

E. B. White's classic riff on Reader's Digest here: IRTNOG.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:34 AM on June 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


I can't even imagine what a Reader's Digest pandering to liberals would look like. Just a pocket version of the New Yorker?
posted by graventy at 11:00 AM on June 19 [+] [!]


Graventy, you have hit on something here. If we assume that aging baby boomers and Gen. X'ersare more liberal than the previous generation of RD's readership, then it might make more sense for RD to swing hard left.

I Am Joe's Bong.
Real Life Drama: The Day I Spilled My Mocha In My Hybrid.
Humor In Business Casual.
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:34 AM on June 19, 2009 [12 favorites]


Reader's Digest isn't looking for conservative reader. The frame of the times article is wrong.

Reader's Digest is suffering from the same problem as all print media - the encroach of the internet and online publishing. The article implicitly confirms that the web as a publishing medium, is now seen as a a legitimate source of news and commentary by most of the public. But not all, not yet.

So reader's Digest is really looking for a demographic that doesn't read blogs, because they are uncomfortable with them or distrust them for whatever reason. They are looking for late majority adopters and laggards.

According to the model set forth in Diffusion of Innovations, one of the most brilliant books ever written about the dispersion of techonology and ideas:
Laggards possess almost no opinion leadership. They are the most localite of all adopters in their outlook. Many are near isolates in the social networks of their system. The point of reference for the laggard is what has been done in the past. Decisions are often made in terms of what has been done previously, and these individuals interact primarily with others who also have relatively traditional values. Laggards tend to be suspicious of change agents." (Diffusion of Innovations, 5th ed. p. 284)
Sound like anyone you know? When you hear O'Reilly dismiss online critics as bloggers, the laggards are the people who smile and nod. You hear that and you get upset, because blogs for you are old hat.

Here is a key passage from the Times article:
“What if we just go after them?” said Ms. Berner, who has a framed photograph of President Obama in her office. But testing the right-wing handbook idea with cover lines like advocating prayer in schools flopped.

“What worked was conservative values,” Ms. Berner said.
In that passage you see confirmation that Reader's Digest is too late to go after even the early majority, i.e. the conservative reader with some degree of opinion leadership. Those people have already adopted the internet. Maybe they read National Review or the Weekly Standard, but they are online. They've adopted the internet, and once anyone adopts it, there's no going back to print.

Reader's Digest is going for the last outpost in print journalism.

Inceidentally, this book, and many of the more advanced theoretical and marketing concepts it has spawned are quite illuminating when applied to current trends or even politics.

For example, consider the gay marriage issue. California voters demonstrated that acceptance of minorities in positions of authority, liberal economics, anti-war/left-wing politics have diffused into the majority of California voters. In other words, those ideas are not so "bleeding edge". The early-late majority now view these ideas as mainstream. But gay marriage isn't. It's too soon. The early majority isn't there yet. In their consciousness, the idea is only about 5 years old, which is about the time that mainstream media have been covering the gay marriage issue..

What has to happen is that the idea of gay marriage has be be viewed as something that is known, but which is not confrontational. This is why the right-wing frames it as a threat to traditional marriage. Because everyone knows about gay marriage now (i.e. it is an issues in the public and media discourse), it must be framed as a threat to block its diffusion. Threats are not diffused and accepted, they are opposed or at most sublimated in the consciousness. If it is not labeled a threat, it becomes an idea which merely has to stick around long enough for people to age and accept it as ordinary.

This is what happened to liberal politics - it was labeled a threat and failed to gain adoption (was Clinton really liberal?), until it was revealed through the course of events (as opposed to an overt set-agenda or delivered message) that conservative politics were much more damaging. With the notion of liberal politics as a "threat" dispelled, liberal politics, being well-known, become easy to adopt and elect, in the matter of months.

The gay marriage agenda needs to dispell the notion that it is a threat to regular marriage. Frame all marriages as independent of one another, or that a failure to allow gay marriages will threaten straight marriages by making lifelong cohabitation with a partner and together raising children outside of marriage a viable economic and legal option for everyone.

Talking about people's rights to get married will not work as long as some voters retain the notion that the rights gays seek to have may impact the rights they (the voters) already have. The idea has diffused into the public consciousness, reframe its context to facilitate its adoption.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:34 AM on June 19, 2009 [27 favorites]


The stories I remember most were about things like being buried alive in a box with an airtube--that one has really stayed with me.

Oh, God, yes, I lay awake worrying about this for nights on end. I remember there was a diagram of the box, and how it had a little lightbulb in it. Her name was Barbara something, IIRC.

So I told my father about this, and he went and found "The Ransom of Red Chief" and read it to me, and I was never afraid of being kidnapped again. True story.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:36 AM on June 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


Islets of Langerhans! I had forgotten all about those!

OMG, here comes a Proustian tidal wave of memories!
posted by blucevalo at 11:36 AM on June 19, 2009


So I told my father about this, and he went and found "The Ransom of Red Chief" and read it to me, and I was never afraid of being kidnapped again. True story.

Sidhedevil, I love your dad.

My oldest son, who just turned 8, recently got much more independent and starting taking himself for walks around the neighborhood. I was a little nervous about it, and one of my friends said, "Oh, don't worry, if anybody kidnapped him, they'd return him within hours," so I went and re-read Ransom of Red Chief and laughed and laughed.
posted by not that girl at 11:43 AM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


my memories of the magazine involve humid-damp pages and a pervading musty smell

Actually, that's from the writing.
posted by msalt at 11:52 AM on June 19, 2009


I can't even imagine what a Reader's Digest pandering to liberals would look like.

Probably a lot like Utne Reader.
posted by msalt at 11:53 AM on June 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


My grandma started buying me subscriptions to RD shortly after I learned to read, and kept it up until the day she died (I was 31 at the time). I never had the heart to tell her that I didn't like it. That's my RD story.
posted by box at 11:55 AM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Kumar: I don't know, man, I lose my touch, man.

Dignan: Did you ever have a touch to lose, man?

/Bottle Rocket
posted by educatedslacker at 11:58 AM on June 19, 2009


I can't even imagine what a Reader's Digest pandering to liberals would look like.

This American Life.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:00 PM on June 19, 2009 [17 favorites]


A subscription to Reader's Digest used to be the ultimate safe gift. You could get it for anybody without fear of offending them.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:01 PM on June 19, 2009


I always hate to see editors building an editorial philosophy around what they think "some people" would like — not them, you understand, but the unwashed masses out there who are nothing like them. I don't think that strategy ever works. Not only is it insufferably condescending, but it leads to garbage products. My theory is that there are people out there who would like a Reader's Digest compiled along the lines of its long-standing editorial philosophy if the actual quality of the work included didn't suck so much. If they were to bump up the general reading level and include genuinely entertaining and interesting articles (don't tell me stuff like that isn't being printed now, and all they have to do is select the right stuff), they could still probably find buyers. There are readers out there who will like the survival against-the-odds stories and the how-to articles and the homespun humour and all that, but what Reader's Digest has to understand is that even "traditional viewpoints" aren't static, and they can't just keep repackaging the same old slop and expect it to sell. Today's readers are not the readers of even 10 years ago and the magazine's editors need to make the effort to understand them.

You might think romance novels are interchangeable and any crap Harlequin pumps out might sell, but Harlequin is a company that keeps subtly changing their products so as to keep up with what their customers want. Reader's Digest, by contrast, is doing nothing but sticking to a moth-eaten formula, and then changing it according to guesswork. They probably need to model themselves after Harlequin if they want to stay in business.

Oh, and a few years back I wrote a review of a Reader's Digest Christmas book for my book review site. I'm going to provide this shameless self-link rather than copy and paste my comments here.
posted by orange swan at 12:14 PM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care what the religion is, what the spirituality is, as long as it’s legitimate, there’s a built-in community and it’s global,” Ms. Berner said.

At least she's openly exploiting the religious right, instead of simply schmoozing with them.
posted by FormlessOne at 12:17 PM on June 19, 2009


True story, I swear I saw an article in a 1998 RD that was essentially praising the Taliban for introducing rule of law and cleaning up Afghanistan's drug trade. I've often wished I could find that post-Sep11 as a demonstrator for some problems with American media and certain conservative viewpoints.

I really like the idea of the magazine in principle, and despite agreeing that it has shortcomings, I've been a fan since I was about 12. It was the standard bathroom reading material in my parents house, and I was a pretty omnivorous reader that got tired of counting the tiles on the floor while performing bodily functions, so I started in, and got hooked. Pretty soon I was not only reading each month cover-to-cover, but going through a spotty decade of back issues my parents had kept around. This in turn introduced me to other stuff I'd pick out of the library and read, magazines, novels, non-fiction. It was my introduction to Garrison Keillor and James Herriott and even half a dozen scientific topics. I recognize now there wasn't a particularly high common denominator for a lot of this stuff, but since I was 12, that didn't matter a ton, and it was sortof a Metafilter for print.

I still read it sometimes. Nowadays it serves me less as a window on the world of print than as a kind of mental chewing gum, but periodically (heh) I find something interesting. And while I see the point that DU makes with "That's Outrageous" and can note other points where I think it's long played to a conservative readership, I'd argue that its conservatism has been muted and largely culturally rooted nostalgia type conservatism rather than political movement conservatism.

If you assume an aging audience and assume that audience is relatively conservative, this kindof makes sense, and it will probably continue to make sense. However, the idea of going highly ideological makes less sense. It may seem sensible if you're considering that many younger potential readers (perhaps even very young readers like my 12-year-old self) increasingly choose electronic media. But even ideologically focused publications are going to have to navigate the challenges of the print-to-electronic trend. Fox News doesn't have this challenge because even if TV isn't "new media", it's definitely an electronic media. The idea that a print digest can just follow the same model doesn't seem very smart to me. Going overtly political means you'll alienate readers for political perspectives as well as attracting them (even as a longtime fan, I'll probably find it unreadable if it trends the direction of Fox News... I'd rather read an actual Guideposts, as it represents itself pretty honestly, and generally has a personal rather than a political focus). If the country's evenly divided, you'll be lucky if you pick one new reader up for every one you lose, and unless you're sure how your audience is skewed, you may have to worry about losing a lot of readers. Meanwhile, you'll still have the problem of losing people to electronic media. Or, alternatively, death: if they think they've got problems now, it might do them good to imagine the day in the not too distant future where more than half of the audience they've shifted to the right in hopes of capturing is now no longer buying anything. Not only that, but I'm not sure the retiree audience is really so safe from being wooed away. I've noticed my Dad spending a surprising amount of time reading online lately.

I'll be very surprised if a move like this saves them any trouble long term. It might delay an inevitability or two. It might not.
posted by weston at 12:25 PM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


2.1 BILLION DOLLARS?! How does a magazine that's basically a print version of "FWD:HILARIOUS JOKES" rack up TWO BILLION bucks in debt? I figured this was one of those mags where like 4 or 5 people in a crappy office threw it together every month.
posted by GilloD at 12:28 PM on June 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Also, for a long time as a child, I presumed Reader's Digest was the cream of the crop when it came to magazines. It was called Reader's Digest and readers were smart! I very much remember thinking that it was in the same league as The New Yorker and probably even better.
posted by GilloD at 12:33 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read that as "religious workouts" and briefly considered ponying up the $30, just to see what that entailed. Step-aerobics with Jesus?

*starwipe*
*lights up*
*cue disco music, or perhaps some gnsha-gnsha-gnsha*

Begin zoomed in on the Lord, wearing track shorts and a tank top, His hair pulled back in a sweat band. As the camera pulls back, we see that He is aerobicizing, leading a gathering of saints and also perhaps a creature with 14 heads and 37 eyes and a name under each eye and when it barks it shoots bees.

"Aaaand turn your cheek, turn your cheek, turn it, turn, turn the other cheek, turn the other cheek..."

"Now... visit the sick, in place! Knees up! Move! The sick won't visit themselves! Feel the burn!"
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:36 PM on June 19, 2009 [9 favorites]


Personally, I find the crazy opinions and screwed up world views of the born again evangelicals more interesting than the usual crap Reader's Digest is known for.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:39 PM on June 19, 2009


^^^ What all y'all said. I used to read it cover-to-cover growing up. I always knew it had an old people slant to the right, but as I got older, it began to annoy me more and more.

Yeah, and "That's Outrageous" started to outrage me for reasons the authors perhaps didn't intend.
posted by Xoebe at 12:42 PM on June 19, 2009


If I was in charge of readers digest I would buy up lots of land in nebraska and grow corn. Then I would put corn syrup into everything. Then people would have to go to the dentists and doctors more often for cavities and diabetes. This would increase the demand for dentists and doctors who are the only people who still subscribe to readers digest.
posted by I Foody at 12:46 PM on June 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


I remember the uncontrolled acceleration story, but the one that stuck in my head even more was about a family driving on the Mt. Washington Auto Road when they lost their brakes. Dad just hung on to that wheel, driving with all his might, and the hand of God must have been on that steering wheel because they made it safely to the bottom, a-praying all the way.

I found it interesting to learn that RD was finding its way into Bosnia. I've always sort of heard that there were links between the RD editorial board and the U.S. State Department and CIA during the Cold War, that the government was using RD as a vehicle for pro-Americanist content. Sort of sounded like tinhattery, but this Salon piece seems to confirm it. Assuming some of those connections continued, it makes some sense that the mag would find its way into aid shipments like that.
Readers who have instinctively disliked Reader's Digest will have their worst suspicions confirmed in "American Dreamers," a new book from former Digest managing editor Peter Canning. Among other things, Canning details how, in the 1940s and 50s, the State Department and CIA fed content to the Digest and helped its international editions thrive. He also notes the magazine's numerous pro-Vietnam War editorials, and the way Nixon speeches found their way into the magazine under the byline "The Editors." Further, Canning dishes a good deal of dirt about founders Dewitt and Lila Wallace's odd sex lives, and he digs into the story behind the sex discrimination suit filed against the Digest in 1976, among the largest ever, in which 2,600 female employees were awarded more than $1.5 million.
posted by Miko at 12:49 PM on June 19, 2009 [10 favorites]


After going public in 1990, it was bought by the consortium led by Ripplewood in 2007 for $2.8 billion. It has lost money every year since 2005, and has $2.1 billion in debt, high enough that analysts worry the company cannot pay it off on schedule.

Wow, that's some shitty investment there. $2.8 billion for a magazine in 2005? They could have just given that money to me, I wouldn't have lost more than 1/2 a billion by now.
posted by octothorpe at 12:54 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


So funny - I read the article, thought "more to the right?" and then came here and found all my comments had already been made.

Ah, groupthink, it's like a warm security blanket.
posted by GuyZero at 1:02 PM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


I do miss doing the "Improve Your Word Power!" though. It was a bit of a ritual that my stepdad and I had when I was younger. He, being ferociously smart and incredibly well-read, always beat me by a few points, but it was (still is) a lifetime goal to outscore him someday. The extremely rare occasions where I knew a word that he didn't were precious indeed.
posted by shiu mai baby at 1:06 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am eagerly awaiting the Condensed Books version of the Left Behind series, though. All the rapture in half the time.

Cut out all the phone calls and travel arrangement scenes, and you'd be left with a fifteen-page booklet.
posted by EarBucket at 1:07 PM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


When I think about it, what I'm getting from this story is that, in the eyes of the current regime, RD wasn't overtly conservative already. That's positively scary.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:14 PM on June 19, 2009


Ironically reading Reader's Digest is hipster as fuck, though.

For this, the large print edition is a must.
posted by davejay at 1:23 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Apparently my experiences with Reader's Digest were not unique.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:23 PM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


“It’s an unabashed commitment to and focus on a market that’s ignored but is incredibly powerful,” she said.

The editorial team had even considered turning Reader’s Digest into a right-wing handbook, a companion to Fox News. “It was a supposition,” Ms. Berner said, that half the country is annoyed that Barack Obama is president.

“What if we just go after them?” said Ms. Berner, who has a framed photograph of President Obama in her office. But testing the right-wing handbook idea with cover lines like advocating prayer in schools flopped.

“What worked was conservative values,” Ms. Berner said.
Didn't they hear that Bush is out of office and McCain didn't win?

I think they need to get their money back from that PR firm...
posted by vhsiv at 1:27 PM on June 19, 2009


Reader's Digest jumps the shark.

I am Joe's surprised face.
posted by xod at 1:29 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Reader's Digest jumps the shark.
Reader's Digest is part of that collection of cultural artifacts (variety shows, reality TV, certain magazines, Oprah, etc.) that aren't fads (because they don't go away) and that seem to trigger an atavistic "here, but no further" unease.

We read the Digest and something tells us that it's as far in that particular direction as we need to go. There's not even a keen edge of pain or thrill of danger -- just the sense of shit-covered sandpaper close to our open eyeball. There's no advantage in going further, no anticipation of discovery, just the subconscious knowledge that afterwards will be nothing but regret. Reader's Digest didn't jump the shark. It IS the shark.
posted by joaquim at 1:32 PM on June 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


It was in an article in one of the Reader's Digest hardcover collections that I learned the mechanics of Teh Sex; an article called "How to Tell Your Children About Sex." Before that, I had kind of figured it out, but my parents refused to talk to me about it.

So, um, thanks RD. Guess maybe you won't be doing that kind of thing anymore?
posted by emjaybee at 1:33 PM on June 19, 2009


Yeah, RD has never been anything but alarmist right-wing nonsense. It's very telling that so many of us figured this out when we were nine.

I hear John Stossel has a whole bunch of copies stuffed under his mattress with the pages stuck together.
posted by hifiparasol at 1:33 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


True story, I swear I saw an article in a 1998 RD that was essentially praising the Taliban for introducing rule of law and cleaning up Afghanistan's drug trade.

Actually, that sentiment was prevalent before the embassy bombings.
posted by dw at 1:38 PM on June 19, 2009


This is going to be lost in the avalanche of snark here, but for the past year or so, RD tried to drag its readers into the 21st century. I recall seeing items on pollution, global warming and other issues popular among the thinking set.

My dad (who also subscribes to The New Yorker, Atlantic and CJR) has given me a subscription to RD for years now. I read it on the toilet, mostly, like most of their readers, I'm sure.

I recall him mentioning to me in the seventies that RD was a CIA front in Europe.
posted by atchafalaya at 1:43 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Reader's Digest triggers some synesthesia for me -- when I hear the phrase I think of the smell of my grandmother's bath soap, which was very much "old woman." She used to keep them on the toilet in the front bath.

I don't think I've read Reader's Digest in 15, maybe 20 years, but I don't think I'd call the values "right-wing." They're more middle class values, ones the GOP has wrapped themselves in to the point of shredding said values.

And given these values are solidly held by the 55+ crowd, there's going to be a lot of the "get off my lawn" stuff mixed in.
posted by dw at 2:00 PM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I read these at my grandma's house as a kid. Drama in Real Life was the best because it scared the crap out of me. The one I remember best was where a construction worker fell from a great height onto a bunch of vertical metal rebar pieces or something and was stuck up there for a long time impaled on multiple metal shafts* until they cut him out and transported him to safety with pieces of the metal still sticking out in various places. Yuck!

*not a hentai reference
posted by freecellwizard at 2:10 PM on June 19, 2009


I saw the movie Soapdish on a plane once, and the only thing that made me laugh was a banner strung over the entance to a symposium on humor hosted by Readers Digest. It said, "Brevity is Wit." I still laugh when I think about it.
posted by Man-Thing at 2:13 PM on June 19, 2009


This reminds me of De Vito's speech in "Other People's Money", in whch he says, essentially, that the surest way for a company to go broke is to have an increasing share in an ever-shrinking market. It seems like some of the conservative media outlets are desperately trying to make their niche in a market that is steadily shrinking (either due to shifting demographics or shifting technologies).

When I think of RD, I always have associations that are less than idyllic: sitting in a waiting room, trying to kill time at a relative's house when I'd rather be home, etc. That and I always picture it sitting on the back of the toilet along with a copy of Guideposts. And the description upthread of the humid pages with a slightly mouldy smell is entirely evocative.
posted by darkstar at 2:16 PM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


You people really think Reader's Digest is conservative?

Not when you remove the third, fifth and sixth letters. Then it becomes Red's Digest, comrade.
posted by straight at 2:16 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


but I don't think I'd call the values "right-wing."

well, historically, the magazine's editorial slant has been extremely reactionary / anti-left / right-wing. Pro-war in Vietnam, and an institutional apologist for the sorry lot of rightists of the 20th century from Franco through Pinochet, similar in bent to Parade Magazine, another institution of the quasi-literate middle class.

One thing that would make a good grad-school paper would be exploring the religious component of rightwing activism of the 20th century. We certainly supported a lot of putatively Roman Catholic autocrats -- Franco, Diem (and later Thieu), Marcos, Pinochet fighting against leftist popular movements in recent history.
posted by @troy at 2:17 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see Reader's Digest merge with Weekly World News. Because you can't get enough conservatives railing against the fat alien scourge menacing our vampires.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:21 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


tl:dr
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:27 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read that as "religious workouts" and briefly considered ponying up the $30, just to see what that entailed. Step-aerobics with Jesus?

Yoga is a religious workout. Some cultures consider dance to be a form of prayer. Christian workouts, (not just stepping with Jesus, but walking with Jesus and Tae Bo with Jesus) will only run you 20 bucks so bust out that credit card!
posted by nooneyouknow at 2:27 PM on June 19, 2009


I saw the movie Soapdish on a plane once, and the only thing that made me laugh was a banner strung over the entance to a symposium on humor hosted by Readers Digest. It said, "Brevity is Wit." I still laugh when I think about it.

Whaaaaa?!

Are you sure you're not thinking of the Simpsons episode where the family wins a trip to Washington D.C. because Lisa writes a patriotic essay for Reading Digest magazine? Because that exact joke was used in the episode.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:29 PM on June 19, 2009


the 114-acre Reader’s Digest campus in Chappaqua, N.Y.

I'm trying to imagine an axis of banality run by Reader's Digest and Hillary Clinton. Determined to take over the world with insipid jokes and bad haircuts.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:32 PM on June 19, 2009


Saying they are going after a "conservative traditional values market" is a euphemism for "stupid people." What it means they have finally dropped the pretense of even attempting to appeal to people above a sixth grade emotional capacity.
posted by tkchrist at 2:34 PM on June 19, 2009


I despise the false dichotomy of "if you're not right, your left."

That's not worth hating. It's just lazy thinking.

Now, imagine you refuse to recognize that such a dichotomy is a poisonous thing, or care that it might be bad for the country or its people, and instead you think "Hm.... how can I use this American sickness to make money?"

Now you're Readers Digest. Or Karl Rove.
posted by rokusan at 2:39 PM on June 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


They were ubiquitous on the wards in residency and fit in the pocket of your white coat and made for excellent reading on the shitter. It never occurred to me until now that their entire publishing paradigm was the same as Conservatism: be afraid of everything, all the time.
posted by docpops at 2:39 PM on June 19, 2009


Oh hey, I lied. My sixth-grade teacher had a bunch of Guideposts lying around. Not Watchtower.
posted by Neofelis at 2:42 PM on June 19, 2009


I read that as "religious workouts" and briefly considered ponying up the $30, just to see what that entailed. Step-aerobics with Jesus?

Cross-training.
posted by Ratio at 2:46 PM on June 19, 2009 [14 favorites]


Saying they are going after a "conservative traditional values market" is a euphemism for "stupid people." What it means they have finally dropped the pretense of even attempting to appeal to people above a sixth grade emotional capacity.

I used to try to check myself with these thoughts, until I found this quote from Alan Kay:

"Point of view is worth 80 IQ points", which is a politer way of saying that fixed ideology can make one stupid.
posted by @troy at 2:53 PM on June 19, 2009


I thought Readers Digest was dead long ago. You know why? Even my dentist office doesn't stock it.
posted by 2sheets at 2:54 PM on June 19, 2009



I read that as "religious workouts" and briefly considered ponying up the $30, just to see what that entailed. Step-aerobics with Jesus?


Crucifixion for better abs.
posted by weston at 2:56 PM on June 19, 2009


If I was in charge of readers digest I would buy up lots of land in nebraska and grow corn. Then I would put corn syrup into everything.

This -- this may have already happened.
posted by webmutant at 2:57 PM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Jesus was pretty swole.
posted by ODiV at 3:04 PM on June 19, 2009


"A hungry lion was roaming through the jungle looking for something to eat. He came across two men. One was sitting under a tree and reading a book; the other was typing away on his typewriter. The lion quickly pounced on the man reading the book and devoured him. Even the king of the jungle knows that writers cramp, but readers digest."
posted by Guy Smiley at 4:02 PM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


look, reader's digest never lost books and they never lost readership - they condensed them
posted by pyramid termite at 4:10 PM on June 19, 2009


IS IT STILL TIME FOR READER'S DIGEST MEMORIES

YES

Like half the people here it seems, my memory of RD is of flipping through it at age 7 on visits to my grandparents' house (once I was old enough to read, but not yet old enough to read the mystery novels my grandparents liked). I'd read the joke and anecdote pages, and occasionally one of the longer articles. The only one I remember is the story of someone who had an abusive father, who beat their family and killed their sister with a skillet. To this day that's what I associate RD with: pithy repetitive jokes, and the sick horror of reading that story.

Not having read it in years, I think of RD as conservative, but in the literal sense. It's for people who think of themselves as normal, middle-of-the-road folks and who don't want any challenge to their worldview. This is very different from the sort of radical, let's-completely-rearrange-society conservatism of GWB and friends.
posted by hattifattener at 4:20 PM on June 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


When I was a teenager, I preferred Digester's Reader.
posted by lukemeister at 5:12 PM on June 19, 2009


Are you sure you're not thinking of the Simpsons episode where the family wins a trip to Washington D.C. because Lisa writes a patriotic essay for Reading Digest magazine? Because that exact joke was used in the episode.

If memory serves, the Simpsons joke has an ellipsis in it. Hmm. That's a pretty great episode. Third season. Maybe I'll watch it.
posted by box at 5:44 PM on June 19, 2009


$600 dollar shoes. That's just short of a month's, all utilities paid, rent.

Tell me there's no disconnect with reality there, please.
posted by Samizdata at 5:45 PM on June 19, 2009


I had actually forgotten this until now: When I was a kid we had a Best Of collection of Reader's Digest stuff. Yes, really. A separate book with [even shorter?] copies of all the best stuff they'd ever run. I skipped through looking for all the jokes, which is how I noticed a bunch were from this guy named "Robert Benchley". Oh hey, he has some books at the library!

So I thank RD for turning me onto Benchley, because Benchley is/was genuinely funny and I've collected a bunch of his first editions and still laugh and laugh over them.
posted by DU at 6:04 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ever try to get Reader's Digest to take your name off their sucker list? They're a persistent bunch of fucks. I've been trying for more than three years to get them to stop sending my mother their crappy products and she STILL gets bills for books she never received or which I immediately returned on her behalf. As soon as I think it's done, we get another unordered, unwanted package from them. It's truly irritating.

I look forward to the new more-spiritual Reader's Digest treating the folks on their mailing list with a bit more Christian charity.

Yeah, like that'll happen.

I Am Joe's Marketing Scam
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:52 PM on June 19, 2009


Yes! Robert Benchley was a childhood favorite of mine as well! You can watch his bizarre & hilarious 1928 film The Sex Life Of A Polyp at archive.org.
posted by squalor at 7:18 PM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one here who's brave enough to admit that...

(1) I have a subscription to RD.
(2) My house actually contains more than a few RD books.

Yes, it's reactionary and conservative, but it's still fun to read, and from time to time I actually learn something. I just picked up the November '08 issue from the floor by the computer, and there's a 19-page article (yes, 19 pages) about hospitals in the US that deport some illegal immigrant patients rather than pay (perhaps indefinitely) for long-term recuperative care. An interesting article, well balanced, and it definitely taught me something I didn't know.

It's preceeded by a nine-page article on "If the world could vote in the US election..." (hint: every other country would vote for Obama, with the most enthusiastic being the Netherlands at 92%). The world-wide survey was commissioned by RD, and they gave it a nice spin on how this shows that the American Dream continues to be strong across the globe).

Oh, and the disaster story that month is about a couple trapped in their car by a snowstorm for days before they improvised some snowshows from seat covers and made it to safety. Oh, and all that time together trapped in their car helped them to improve their marriage.

And the magazine is really the perfect size for the pocket, the backpack, the purse, etc.

Also, the RD songbooks are the best for all those old-tyme family songs ("Yes, We Have No Bananas") that your kids want you to play on the piano.

Come on now, everyone. Where's the love for RD?

Hello?

Anyone?
posted by math at 7:28 PM on June 19, 2009


$600 dollar shoes. That's just short of a month's, all utilities paid, rent.

Tell me there's no disconnect with reality there, please.


There are $600 shoes that will last for decades, and are worth it if you can afford the initial outlay (I can't, but I dream about them). But a shitty pair of Manolos are not those shoes.

(Sorry, I've been a little shoe obsessed lately.)
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:36 PM on June 19, 2009


I think they could improve circulation by renaming the magazine Reefer's Highfest.
posted by orme at 7:40 PM on June 19, 2009


I think they could improve circulation by renaming the magazine Reefer's Highfest.

Is that one of the Wacky Packages I failed to collect?
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:45 PM on June 19, 2009


My RD story:

Copies of pirated Reader's Digest issues could be found in Shanghai circa 1991-2 if you know which bookstore to go to, and they were pretty good reading material for students who wanted to improve their English reading comprehension. I translated a couple of "fishing with my dad" / "thoughts on wild strawberry picking"-type stories from RD, and a city-wide youth-oriented newspaper used them (and paid me pretty nicely).
posted by of strange foe at 7:53 PM on June 19, 2009


freecellwizard, I remember that article!
posted by infinitewindow at 8:24 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was a subscriber too and my family had stacks of the stuff (math, you're not alone). I'd read it for ages - it was the main source of reading material at my age that wasn't going to run out anytime soon.

My main memory though was all the "YOU HAVE A CHEQUE FOR $1 MILLION" sweepstakes things they kept sending my dad. I liked the random games they had you do to figure out what you won, but my dad was always so annoyed at their constant spamming.
posted by divabat at 8:33 PM on June 19, 2009


Like you guys, I associate Reader's Digest with summer afternoons spent stretched out on my grandparents' bed, flipping through whatever issue I'd chosen from the stack on their coffee table. They were seemingly harmless and did the trick when I was bored, at least until everyone was asleep and I could sneak one of my grandma's Redbooks into my room and read the sex articles.

But unlike you guys, who were far savvier 12-year-olds than I, the magazine's conservative slant went right over my head. I don't think I realized that things even had slants, and thus figured they wouldn't say all that stuff was outrageous unless it really was OUTRAGEOUS! And your heater really was in fact probably emitting invisible, odorless, poisonous gases, and fast-food workers really were pooing in the ground beef, and children were losing their innocence and California would soon be swallowed by a tsunami. Yet they'd buffer all this stuff with Life in These United States and All in a Day's Work and those other miscellaneous little anecdotes which were so good-natured and harmless that I never realized Reader's Fucking Digest was the source of the slowly intensifying sense of general terror that characterized my early teenage years. Mygothlaundry's description of it lulling her into a "gentle sense of easeful paranoia" is perfect. Reader's Digest? They were the good guys, who would really rather be telling funny baby anecdotes all the time but had begrudgingly yet nobly assumed the responsibility of investigating and reporting on the dangers lurking around us as we hurtle into the future. The country is falling to pieces but a baby said a funny thing! We have to save the baby!

Oh, and the article forever burned into my brain was on America's 5 most dangerous highways, each helpfully presented with an account of someone's gruesome death at its hands, including a mom and a toddler who was apparently singing "Jesus Loves Me" as she was strapped into her car seat for the last time. "How'd they know that?" I wondered, it never occuring to me that THEY FUCKING DIDN'T BECAUSE THEY MADE IT UP.
posted by granted at 8:43 PM on June 19, 2009 [9 favorites]


How much do you have to hate reading to condense books?

Fuck Reader's Digest.
posted by Bobby Bittman at 9:17 PM on June 19, 2009


I wish I had a clearer memory of this, but my parents had some older issues of the Canadian RD around, and one of them from the...seventies?...had a quotable quote about how a good woman was like a good book. A strong spine, well bound, etc. It ended with "I wish I could afford a library." I think the source was the president of the Ontario Library Association.

Fuck Reader's Digest, two times.
posted by Bobby Bittman at 9:23 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, it's reactionary and conservative, but it's still fun to read, and from time to time I actually learn something. '

But minute for minute of reading time, I could be reading something else that is fun to read and from which you learn something. There's no shortage of such material. Given the competition, RD doesn't come out on top for me.
posted by Miko at 9:29 PM on June 19, 2009


But minute for minute of reading time, I could be reading something else that is fun to read and from which you learn something.

The point of the Reader's Digest, though, is for reading something that takes 5-15 minutes, e.g. using the facilities. Maybe you tote your current book into the bathroom, but I don't.

Not that I subscribe to Reader's Digest. Usually I'm slowly parsing a two-month old Economist that really should be recycled already.
posted by dw at 10:26 PM on June 19, 2009


I have a very strong and wonderful sense memory association involving Reader's Digest and the smell of the decorative soaps in my grandparents' bathroom.

I will attempt to preserve that by pretending the magazine no longer exists.
posted by brundlefly at 10:44 PM on June 19, 2009


Think about what a digest is.

It's either shit or vomit, folks.
posted by telstar at 1:48 AM on June 20, 2009


$600 dollar shoes. That's just short of a month's, all utilities paid, rent. (Samizdata)

Not in New York, it isn't!

Stupid, overpriced housing market.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:30 AM on June 20, 2009


This post makes me feel terribly old. That particular Happy Days was on reruns this week, and I am reminded how voraciously I consumed RD's as a tween in the 70s. Word power and jokes were the primary draw, but I also dug the sentimental stories about lost pets and the kid who chewed tobacco and had to have his jaw removed. Why are we angry about an institution trying to reestablish its relevancy?
posted by njbradburn at 7:55 AM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the editorial policy of Reader's Digest through much of its history has been a bit oversimplified in this thread. Certainly, through the 1950's, '60's, and 70's there were frequently inclusions of articles covering Cold War topics from the American gvernment's perspective, and its pages frequently carried articles under the bylines of former U.S. politicians and military leaders. But its medical coverage was often quite good and progressive, and as early as the 1940s and early 50s, the Reader's Digest was publishing anti-smoking articles, encouraging vaccination programs, and reporting on then new treatments for high cholesterol, stroke, heart disease, and obesity, that now seem common sense, but in that period, were really leading progressive reporting for a main stream American magazine.

Such stances cost the Reader's Digest some advertising dollars, as it never carried ads for cigarettes, tobacco products, or alcoholic beverages, even after it began running ads in the U.S. edition in 1955. And yet it was this mix of social activist reporting on health issues, as well as on civil rights, education, and other issues, that counterbalanced its sometimes conservative, not to mention "patriotic" American political content. The net result was a magazine that generally had some articles Americans of most political and social stripes would read, although you could start an argument in many families that subscribed, depending on which articles you wanted to discuss.

My mother subscribed for years, and liked the medical coverage and the humor, but she tended to ignore or criticize much of the political and world news reporting she saw there. My father, on the other hand, liked much of the international news coverage he saw there, and occasionally quoted from articles by political or military leaders he liked, to get a rise out of my mother, who would quote back to him every anti-smoking article she found in it.

That was one of the reasons the Reader's Digest remained popular for so long in so many households - it was one periodical that everyone in the house read, even though pretty much everyone who read it felt superior to the editors who published it, in some way. Past eighth grade, RD was never a big interest to me, but I'd generally read Mom's copy anytime I visited her home after I left, and find, always, some common topic for discussion in those slim pages.

So, I, for one, wish the folks at RD success in re-inventing themselves, yet again, for a changing world.
posted by paulsc at 8:10 AM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Next up: Reader's Digest adopt Comic Sans as their house typeface.
posted by acb at 8:20 AM on June 20, 2009


Protip: Before telling your filthiest and most depraved joke, casually say "Here's a joke I read in Reader's Digest" beforehand for 5-10% more lulz.
posted by the_bone at 8:52 AM on June 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Too many comments here. Could someone please summarize?
posted by erniepan at 8:56 AM on June 20, 2009


The point of the Reader's Digest, though, is for reading something that takes 5-15 minutes, e.g. using the facilities. Maybe you tote your current book into the bathroom, but I don't.

Dude, it's the 21st century. You've got an iPod, WiFi, and Metafilter for that.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 9:11 AM on June 20, 2009


Reader's Digest provoked one of the last fights my mother had with her mother, as gramma kept subscribing us, and my mother kept saying, "I don't want that bullshit in my house." Gramma already had her copies at the "eldercare facility," and perhaps didn't understand the mountains of scam that came along with the RD.

I do remember having a perverse plan as a kid to make up stories for Life in these United States, which by publishing invented anecdotes would somehow undermine the legitimacy of American propaganda or something, but I don't think I followed through.
posted by klangklangston at 9:49 AM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


>>The point of the Reader's Digest, though, is for reading something that takes 5-15 minutes, e.g. using the facilities.
>Dude, it's the 21st century. You've got an iPod, WiFi, and Metafilter for that.


Pre-emptive strike: no one needs to tell us that they're on the can even as we type.
posted by msalt at 10:24 AM on June 20, 2009


It's true, that's what Twitter is for.
posted by hattifattener at 11:51 AM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Come on now, everyone. Where's the love for RD?

I had my own subscription when I was about 11 or 12. I loved it. I even submitted an item to "Life in These United States" but it was never published. I still have and use a couple of the Reader's Digest songbooks. But it's been a long time since I've seen a current issue.
posted by candyland at 12:53 PM on June 20, 2009


At some point in the early 1950s, RD offered a deal whereby you could purchase a lifetime subscription for your child (or, presumably, a non-child) for a hundred dollars or something. As a consequence, my uncle has received RD at his parents' house since then, and will continue receiving it until 2030 or so. My mom recently changed the address on the subscription since both my grandparents have passed away, and sure enough, it's still valid and slated to end several decades from now. I think it's pretty cool that they're still honoring those lifetime subscriptions.

Like many of the commenters on this thread, I remember endless scheming with my sisters, trying to come up with a Life in these United States story to get a quick $400, which was an unimaginable amount of cash to us as kids.

I remember a Drama in Real Life where a family got lost driving through the desert, and ended up drinking glue and eating crayons until a helicopter found them.
posted by crinklebat at 6:24 PM on June 20, 2009


"Well, I suppose being forced to thumb through Reader's Digest in the dentist's office beats being forced to thumb through Details or Golf World."

Christ, bring a book. Or do you often go on emergency unscheduled dentist visits?

"OMG OMG OMG WE NEED TO GO TO THE DENTIST RIGHT. THIS. NOW."
"Ok, hang on. Let me grab a book."
"NO TIME! GO GO GO GO!"
posted by Eideteker at 7:01 AM on June 21, 2009


I remember a Drama in Real Life where a family got lost driving through the desert, and ended up drinking glue and eating crayons until a helicopter found them.

Hey, I remember that one too!

Thinking about Reader's Digest always brings back the slightly musty smell of my grandparents' farmhouse for me, the rough feel of the corncobs in the bucket they kept by the fireplace, the taste of the peppermint candies from Grandpa's secret stash in his sock drawer. I know it's objectively a crappy magazine, but I don't think it would be possible for me to regard it with anything but complete fondness.
posted by EarBucket at 7:27 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I loved the "I AM JOE'S ISLETS OF LANGERHANS" stories. A lot.

"I AM JANE'S OVARIES" filled me with a sick dread. I was not at all interested in having things inside me shooting eggs around and "releasing hormones," which I associated with bed-wetting somehow. If that's what being a grown-up lady means, I'd just as soon not.

The Mark Eden Bust Developer ads just put the inadequacy icing on the dirty-holy-body cake.
posted by dogrose at 5:11 PM on June 21, 2009


Hmmm, dirty-holy-body cake. Hope to get me a slice of that tonight.
posted by msalt at 9:08 PM on June 21, 2009


Not as tasty as it sounds, actually.
posted by dogrose at 1:57 PM on June 22, 2009


It does come with sprinkles, though.
posted by darkstar at 4:26 PM on June 22, 2009


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