This morning I heard the grim news about the Readers' Digest. It's in debt over $2 billion, and about to change owners again. Quite a comedown for a magazine that once had a circulation of 18 million copies in the U.S. and editions throughout South America.
I've never been a regular reader of the Digest, but I have done many ads that had to appear in it. It was a particular favorite of General Motors. The magazine either had a lot of car-buying readers, or threw a lot of good parties.
Doing an ad for the Digest is hard; the pages are so small. After trying to shrink a regular magazine ad to fit that size, we'd give up because we always had words and pictures left over. So we finally caught on and did the Readers' Digest ad first, and then blew it up to fit the others.
As a result of all this aggravation, and because the ads looked so dinky in our portfolios, we'd often plead to have the Digest taken off the media list, which upset the publication's bosses no end. They tried everything, including taking all the art directors to the Bahamas for "training". At one of these workshops, they tried to sell the idea that everything's relative. A page ad has prestige and a page is a page, regardless of the size. We weren't buying it.
TV Guide was exactly the same size then, and the Digest people said we could run the same ad in both. We asked why would we since they're different audiences? As a writer, I liked the size of a Digest ad. It always seemed like a good challenge, like writing a billboard. Besides, I didn't have to write as much.
Another time my life intersected with that magazine was when I was in college. I wanted to go somewhere nice for spring vacation, but didn't have the funds. In the Journalism Department they announced that the Digest would pay $5,000 for a story by a student, if they felt it had journalistic significance. I searched but couldn't find one that would take me to Florida to write. Hey,Washington, D.C. was also nice in the spring, so I tried that.
I read about William Worthy, a reporter for the Baltimore Afro-American whose passport was rescinded because he went to Communist China. That's it! Freedom of the press! I got the $5,000 and spent my vacation in the cherry blossoms interviewing Senators, the State Department, the Soviet News Service TASS, journalists, Worthy's editor in Baltimore, even a member of the Supreme Court. The result was a long story that got me good press around school.
I feel sad about the Readers' Digest's plight today. I guess the Internet is wiping them out. Along with any hopes I might have for another free vacation in Washington.