History of Reader's Digest Magazine Part 5

About the major reference guide the Reader's Digest magazine, a look at the company's strengths and weaknesses and trivia.

The Story behind READER'S DIGEST

Strengths: The extraordinary popularity of Reader's Digest lies in its approach-personal, direct, consistent, and, above all, positive. The number and variety of its articles make it possible for each issue to have several pieces that speak to the immediate problems or personal concerns (overweight, unemployment, failing marriage, ill health, rebellious children) of almost anyone. Digest titles and blurbs are so simple and clear that usually the gist of an article is apparent at first glance. People seeking stability in an unstable world find comfort in the Digest's unchangeability; subjects discussed in the first issue in 1922--"Useful Points in Judging People," Wanted--Motives for Motherhood," "Prison Facts," "Advice from a President's Physicians"--could be today's subjects. Finally, its positive approach--its inveterate optimism--is highly valued by its readers. To quote one of its past editors: "Dip in almost anywhere, and you'll get a shot in the spirit." No matter what the state of the country, or the world, in the past half-century, the Digest has consistently advised its readers that their lives are what they make of them, that laughter is the best cure-all, that all tragedies have their silver linings if one will but look.

Weaknesses: The Digest is and always has been ultraconservative, and it has always been careful to hire a staff of similar persuasion in order to avoid confrontation with other points of view. Although it is too practical to oppose the Democratic party directly (at least on a national scale), as a rule it simply ignores both that party and its candidates in the months preceding elections. For example, in the issue published just before the 1968 presidential election, Richard Nixon was featured in the leading article, while Hubert Humphrey (who, after all, came very close to winning) was never mentioned. Democrats who are so ill advised as to run for public office are one of the Digest's bogeys; others include Washington bureaucrats, union leaders, Communists (especially the Russian variety), economists who can stomach inflation better than unemployment, Americans who value their environment above industrial growth, and young people who eschew premarital celibacy. But when the union leaders, inflation, and the bureaucrats all prevail, when chastity appears a lost cause and the Democrats win handily, Digest editors simply remind themselves that people have overcome even more severe setbacks than these and will do so again as long as they can keep smiling!

Unusual Facts about It: The 10 presses that print Reader's Digest in the U.S. consume 25,000 mi. of paper every month, or enough in one year to encircle the earth 15 times with a paper ribbon some 66 in. wide.

The Digest accounts for about 666 million pieces of mail passing through the Pleasantville post office each year.

Braille editions of the Digest appear in English, Japanese, Swedish, Spanish, and German. Each issue is also recorded onto 12 LP records for use by the blind.

Future Plans: DeWitt Wallace has publicly expressed a hope that the Digest will be here 500 years from now. Need more be said?

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