Reader’s Digest Is Alive And Growing In The Digital World

Hey, remember Reader’s Digest? It’s a magazine that I remember seeing on lots of shelves when I was growing up. Now Editor in Chief Liz Vaccariello tells me that the magazine has undergone a “digital transformation”, especially this year, and it’s finding a growing audience on tablets, with digital sales set to exceed newsstand copies by December.

As with other large, general interest publications, Reader’s Digest has had a bumpy few years. Back in 2009, it went from 12 issues a year to 10, as well as cutting the guaranteed circulation from 8 million to 5.5 million. It even filed for bankruptcy.

But the magazine is reversing that slide on at least one front — starting in January, it’s going back to a fully monthly schedule. Vaccariello says Reader’s Digest is also on-track to sell 211,000 digital issues in December, more than triple the 65,000 sold in August 2011 (though part of that growth may be due to the magazine’s traditional holiday season bump). It’s currently the number two magazine in the Kindle Store, and according to Vaccariello, the company has been told by Apple that it’s the highest grossing app in its “competitive set.” She even brought up the magazine’s social media presence, pointing to its 1.15 million Likes on Facebook and its Klout score of 88 (putting it behind, for example, the New Yorker’s score of 95, but hey, one point ahead of TechCrunch).

Since Vaccariello joined Reader’s Digest in November of last year, she says she has cut down on the organization’s “silos”, so that everyone on-staff works on both the digital and print editions. In fact, she says the digital edition has informed “the design and architecture and pace” of the print copy — for example, the buttons highlighting different sections along the side of the cover double as navigation if you’re reading on a tablet.

There is, of course, digital-exclusive content, including video and rich media. The magazine’s book reviews and excerpts have been surprisingly successful among tablet readers, Vaccariello adds, usually ranking among the top features in each issue (just behind the cover story and the jokes).

A magazine with such a broad and arguably old-school focus (the current cover: “50 secrets surgeons won’t tell you”) may not seem like an obvious candidate for a digital success story, but Vaccariello says the magazine has a clear point of view — everything is written through “the lens of this belief in the power of mankind, the lens of optimism, the lens of emotion.” She adds that this isn’t meant in “a New Age-y way,” but in the sense that each issue can provide “an oasis from the snark.”

Plus, even if the magazine needs to win over new readers, Vacariello notes that it has enormous brand recognition.

“People have grown up with it,” she says. “Their grandparents read it, it was part of their homes.
That serves us very well — we’re already starting on second base.”