Reader's Digest cuts circulation, sells back cover

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The Reader's Digest Association will cut its circulation numbers, redesign its monthly flagship magazine and, for the first time, sell the Reader's Digest back cover to advertisers.

All three changes are to take effect with the January 2008 issue of the magazine, which will see circulation numbers drop from 10 million to 8 million.

"It's more cost-effective to let go [of] subscribers that are more expensive to get or keep, and at the same time we're serving our advertisers subscribers that are more valuable," said Eva Dillon, president of Reader's Digest inspiration and group publisher of Reader's Digest magazine.

"Our No. 1 priority is to build and run a more profitable, more successful business," Dillon continued. "In our opinion, all of these changes are really making the magazine more relevant and more of a player in today's changed media landscape."

The changes are part of a series of shake-ups instituted by Mary Berner, who became CEO of Reader's Digest Association in March. Berner has also hired new executives and made plans to push sales and advertising opportunities in other RDA titles.

The back cover of Reader's Digest has traditionally been reserved for art, but Dillon said advertiser interest in the space has been high for years. Replacing art with ads will be one facet of the full facelift planned for the magazine, which will be helmed by editor Jackie Leo.

Editors want to update the look and feel of Reader's Digest as well as some of the language. The redesign is an attempt to dispel the idea that the magazine is dated.

Reader's Digest, Pleasantville, NY, is published by the Reader's Digest Association. The magazine appears in 50 editions and 21 languages each month. Sister publications include Every Day with Rachael Ray and Taste of Home.

Rate-base reductions at Reader's Digest have been steady since 1999 when the magazine's circulation was at a high point of 15 million. Other magazines have undergone similar changes, including Time and TV Guide, which have cut rate bases in recent years in hopes of attaining higher-quality circulation.

Lower circulation numbers will free up funds for RDA's new digital initiative, for which the company will cut direct mail efforts and boost spending online. Digital acquisitions may target a new audience for the title's health content.

Greater online offerings are expected to help Reader's Digest woo coveted younger readers. The most recent Spring MRI places median adult reader age at 51.7.

Future plans for the Reader's Digest Association include the 2008 launch of a China edition of Reader's Digest.

"Our main challenge will be keeping our core readers happy while opening the doors to invite new readers in," Dillon said. "When you have a magazine as large and with as dedicated a reader as this one, you want to take careful steps to make sure you're doing it exactly right, and that's what we're doing."

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