1 June 2024 Susannah

Reader’s Digest

Reader's Digest Magazine

I’m sure that, like me, you have spent time in a doctor or dentist’s waiting room leafing through the pages of a Reader’s Digest magazine.

Well, some people won’t be doing that any more as the magazine has finally ceased to trade in Britain after 86 years of publishing there. It was founded in the USA in 1922 and first published in the UK in 1938, bringing out ten editions each year. Its motto was ‘Articles of enduring interest’. Over the last two decades the British version has had serious financial pressures and these have brought about its closure – the May edition was its last one. Back in 2000, Reader’s Digest UK was selling one million copies every month. Worldwide Reader’s Digest was considered the world’s most read magazine. In its heyday the magazine even took on the tobacco companies over the links between smoking and lung cancer.

However, Reader’s Digest is still being published in the USA and other parts of the world, in 21 languages, in braille, digital, audio and large print versions, containing funny stories, joke columns, abridged stories, competitions, and articles on a great variety of subjects. It has always been conservative and anti-communist in approach and style.

It still sells in Australia and in 2023 had an average readership here per issue of 362,000. I have to admit to never having been very fond of it. I hate abridged stories, and found it too bitsy for my taste. I soon learned to take a book with me when I visited a doctor or dentist. However, there is no doubt that Reader’s Digest has proved an enduringly popular magazine, though with news of the UK branch closing down, one does wonder what its future will be? Magazines are really struggling in today’s world of e-books and with so much information available on the web.

Do you still buy and read magazines? I’d love to know what you think, let me know by leaving a comment.

Comments (7)

  1. Brett Johnson

    One of my favourite cartoons or jokes (can’t remember which) comes from a Reader’s Digest – must have been the 60s – my aunt subscribed to it mainly for my elderly grandfather. A puritan is disturbed in the dead of night by an intruder, points his gun at him, and says: Friend, I would do thee no harm in the world, but thou standest where I am about to shoot. This and an article about a young girl travelling alone on a train somewhere in the USA and meeting Caruso, who sang for her, only realising some years later who he was. There were treasurable things in RD. Mainly conservative, I could tell back then. Good to hear it was active against the tobacco lobby.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      What a lovely story about the puritan! Thanks for sharing it. Yes, it was a very conservative publication.

  2. Melody

    Thinking of the Reader’s Digest makes me remember lazy afternoons in the closed-in porch at the back of my grandmother’s house, where there was a shelf full of orange and white-striped Penguin paperbacks, Agatha Christie books and Reader’s Digest magazines. At first I just flipped through and read the short Life’s Like That funnies, then the occasional longer news story. I particularly liked the ones about human endeavour and survival. I also read many of the abridged novels, which used to appear in thick leather-bound books of three or four. I remember as a teenager being simultaneously intrigued and frustrated with the RD version of Wuthering Heights, so I borrowed the original book from the library… proof that the abridged versions are not without their uses as an easy way in to great literature!

  3. Margaret Neyle

    Growing up in post war Australia my father subscribed to Readers Digest, I grew up married and my father still paid for a subscription for me until the middle 70s. My dad had died but it wasn’t that I didn’t want to pay for it myself I just found that it had lost interest in the articles. I am sure that the content had slipped in interest, maybe documentaries on TV had taken the place of some of the travel articles, but I must admit except for Garden magazines, Library magazine and a wonderful Scot magazine I don’t bother with magazines and post covid most doctor waiting rooms no longer have them

  4. Nicole Livermore

    As a child in the early 1970’s I enjoyed reading back issues of the Reader’s Digest when home sick from school. I still remember being greatly moved by a true story called “The Triumph of Janice Babsen” about a little girl dying of leukaemia who, after reading a story about the emerging field of eye research, decided to donate her eyes for scientific research after her death. I think the magazine helped to engage a lot of people with reading, despite the justified criticism that it reflected the mainstream American values of its time.

  5. John

    An enormous amount is available online nowadays, much of it free. And printed magazines and newspapers have become so expensive. When I first moved to Sydney in 1981, the SMH cost 20 cents, but it now costs $4.40. So I essentially never buy magazines or newspapers, except for the SMH on Mondays as it has a weekly television guide, which I like to have in paper form. I do not subscribe online to magazines either as I can largely access the information on free but reputable websites.

    I used to subscribe to a paper version of TIME when I lived in Bath, but its promise to allow easy un-subscription when I left proved to be utterly false, making me reluctant to start a new subscription upon my move to Sydney.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Like you, I don’t bother buying magazines. Too costly and just not enough meat in them for me. However, I do still get a paper version of the SMH delivered as I love to do the crossword and word puzzles.

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