Why Reader’s Digest Magazine Still Matters

readers-digest.jpgFor as long as I can remember, Reader’s Digest magazine has been a fixture on coffee tables in homes and businesses in the small town where I grew up. It was one of the first magazines I remember reading. (My dad kept copies in his office and my grandmother hoarded stacks of large-print vintage editions.) As a kid, I remember being entranced by one article in particular–an investigative story on the hunt for a serial killer in North Carolina. Like a motorist passing a wreck, I was horrified, but I couldn’t put it down. Truth be told, it may have been one of the first real journalistic pieces I was exposed to, so I probably have the magazine to thank for igniting my interest in the field.

If founders DeWitt Wallace and Lila Wallace were alive today, they’d likely be thrilled to know that their magazine, which launched in 1922 as a general-interest family magazine, is still a small-town staple. While recovering from shrapnel wounds received in World War I, Wallace developed the idea to clip, condense, rewrite and compile his favorite articles into a compact magazine. For rural readers–who didn’t have access to newsstands–it was a godsend, connecting them to a world outside of their towns.

Since then, Reader’s Digest magazine, which boasts a 17 million circulation worldwide and prints 50 editions in 21 languages, has thrived through many changes in the industry. Recent financial troubles faced by its parent corporation, the Reader’s Digest Association, along with an overall shakeup of the industry, have put its future in jeopardy–as detailed by this New York Times article. Yet the publication, which won last year’s National Magazine Award for general excellence, continues to be a best seller. What makes it relevant to today’s generation? Here are five things Reader’s Digest offers that you won’t find elsewhere (at least in one place!):

1. Profiles on real heroes: From average citizens risking their lives to save others to entrepreneurs with big ideas and an even bigger reach to people overcoming obstacles to achieve their dreams, these pages contain everyday heroes who, in a recent issue, outnumbered celebrities 14 to 2.

2. Old-school investigative reporting: Each issue brings you answers to questions you’re dying to ask but wouldn’t dare, due to their complexity and sheer awkwardness. A recent issue, for instance, delved into everything from what your ER doctor won’t tell you to the tricks credit-card companies use to circumvent laws.

3. A breath of fresh air: When life gets too serious, lighthearted quotes, comics and anecdotes sprinkled throughout the magazine remind you to laugh.

4. A world view: News from around the globe–including photo essays on Afghanistan, societal stats, and reports on how countries are fighting climate change–offers an international perspective.

5. A true “digest”: No overwhelming lists like “30 ways to cook healthy” or “20 ways to lose 10 pounds” here. This magazine has plenty of tips, but it keeps them in the single digits.

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Emily McMackin

About Emily McMackin

Emily McMackin is an editor, writer and perpetual storyteller with an incurable addiction to coffee, magazines, Neil Diamond and Caribbean travel. She resides in Music City USA (that's Nashville, Tenn., ya'll!), where you'll find her staking out live music, salsa dancing, scouring town for the best latte and working on her first No. 1 (book that is).