PR execs who dismiss Reader's Digest as simply book excerpts are missing out. The magazine has new sections open to pitches, along with a massive, attentive readership. Paul Cordasco reports.Reader's Digest's executive editor Jacob Young says he wishes more PR pros would pitch his magazine.
"There's almost no section that isn't open to ideas,
says Young. "I know a lot of editors say they get pitched too much, but we'd like to see more from the PR community."
Young glumly admits that he feels PR pros often overlook Reader's Digest because it's often thought of as a repository for outside material. Indeed, much of Reader's Digest's content continues to be condensed articles and book excerpts. Nevertheless, Young says he is trying hard to shed a reputation he says is not warranted.
"Right now, about 60% of the magazine's content is original material," says Young. "We are really working to give Reader's Digest a distinct voice of its own."
Young also believes that since Reader's Digest readers are concentrated in the Midwest, PR pros - many based on either coast - do not give the magazine proper consideration.
"Sure, in my New York apartment building there are more copies of TV Guide and People magazine than Reader's Digest,
says Young. "But we have tremendous readership throughout the country."
Almost no one can argue that Reader's Digest does not have an enormous audience. The magazine ranks third in overall magazine circulation at 12.5 million, according to the Magazine Publishers of America. It trails only the AARP Bulletin and Modern Maturity magazine, neither of which is sold at newsstands. Reader's Digest is published in 48 editions in 19 languages, as well as in Braille, on cassette, and in large print.
According to a survey published by MediaMark Research (MRI) in spring 2001, the average age of a Reader's Digest reader is about 48. About 60% of the readership is female, and the readers' average household income is $47,610.
"Our average reader is a 48-year-old woman,
says Young. "She has a family, and is a pretty big consumer of pop culture."
Still, Reader's Digest's readers are as likely to be members of the greatest generation as they are to be baby boomers or Generation X. Indeed, this fact is quickly apparent upon a scan of the magazine's ads, which in a recent issue were, among others, for an Alzheimer's treatment, a heartburn medication, and a denture adhesive.
However, Young insists that his readership includes a broader demographic swath than many assume. "The MRI survey found that 23 million of our estimated 48 million readers are between the ages of 25 and 54,
explains Young. "That takes in a lot of baby boomers and Generation X-ers"
Reader's Digest has added two new sections, featuring mostly original content: Only in America, and RD Living.
Only in America runs about four pages, and is designed to monitor pop-culture trends. "It's a great place to pitch product ideas,
"For instance, we were very proud that the section was the first to spot the comeback of the La-Z-Boy chair.
Other trends to catch ink in the section have included belly-button piercings and the latest in unusual car gadgets.
The RD Living section, which can run over 10 pages, is devoted to short service-styled pieces, and is probably the most pitchable section. RD Living tackles issues involving pets, health, personal finance, and technology.
Recent pieces have included information about the health benefits of avocados, how to "Enron-proof
a 401(k) plan, and an overview of mp3 files. Most of the pieces are quick hits, and consist of just a few hundred words.
Young says the best way to pitch Reader's Digest is via e-mail or snail mail. "I generally don't like phone pitches,
says Young, "but e-mail is a fine way to reach us. We also like it when people mail us products so we can see and try them for ourselves."
Senior editor Loren Mooney edits the Living section, and Meg Grant is the magazine's West Coast editor (and is therefore a good contact for celebrity stories and features). Young says he is also always ready to be pitched feature ideas and celebrity-related pieces.
Each issue usually closes two months before it is published. "We need about three months' notice for features,
says Young. "Our calendar isn't set in stone, but we need at least a couple weeks before the close of an issue before we can consider smaller items."
Young says Reader's Digest's attitude toward exclusives varies. "Exclusives are great as long features,
says Young. "We don't do a lot of breaking news because that is not the nature of our magazine. We like exclusives that provide us with access to a celebrity or major public figure. For instance, there was recently an interview in Oprah's O magazine with the Central Park Jogger. That kind of piece we think is great."