Memories of Reader’s Digest

Recently I was spring cleaning my book collection and came across an old Reader’s Digest magazine that seemed to have got mixed up with the lot. It was years since I have seen the magazine and it brought back great memories of my teenage days.

Reader’s Digest, Competition Success Review and India Today were the most popular choices to groom yourself for a variety of aptitude exams and group discussions. RD was recommended in particular to improve one’s command on the Queen’s language – a colonial legacy prerequisite to obtain the passport to professional success.

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My elder brother was a keen lover of Reader’s Digest and its associated publications. Quite regularly they would send him offers as an RD subscriber to buy their special book editions and he would buy a few of them. My interest in those days was limited to a few key sections of the Reader’s Digest.

Both of us loved the ‘Word Power’ quiz and of course couldn’t spoil it for the other by marking our answers on the quiz itself. So we would mark our answers on a plain paper and score it separately. And if we didn’t score the top bracket it would be quite a disappointment. And it was very possible because they used to run all kinds of selections – Latin roots to words, words from Shakespeare classics, words assimilated into English from other languages etc.

My brother and I, of course, wanted to out do each other as well at every opportunity. It was a good preparatory for building your English vocabulary – so word lists, flash cards and learning the top 5000 words in English wasn’t not really a challenge when I started preparing for my MBA Entrance exams.

They had regular fun sections as well – ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine’, ‘Humour in Uniform’, ‘Life’s Like That’ and ‘Quotable Quotes’. In addition there used to the filler items under various articles to cover the available space. The usual beats of coverage – Health, Travel, True Stories, Advisory including parenting and finance would have 1 or 2 appealing stories that would catch my eye. This was of course the pre-internet and Google era. Credible information or awareness about various issues was quite limited. In that context, the content used to be quite attractive.

It is an interesting combination to serve out every month since a lot of topics are repetitive in nature and not every time you will have content related to some radically path breaking news. So they would recycle age-old advice in a manner that they are able to connect with the reader and command their loyal readership. And the business model has been effective enough to permit them to straddle multiple countries and markets without alienating the reader – though an aspirational pro-Western lifestyle is a conscious brand position created by them.

Over the years we got away from the habit of regular reading of periodicals. Even for current affairs and political news one tends to rely more on the 24/7 coverage that happens on TV and in addition of course the internet makes so much stuff available on a platter. Opinions are more easily read and countered on ‘blogs’ nowadays even popular columnists have had to adapt to that.

In between I vaguely heard about a financial crisis with the popular magazine and I understand that things have improved for the better. So the magazine is back in circulation and has significantly boosted its online presence as well. Undoubtedly the patronage of the older readership would have been supportive but the future lies with the youth and appealing to them in today’s digital age is the conundrum that needs to be cracked. So one hopes that they are able to continue the engagement to grab the attention of young reader who is spoilt for choice and has a very limited attention span.

Credit: Noah Seelam, AFP Courtesy: Getty Images
Credit: Noah Seelam, AFP
Courtesy: Getty Images

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