The Decline of the Literary West

Reader’s Digest is shutting down in the UK:

Reader’s Digest’s UK edition has closed down after 86 years due to ‘financial pressures, as the iconic magazine’s editor-in-chief shares a touching tribute. In an honest and heartfelt tribute, the iconic magazine’s editor-in-chief Eva Mackevic said ‘the company just couldn’t withstand the financial pressures of today’s unforgiving magazine publishing landscape’.

The closure comes 14 years after it fell into administration because of a £125m pension fund deficit.

Founded in the the US in 1922, Reader’s Digest – whose motto was ‘Articles of enduring interest’ – was first published in the UK in 1938. Back in 2000 Reader’s Digest UK was selling more than one million copies a month.

I loved Reader’s Digest. My grandparents were subscribers, and whenever I visited them I would read several of those thick little magazines a day. Laughter the Best Medicine was all right, but I preferred the more subtle humor to be found in Life in These United States. And the abridged novels it contained often provided exposure to interesting authors to be explored more fully in the the future.

But diversity doesn’t read. And increasingly, neither does the three-second attention span crowd. Books are in the process of returning to the elite status they once held prior to the release of the dime novel and the mass market paperback, which is not a bad thing for deluxe leather book binders, but isn’t a healthy sign for society.

With more than 3 million subscribers in the USA, the original magazine should be around for a while. But the failure of the once-powerful UK edition is a good reminder of the vagaries of time. Yesterday’s success not only doesn’t guarantee success today, it often plants the seeds for tomorrow’s failure.