Mike Luckwell has bought Reader’s Digest for £1 – not a copy of the magazine, but the whole company! That’s how the mighty have fallen, yet another cautionary tale of falling sales, and vaunting ambition to try and turn around the fortunes of titles at a time of universally declining paid for print sales.
Founded in 1922, by the early ‘60s Reader's Digest boasted a global circulation of 23 million an issue – making it the biggest selling magazine in the world - with 40 international editions. As recently as 2008 it was still the biggest selling consumer magazine in the US.
But now sales have fallen below 200,000, despite private equity firm Better Capital investing tens of millions of pounds into trying to revitalise it. So, armed with a Reader’s Digest database of more than 1.5 million names, venture capitalist Luckwell hopes to succeed where they failed, marketing it to the relatively well off "frisky over-50s" group that holiday and insurance company Saga has successfully tapped into.
Elsewhere, recent sales figures show New Musical Express dipping below 200,000 sales for the first time, FHM dipping below 100,000 for the first time and Q, the top-selling music magazine at the turn of the century with more than 200,000 circulation, barely above 50,000 now.
These and other titles are attempting to reinvent themselves as multi-channel presences in a digital world, NME for instance, which has already been making strides online, is due to launch a new app and update the nme.com website.
The story of print is that it was slow to adapt and diversify early enough into the new digital channels, even though its customers were snapping up tablets and smartphones, spending more time on social media and being exposed to new titles in the online world. Now traditional print titles are playing catch-up or suffering from shifting too slowly and late.
Luckwell also acknowledged on BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show this week that content is key as well, and there is a need to update the type of material being offered to his over 50s audience. The lessons seem simple and universal though – know your readers and go where they go.
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