Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Another household name bites the dust

Well, if General Motors can file for bankruptcy, who is safe ? This recession has been brutal to famous names from the past. Lehman Brothers has vanished. GM and Chrysler went into bankruptcy and are emerging with large parts of them brutally chopped. When the dust has cleared, there will indeed be a new world where many of the familiar faces are gone. That’s the way it should indeed be. The fittest should survive, shouldn’t they ?

Buts it's still a sad day, when an icon like Reader’s Digest totters. They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection yesterday. They aren’t going out of business; at least not yet. The Chapter 11 filing is only for the US business; not for their operations in the rest of the world. And they’ll continue to hit the stands – Chapter 11 does not mean you stop operations ; it just means that you get some breathing time and space from the creditors hovering outside and have time to restructure.

But for sure, the old Reader’s Digest is gone. What emerges out of Chapter 11 may be a different animal. For people of a certain generation, like mine, these icons stand for something. They stand for your time in the world. And when one after another, they fall, however compelling the logic may be, it is a nagging reminder that your own clock is winding down. You can’t but help look back with nostalgia.

Step back and look at the media today. Is reality television the only taste that we have ? Are scandals and stories of gloom, the only stuff that titillates us ? Every “current affairs" publication, online or otherwise, reads like a chronicler of the world’s woes. Is that the only thing we want ? Is there no place in the world, for stories of warmth, large heartedness and the generally good things in life ?

The fall of Reader’s Digest is both clear and puzzling. Clear, because its brand of journalism was always most vulnerable to the new media – 24 hour television and the internet. So readership declines. Ad revenues fall. And in a recession, both fall in a landslide. Who can withstand that ?

But puzzling, because, we all hear that in most of the developed world, populations are ageing. Baby boomers are a huge group in the US. Everywhere, even in China, the world is greying. And yet a product like Reader’s Digest, whose customers are mostly from the greying generation, is tottering.

Please do me a small favour. Go out a buy a copy of Reader’s Digest today. Or better still, take a subscription. Some things in the world, should not be allowed to fade away, however illogical that may sound.

22 comments:

kiwibloke said...

Saw the chapter 11 filing of RD in the papers today - felt absolutely gutted. Can't think of any other form of entertainment in words but RD. It pays to increase your word power, humor in uniform, laughter the best medicine, all in a days work and best of all the RD condensed books (usually published and printed on the last several pages) Feels like a bit of history being ripped apart.
kiwi.

PS: I have a collection of RD from 1961 to 1976 bound in bunches of 4 to a volume. Some of the ads of the yester years (especially Sunny Gavaskar modelling for some suiting and Zeenat Amman for some bed linen) is quaint!

Ramesh said...

@kiwi - Beautiful sentiments expressed wonderfully. Thanks.

Btw - you weren't born in 1961. Have you been collecting RD from a previous life ??

thethoughtfultrain said...

I have been reading RD since I could read. From the "greenish" Rd to the colourful RD today, they are my source for inspiration. I do hope it survives the bankruptcy and emerges stronger for it.

Srivats said...

Oh thts sad , I love RD but couldnt afford when i grew up - so would read from the library, would buy that today! thanks for the informative post!

Srivats said...

I agree such magazines are vulnerable to new media!

Ramesh said...

@thoughtful train - I didn't realise even teenagers love to read RD. :)

@srivats - Same here - read old issues in the library. Many newspapers are also folding up. They just are unable to withstand the onslaught of new media.

Gaurav Jain said...

Honestly, I havent been too frequent a reader of the magazine but I do pick a copy of it whenever i travel- by flight, trains or car. And yes, I do travel a lot. I have specially loved the way it unfolds stories and presents information. It always draws the reader and at the same time reatins the originality . Also its not only the media but also the decreasing interest among people to spend their time reading something valuable , especially the new generation thats killing such magazines. I will surely get hold of one copy as soon as possible.

Thank You

Ajay said...

I too am saddened by the news of Reader's Digest filing for Chapter 11. However, it's a sign of the times I guess. We deserve what we get as a collective of people. Be it in terms of media like India TV (I am sure you have heard of this news channel that reports about ghost citings and imaginary devils on national broadcast) or be it the political leaders that run our countries. So the fact that things have come to such a point for Reader's Digest goes on to show that not many really care about true and honest journalism in today's world and are happy being fed crap like India TV. I'd strongly recommend the movie "Good Night and Good Luck" to you that touches the exact same topic.

Deepa said...

This is saddening indeed !! My entire family is hooked on to it since forever. Its subscription is an annual ritual. The oldest copies I have are dated '86 ! and incidentally we have a wall full of those, we never had the heart to throw them away... after reading this may be that wall is gonna be that ways forever !

thethoughtfultrain said...

Teenager? Ha ha !! I am soon set to enter the glorious 30's!! :D

Teenagers love it too, atleast some of the ones I know. :-)

Ramesh said...

@gaurav - Thanks for a very nice comment

@Ajay - I know comments on this blog are not representative of any population, but just witness the uniform support for writing of the style of RD. And yet, its India TV that flourishes. Just can't fathom this. Aren't there enough of us, or am I missing something ?

@Deepa - Oh lovely. Its wonderful that so many people collect back issues of RD. Which other magazine can claim this ?

Ramesh said...

@ thoughtful train - Oh yes you'll enter the glorious thirties in 12 years !!

Preeti Shenoy said...

My dad had a bound collection of Readers digest issues from the 70's.Several thick volumes. For me, it was a very proud moment, when I started writing articles for them.
But you know what Ramesh, after I read this post I looked back and tried to recall when was the last time I read one fully. And I realised I don't even remember when I stopped reading them fully . Even the ones that had my articles on them, I realised I would just read a few stories.

I have no idea when 'good' became 'have-heard-it-before'.

When i look at the magazine racks here--many of the the magazines offer sops to its readers--like expensive lipsticks and masacaras. They mostly tie up with cosmetic companies doing promos. So when you spend two pounds, you actually get a lipstick of a leading brand which you would have to pay at least 12-14 pounds if you bought it. So no guesses which magazine women will choose.
When such alluring offers reel you in, poor RD is in the background trying to attract at least a glance.
It is indeed sad but it is the truth.

Cheers
preeti

Ramesh said...

Yes Preeti - this is true. Many of us have "slipped away" from RD. Their formula has remained static for too long. And yet, it still is a damn good read. Worth preserving, for some things are more valuable than they seem to be. Understand the promos that other mags do, but maybe RD is like a good book - we just buy it.

Emma said...

Hi Ramesh. Sad to read about this. My dad has had a subscription since the early 1970s and we still have all of them. Our subscription got lost sometime in the whole moving-to-Bangalore thing. Maybe now is a good time to renew it. But some of the recent copies of the RD that I have seen seemed to be a let-down over its older days!

Ramesh said...

Lovely to hear from you Emma. Are you back in India or in NL. Drop me a mail.

Its amazing how everybody has said that they used to subscribe, but stopped. Thats's a powerful insight for the company. Maybe, by keeping things the same for far too long they've lost the stickiness with the customer.

Ajay said...

You are right about there not being enough of "us". At least that's what I think.
Kaliyug! Ghor Kaliyug! :)

CMK said...

I had also read about RD filing for bankruptcy last week. Though I had been a regular reader of RD some years back this news was one more headline at the point in time when I read about it.

After a couple of days I remembered that I used to regularly read your blog but had stopped for the past two or three months for no apparent reason but was always meaning to catch up. I suddenly remembered about the blog and tried to catch up on this blog over this weekend and when I read your piece on RD and could not help thinking about the connection.

Maybe, we do not really want to stop but we drift away - maybe we take things for granted - like RD will alwyas be available when you want to read...

Anyway the loss is entirely ours...

Ramesh said...

"Welcome back" CMK and thanks for a very nice comment. You have absolutely correctly captured how we tend to drift away. I think this is exactly what has happened to RD.

Reflections said...

Seriously I too was shocked to hear abt RD....how cd this be....I mean I thought everybody read it.
Here in Dubai we have to pay 4 times the amt for a copy compared to India so I tend to hesitate but when I go to India I'm always picking them up in book stalls.

Preethi's comment[2nd para] hit bullseye:-(

Ramesh said...

@Reflections - Yes its said, but its the same with many things that have stood still. You sort of drift away and then when they disappear it hits you.

Priya Ganesh said...

OMG!! I have full volumes of the famous RD dictionaries and many of the stories.

I cannot believe it. I have been subscribing to RD for years now.

My subscription is due for renewal and I will make sure I update it.

I am so sad!

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