Reader's Digest

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The cover of the May 2004 issue of Reader's Digest.

Reader's Digest Template:Nyse is a general interest family magazine published monthly by the Reader's Digest Association. As of 2004, the U.S. edition of Reader's Digest prints 12.5 million copies and reaches 44 million readers each month. Although its circulation has declined in recent years, the Audit Bureau of Circulations says Reader's Digest is the best-selling general magazine in the United States, exceeded only by the membership publications of AARP.

Reader's Digest is famous for presenting a consistent view of the world that is politically conservative, pro-American, upbeat and Christian-centered.

It is also published in a large-type edition called Reader's Digest Large Type, and in a Spanish language edition called Selecciones.



DeWitt and Lila Wallace published the first issue on February 5 (some sources say February 7), 1922. It was available by mail for 25¢ a copy. The magazine first became available on newsstands in 1929.

Circulation passed the 1,000,000-copy mark in 1935. The 10 billionth copy of the U.S. edition was published in 1994.

Types of articles

It includes original articles, condensed articles reprinted from other magazines, book excerpts, and collections of jokes, anecdotes, quotations and other short pieces. The magazine's mission as set out by the Wallaces is to include one article for each day of the month, each of "enduring value and interest."

Articles in Reader's Digest cover a range of topics, including politics and government, health, international affairs, business, education and humor. Articles tend to be short to allow busy readers to keep up with a variety of topics without investing too much time.

Regular features include "Word Power," a vocabulary-building quiz; "Life in These United States," a collection of humorous or profound reader-submitted anecdotes; and "Laughter, the Best Medicine," a collection of jokes submitted by readers.

Editorial procedures

Despite its old-fashioned image, Reader's Digest is regarded as one of the most professionally made magazines in the world. Articles are edited for authenticity and controlled by an elaborate editorial hierarchy to ensure that the final product is integrated into the Reader's Digest discourse. This discourse is highly homogeneous, and articulates a very specific set of conservative values, some of which are important aspects of the dominant representation of American society.

This political stance is considered so pronounced that the University of Guelph stated publicly that they carry the magazine only as an example of propaganda. Secondly, this model is introduced all over the world, but without being presented as "American". The local Reader's Digest editions quite consistently attempt to create ambiguity about the American, international or local character of the magazine.

Every issue has the same structure. There is, for instance, always one survival story (called "Drama in Real Life"), at least one individual achievement story, a medical article, several moralizing stories on human relations, several articles with practical advice, and some politically inspired stories in which bureaucracy, crime, radical ideologies and other behavior inconsistent with the dominant ideology of the magazine are exposed.

The internal structure of articles also corresponds to an elaborate and fixed model. The survival stories, for instance, have a blurb presenting the drama in medias res, then return in time with an elaborate description of the initial situation. Rescue doesn't come at the very last paragraph: there is always time to restore the initial peace and formulate a lesson. The last sentences often thank the Lord or mention the medals awarded to the story's heroes.

The Digest features three types of texts. A first group are the articles condensed from other magazines. Both their selection and condensation are done by two independently working editors, checked by a third, and approved or corrected by at least two senior editors. The same goes for articles written exclusively for the Digest: authors are asked to write articles of normal length, which then pass through the same condensation and editing procedures as other articles.

Finally, Reader's Digest has a policy of what is called "planting" articles. It commissions articles it would like to reprint, donates them for free to other magazines for integral publication, and then publishes a condensed version. This practice of "pseudo-reprint" makes it possible to "innocentize" messages by attributing them to another instance.

Although for decades condensations from other magazines have constituted not more than 30 to 40 percent of the editorial pages, the Digest continues to present itself as a reprint magazine, as an overview of journalistic discourse in the United States and abroad.

World view

The following are some of the basic values founding the discourse of the Reader's Digest.

  • Individual achievement. Digest characters are always struggling, against bad luck, against systems and regulations, against diseases, and their only weapons are their own courage, cooperation between individuals, and an occasional helping hand of God.
  • Optimism. Most Digest stories have happy endings. There is only one other case: the article may acknowledge in the end that there are still many difficulties to overcome, and give advice.
  • Free market economy. In almost every issue, the magazine fights taxes, government regulations, budget deficits, labor unions, and for many decades the Communist system. All these ideologemes fit into a rather elaborate and consciously reproduced doctrine.

International editions

Although Reader's Digest was founded in the U.S., its international editions have made it the best-selling monthly magazine in the world. The magazine's worldwide circulation including all editions has reached 21 million copies and over 100 million readers.

The first international edition was published in the United Kingdom in 1938. Reader's Digest is currently published in 48 editions and 19 languages and is available in over 60 countries.

Its 48 foreign editions, which account for about 50 % of its trade volume, are controlled from the American headquarters. Except for 2 or 3 articles in every issue, they are entirely composed of articles taken from the US edition. The local editorial boards comprise only a handful of people. They make a selection from the US edition, which however has to be approved by the American office. Those articles are then translated by local translators, and the translations are edited by the local editors to make it match the obligatory "well-educated informal" style of the American edition.

The foreign editions also comprise a limited number of local articles.

Localization procedures

Conscious attempts are made to give the foreign editions a local look. A local Reader's Digest edition will never be seen as a threat to the local cultural identity, as imported American cultural products often are. For instance, all editions have the table of contents on the front cover. Whereas the American edition, however, mentions the authors of the articles or the (American) publications they have been taken from, the foreign editions only mention the titles. Equally important is that the publicity in the foreign editions is entirely managed by the local staff and therefore refers at a high degree to local products or situations.

Many American articles are integrated within the local context. For instance, in an article on air travel, John F. Kennedy Airport will be replaced by a local airport, data on American Airlines by information on local companies. Local statistics may be added, currencies and measures will be adapted. Local names, quotes or pictures of local sights will sometimes replace the original ones. All those operations are called "localisation" by the Digest editors: they are performed by the local editors according to general central rules but without specific US control.

Another, similar intervention is to complement the numerous sections featuring short anecdotes (such as Quotable Quotes, Points to Ponder, Humor in Uniform etc.) with local anecdotes.

Local editions also avoid reprinting articles which may hurt sensitive spots in the receiving culture - for instance, the Italian edition will not select articles which are critical of Catholicism. In general, the local editions will also avoid to select texts which are too closely linked to very specific American situations. On the other hand, the few articles written by local authors always deal with local topics.


  • John Bainbridge, 1945: Little Wonder. Or, The Reader's Digest and how it grew, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock.
  • John Heidenry, 1993: Theirs was the Kingdom. Lila and DeWitt Wallace and the Story of the Reader's Digest, New York / London: WW Norton.
  • Clem Robyns, 1994: "The Internationalisation of Social and Cultural Values: On the Homogenization and Localization Strategies of the Reader's Digest", in Jana Králová & Zuzana Jettmarová, Translation Strategies and Effects in Cross-Cultural Value Transfers and Shifts, Prague: Folia Translatologica, 83-92.
  • Samuel A. Schreiner, 1977: The Condensed World of the Reader's Digest, New York: Stein and Day.
  • James Playsted Wood, 1958: Of Lasting Interest: The Story of the Reader's Digest, Westport Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

External links

de:Reader's Digest


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