Page last updated at 16:02 GMT, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Reader's Digest UK in administration

Woman buying a Reader's Digest from a vending machine in 1961

Publishing company Reader's Digest, famed for its magazine of the same name, has gone into administration in the UK, putting 117 jobs at risk.

The decision comes after talks between the company's US parent group and the UK Pensions Regulator broke down.

The dispute centred on how to pay down a £125m deficit in its UK pension fund.

Administrators said the UK magazine, which has more than 540,000 subscribers and was founded in 1938, would continue to trade while a buyer was sought.

Reader's Digest had agreed a deal with the Pension Protection Fund to pay off a small part of the deficit, but the regulator vetoed the agreement.

As a deal could not be done, the UK publisher said it would not be able to meet its pension obligations and so could not sustain operations.

Prize draws

The first edition of Reader's Digest was published in the US in 1922.

Having begun as a collection of condensed articles, it started to include original content and is now mostly made up of specially commissioned pieces.

A Reader's Digest on sale
Concept conceived by a US ex-soldier recovering from wounds suffered during World War I
First edition published in US in 1922
The UK version - its first international edition - appeared in 1938
A series of articles printed in 1952 is credited with raising US awareness about connections between smoking and lung cancer
Published in 35 languages, it is available in more than 100 countries
The UK division employs 117 people and has offices in Canary Wharf, east London, and Swindon, Wiltshire

More recently it became known for its prize draws. The administrators said last week's draw took place as scheduled, with the prize fund kept in a trust, but arrangements for future draws were to be reviewed.

The magazine also became associated with free gifts - from pens and alarm clock radios to encyclopaedias - as it looked to lure new readers.

However, Reader's Digest has failed to shake off its image as a publication favoured by older people and in dentists' and doctors' waiting rooms.

Despite attempts to modernise, including launching an online edition, its readership in the UK has fallen dramatically from about two million in the 1990s.

"In many cases its readers have been, quite literally, dying off, and nobody has been replacing them," said BBC correspondent Nick Higham.

"And the underlying business, like lots of other magazines has struggled, as people bought fewer of them as they migrated to the internet. That has made life very difficult."

The company says Reader's Digest is the largest-selling subscription magazine in the world. The group also sells books, other magazines, recorded music and home videos.

Cash flow

The pensions crisis is just the latest problem to hit the publisher.

The US parent group, Reader's Digest Association (RDA), filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year after struggling with interest payments on a $2.2bn (£1.4bn) debt. It now expects to come out of Chapter 11 shortly.

The UK arm had experienced a cash flow problem for some time, a company spokesman said, and this had been exacerbated by higher-than-normal contributions to the severely underfunded pension fund.

Its more than 100 UK employees are employed in Swindon and Canary Wharf.

Read some of your comments on this story:

I took over my father's subscription to RD in 1972 and have continued every year since then. RD even posted it to Germany for me during the ten years I lived there. Although it has got much thinner in recent years with fewer articles, I will miss it. There was always something worth reading there. Did I ever win a prize with them? No, in spite of many brown envelopes arriving promising untold wealth and new cars, the most I ever got was a pen! RIP Reader's Digest.

Robert Williams, Bangor, Wales

What a pity. My late father taught me my English through encouraging me to read this magazine rather the Beano and the Dandy, augmented by listening to the BBC World Service 50 years ago in East Africa.
Sebastian Mendonca, Preston

I have been subscribing on and off for 40 plus years and collecting old copies of Reader's Digest. I pass them to my old mum who is 90 this year to read too. The oldest editions I have are October 1947 and April 1950. I will be very sorry if RD do go out of circulation as mum and I both enjoy the condensed stories and the 'funnies' pages. We found the shorter articles just right for those with not much time to read large articles or for those with a shorter attention span. RD has been around forever, it seems, and I thought it would go on forever in the future. I must admit I won't miss the reams of competition papers sent in the post!
Gill Roberts, Weymouth, Dorset

An elderly man who my grandma was helping out always gave his Reader's Digest to her (he had bad eyes and could not actually read it) and I would read it at my grandma's on my weekly visit. I remember strange jokes that I would not get and horrifying real life tales, but I always looked forward reading it.
TS, Finland

My parents love the Reader's Digest so much that for some unknown reason they have two subscriptions. I've been reading it for a while now and they always know when I'm back home as I leave them in the bathroom, which now has quite a collection. In fact, at Christmas the Reader's Digest caused an upset as a family member who was staying over took the most recent copy (which was clearly being read as it was on the bath) out of the bathroom, however it mysteriously disappeared from their bedside later on!
Gemma, Irthlingborough

I still have every copy received since I first subscribed in 1977.
Simon Terale, Castleford, West Yorkshire

It's a pity. I'm a student in college and right from a very young age, my father introduced me to Reader's Digest and I've been reading consistently for the past 15 years. I don't know whether this administration will keep the quality alive. I just hope they don't go underground.
Chidiebere Ogbuehi, Owerri, Nigeria

In the 1960s, after National Service, my ambition was to work as a typesetter for Reader's Digest. I could think of no magazine of higher quality and interest. Although I don't read it so often now, I still hold it in the highest esteem.
Mike Wilson, Bridlington, UK

Have been a subscriber for 25 years and very much depend on the monthly articles to keep me sane! The articles and stories are short and to the point, as a consequence it can be picked up on a variety of every day occasions. It will be very much missed, if terminated. Please keep it alive!
J R Southern, Newcastle, UK

I worked for the Digest for nearly 5 years in the 1980s at Old Bailey. It was a great company to work for. They treated their staff well and were very proud of their reputation. I made many lifelong friends while working there. I feel very sad after hearing this news. The end of a household institution and I feel very much for those friends who are continued to work for the company until this time and those on pensions.
John Murray, Chester, UK

I'm an ex employee and this has come as a blow, another pension down the drain that one has worked for years to achieve. A sad day.
Rodney, Porthleven, UK

I used to read it, but actually got fed up with its marketing department, always trying to sell me stuff I had no interest in. And the prize draws which mocked your intelligence. But its main problem was a failure to keep up with modern trends. It was old fashioned, as many American things are, its stories were tired, too American and mainly appealed to the older citizen. They should have re-formatted to a paper cover with stapled pages, and more of a HELLO look, like a YOURS magazine format but with content for young and old. I am sorry to see its demise, but it had it coming.
Colin Woodley, Oxford

They would probably have more customers if they stopped sending out hundreds of mailshots saying you are entered into a prize draw and must reply by a certain date. I have never met anyone who has won a prize draw with Reader's Digest. They are just too expensive as mags go.
Pinkrabbit, Bushey

It couldn't have happened to a better organisation - once these folks got you on a 'mailing list' (by any means) it took years to get rid of their incessant unsolicited garbage, permanently trying to sell you stuff that you had no use of, on top of a tawdry magazine that tended to be full of lack lustre American twaddle.
Paul Sherwood, Thirsk, North Yorkshire

Great, no more "you've nearly won" packages! Did anyone ever win anything?

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In pictures: Reader's Digest
17 Feb 10 |  Business

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