business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB reported yesterday that Reader’s Digest, a mainstay for decades on supermarket front end magazine racks, is facing difficulties in the print media business by reducing its frequency to 10 times a year from 12, and reducing its rate base from eight million to 5.5 million over an 18-month period. The company says it will compensate for the moves by rolling out a global web platform.

My comment:

If there’s one magazine that probably needs a print edition, it is Reader’s Digest - the demographic of its readership has to be somewhere north of 85. (Okay, that was a joke and a bit of an exaggeration. But I have to be honest – I don't know anyone younger than my father who reads it.) The larger issue, it seems to me, is how a magazine like Reader’s Digest remains relevant for a new generation of readers.

Not everyone agreed.

One MNB user wrote (about this and other issues):

As far as Readers Digest, why don't you check on all of the military people that enjoy reading this magazine? How many subscriptions are being sent to military people? How do they enjoy the magazine? They are not 85+ years old....My wife and I are not there yet (about your age) and we enjoy the magazine and we pass it on to others when we are finished with it...

And about your stand on plastic and paper garbage bags: I am getting tired of hearing your opinion. Our county (Spokane County, Washington) has a Waste to Energy plant that burns all garbage and creates electricity. So in our county, it does not matter which bag we pick. We do recycle plastic bags, there are recycle bins all over the county, they are used to create new bags. If every location could do what Spokane County does, there would not be an issue with the reusable bags.

As far as reusable bags, the reusable bags do are not big enough to hold enough to be practical, and I need 4 of them to carry what 1 paper bag or 2 plastic bags will carry. And I have to wash them constantly to keep them clean. What a waste of water...

Why don't you investigate other options that are available and are being done before you ride your high horse into the sunset??

Well, first of all, I ride a high horse for a living. Think of me as Paladin, except that I travel with a laptop, not a gun. (Only people of a certain age will get the Richard Boone reference.)

As for Reader’s Digest, I’m not suggesting that it should go away tomorrow. Just that the world is changing and I think that it is close to becoming an anachronism. And I’d be curious how many military personnel read the magazines as opposed to, say, getting information via the Internet.

And do follow your same digression, the reusable bags that I use – made, by the way, by EcoBags, which continues to be a valued MNB sponsor – are plenty big. I would maintain that the pressure created by the reusable bag movement has forced greater recycling efforts. And, I’d suggest that the water used to wash the bags is less harmful to the environment that when this stuff gets tossed into landfills.

MNB user Michael Freese wrote:

In case you aren't aware, Reader's Digest is the owner of the entire "Taste of Home" magazine group. This group probably does more to promote purchases of food products from grocery stores than any other magazine group.

Talk about something that works with the entire premise of cook and eat at home.....this is it.

And by the way....I am 57 and still read every issue of Reader's Digest.

Fine. But I still maintain that the magazine’s central premise is dated and doomed.

MNB user Shari Reed wrote:

Interesting that this would appear in today's MNB. On Saturday we received our renewal notice for RD and was asked by my spouse if I'd like to renew. (We got the original subscription as a gift from my parents btw.) My answer: No. We just don't read it and many of the other magazines we subscribe to! (Almost all of our information is gotten off the web these days so a lot of times the information is old when the magazine arrives.)

FYI- I'm in my mid 40's.

On a positive note: Am sure there are still many people who subscribe to
these kinds of things to have bathroom reading. 🙂

Good point. I’m just not sure that’s enough of a business model.

MNB took note of a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report that HJ Heinz has launched an advertising broadside against competitors in the vinegar business, especially private label vinegars, by implying in a series of ads that other vinegars include petroleum in their ingredient list. The company says it is trying to differentiate itself with a branded message in a category that largely has become commoditized.

"On the vinegar front, the campaign is intended to reinforce Heinz's commitment to always use only corn and apples to make its Distilled White and Apple Cider Vinegar, as we have for more than 100 years," says Heinz spokeswoman Tracey Parsons. "We know that current FDA regulations allow vinegar to be made from petroleum and don't require manufacturers to disclose this on the label."

Experts tells the Post-Gazette that the issue is something of a red herring – that the real enemy is private brands, and that there are few if any vinegars that actually use petroleum.

My comment: I have to admit that this seems like a specious campaign to me, and I’m not sure it does anyone any good. It is sort of like the CPG version of all those political ads we’ve all grown to hate – charges without documentation that look to divert rather than focus attention. It may not be technically wrong, but is it right?

Heinz, it seems to me, should be a little careful. It is attacking not just competing brands, but the retailers who support those private brands. The war could get messy.

I got roundly criticized for this comment.

MNB user Philip Herr wrote:

Surprised that you would take a marketer to task when fighting back. After all, when Burd has stated categorically that Safeway is targeting (not merely competing) national manufacturers, why shouldn't they fight back? (Not entirely sure about the veracity of the claim, but there is obviously sufficient evidence to support it at some levels).

MNB user Sabrina Marll wrote:

Doesn't do anyone any good?! How about the fact that Heinz is doing consumers a HUGE service in raising awareness about the fact that they are ingesting petroleum products? (Yes - petroleum - as in derived from crude oil.) Knowing MNB has been a big supporter of disclosure on labels to allow the shopper to make an informed decision, I would have expected you to shine the light on the article from your usual what's-best-for-the-buyer POV! Kudos to Heinz for finding a way to both a) build their brand equity, and b) do what's right for their consumers.

I love MNB - not just for the one-stop-shop to let me what's going on, but for how it regularly brings out the "feisty" in me about things that matter!

Thanks for what you do!!

All good points.

I think my reaction was more to the fact that there were allegations being made without any specificity…that struck me as being a mistake.

But your point about clarity in labeling is well taken.
KC's View: