Direct marketing
A Reader's Digest case study

Page 1: Introduction

Readers Digest 2 Image 1Life in Western economies today is often said to take place in ‘a consumer society.’ The beginning of the ‘age of the consumer’ is associated with the period just after the Second World War where for the majority of the population incomes began to increase faster than the cost of basic necessities and the standard of living began to rise.

A feature of all societies is that when people have more income to spend or as their lifestyles change this leads to changing patterns of demand. For example, over recent years many people want to do more with their leisure time and look for greater variety in their past-times. As they become increasingly aware of changes in the market-place, they also become better informed and discerning about the choices they wish to make. Today's consumers don't just want a higher material standard of living, they want a quality of life which includes leisure time, an opportunity to develop hobbies, discuss issues with others and spend time relaxing. This has in turn generated an accompanying demand for information and content from the media to reflect and support an increasing diversity of lifestyles, needs and aspirations.

This case study focuses upon the growth and development of the bestselling consumer magazine title in the world, Reader’s Digest, a magazine which has developed in a unique way to become a publishing phenomenon which has set itself apart from other magazines.
The development of the Reader's Digest began in 1909 with a young man called DeWitt Wallace in Minnesota. He read widely a range of publications and kept a card index of the best articles. Wallace practised condensing articles from general-interest magazines. His first real publication, a booklet called 'Getting the Most Out of Farming,’ was published in 1916 and in 1920 he assembled 31 of his condensations into a sample 'pocket-sized' magazine and had several hundred copies printed. Wallace now had to decide what to do with his 'pocket-sized' magazine. He approached many different publishers but they all turned him down. Instead of giving up, Wallace decided to print it himself and to sell his Reader's Digest by direct mail.

Direct mail

Direct mail involved cutting out other publishers and distributors by communicating and selling directly to the public. Its great benefit in this situation was that it was a personalised approach which created awareness of Wallace's Reader's Digest by communicating directly with potential readers and appealing to their beliefs and lifestyle.

In 1921 Wallace wrote to teachers, nurses and other professional people, soliciting three-dollar subscriptions for 12 issues of the magazine to be refunded if the first issue did not meet with approval. Fifteen hundred trusting members of the public responded by risking subscriptions to a magazine that didn't yet exist. In February 1922 the wrapped and addressed copies of Volume One, Number One, of Readers' Digest were taken to the Post Office. Reader's Digest was launched.

The magazine was well received. Wallace had not only created a magazine, he had also invented a method of selling it. The postal relationship that he established with each of his customers raised a direct-mail operation to the level of a personal service. Within a few years Reader's Digest had become America's leading monthly magazine. A British operation began in 1938 and the first foreign language edition was published in Spanish in 1940. Today the global readership is more than 100 million, a circulation of 27 million, with 48 editors, published in 19 languages available throughout the world and has become the world's best-selling magazine.


Reader's Digest | Direct marketing

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