Reader's Digest: Trouble In Pleasantville



DeWitt Wallace was a man with one simple but brilliant idea: to condense articles of note from a range of magazines and collect them together within the pages of one publication. Unable to get support for his enterprise, he set up shop with his wife in a Greenwich Village basement beneath a speakeasy. Soon after they moved out to Pleasantville north of New York City and began to build the biggest magazine operation in the world - at one stage selling over 18 million copies a month in America alone. The first of many foreign editions arrived in Britain in 1938 - eventually these international editions would cover the globe and be printed in 21 languages, delivering a vision of America that was always motivational and inspiring. There were controversies - early editions contained articles favouring eugenics and racial segregation - but there were also significant groundbreaking campaigns over such things as road deaths and lung cancer. More recently times have grown tough, with growing debts leading to bankruptcy. In this programme John Waite visits the offices of Reader's Digest in the UK to find out how efforts are working out to once again make the Digest brand attractive and successful. Along the way he hears about its colourful history and explores some of the Digest's most successful spin offs, including the hugely popular Condensed Book series, which for many years was the biggest book club in the world.

John Waite asks why one of the world's most successful publishers has hit hard times.