Reader's Digest can't escape media's recession

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The big-time crash of America's big-time media knows no bounds.

Even Reader's Digest, which bills itself as the world's largest paid-circulation magazine, has run into a brick wall of debt. Its publisher announced Monday that it will probably file for bankruptcy as part of a deal whereby its debtors would take control of the company in exchange for reducing 75 percent of the company's $2.2 billion in debt.

Is the media landscape so bad that the decades-old condenser of Middle American culture and family humor can't make it?

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Well, not in its current form.

The publisher, Reader's Digest Association, has lost money for four straight years, The New York Times reported, and has moved to a more socially conservative tilt. A leveraged buyout in 2007 hasn't helped financially.

In January 2009, the company announced layoffs and suspended its contributions to employee retirement plans. In June, it said it would cut back its monthly US edition to 10 times a year and reduce the circulation it guaranteed to advertisers from 8 million to 5.5 million.

Like most publications, its physical presence is shrinking.

"The company’s business operations remain strong," Reader's Digest said in its release, pointing out that its revenue for this fiscal year would decline "in the low single digits." Perhaps that qualifies as success in today's media landscape.

Interestingly, the media's crash seems to have hit American media the hardest.

On Monday, Reader's Digest announced that the bankruptcy would only affect its US businesses, not its operations in Canada, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia-New Zealand. It boasts a customer base of 130 million in 78 countries, reached by 94 magazines and 65 branded websites.
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