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A Good Thing – In Bad Shape

August 18, 2009

This is perhaps another casualty of the economic down turn. It usually is like that when the markets are not doing too well –people cut down on their reading. It should be the other way round, though. If you are out of job you have that much more time for luxuries such as reading. But how does one get down to indulging in one of the pleasures of life when one is insecure about one’s own future. And then it is a time to save that extra penny. Chicago shuts down its non-essential services for three days and those employed in such services take a pay cut for these non-working days. The city saves some $8 million, it is being said. Chicago is not the only example, California and other states have been having such day-offs for some time now. Yet the problems at Reader’s Digest do rankle. The US arm of the world’s largest selling magazine is filing for bankruptcy. It is not about the readership, it is about the fall in advertising revenues, we are being told. The BBC reported it thus:

‘The US publisher of Reader’s Digest magazines has said it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as it looks to get rid of up to 75% of its debts. The arrangement, which has been agreed with lenders, comes as it struggles in a weak advertising market. The move will apply only at its US businesses. Operations elsewhere will not be affected, while the US edition will continue to be published. Chapter 11 gives firms time to juggle their finances while continuing trade. Reader’s Digest has been trying to cut costs since it was bought in 2007 by a group led by Ripplewood Holdings. If approved by a bankruptcy court, Reader’s Digest will see its debt cut to $550m from $2.2bn. Annual interest payments on remaining debt will also be reduced to less than $80m, from about $145m.’ 

A red flag has been waved. The Beautiful Magazine, as I call it, is in trouble. The US arm is perhaps the biggest in the family of Reader’s Digest tree that spans across the world in more than a hundred languages. One would have thought that in times like these, magazines such as the Reader’s Digest would do particularly well. For this is the one magazine that has such a positive outlook towards life that when one reads it one feels good, one feels elevated. It talks about life, it has humor, one can check ones vocabulary, one can read about drama in real life and how people coped with it, it has a book section and small little snippets that make you smile. If one is down, Reader’s Digest is the medicine that one needs, for don’t they say ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine’. Those in uniform need it too because there are these beautiful anecdotes told by those in uniform that can keep one smiling for the rest of the day. The guys in Iraq and Afghanistan should be sent copies of the Reader’s Digest to elevate their selves in an alien land on a lonely job. It is the Beautiful Magazine, for sure.

I know that in such bad times one would argue that one must not chase good money for the bad. But what does one do if the deal is that good money is chasing good? The Obama administration is spending trillions of dollars on reviving the economy, chasing a health plan that will gobble up hundreds of billions and still leave millions out of the fold. What is a couple of billion dollars for reviving the spirits of the nation? I am not in favor of a socialist economic order. And bailing out banks and financial institutions is not my idea of reviving the economy. I never understood why companies like the AIG could get a revival package when others were allowed to go under. Yet, I would make this one exception for a magazine such as Reader’s Digest and make sure it keeps hitting the stands, and in this case reaching the mail boxes of people around the world. I am particularly concerned because the malaise that has afflicted the US arm of the Reader’s Digest could very well percolate down to other branches around the world. It would be sad if a good thing is allowed to wither away.

The one way of ensuring that the Beautiful Magazine survives is to subscribe it. All of us, around the world should try and pinch the extra paisa, rupee, dollar, Euro, pound, Yen and what have you and subscribe to the Beautiful Magazine. Not because we are out to do a good turn to a business enterprise, but because we want to feel good in these bad times, because we get so much from spending so little, because we want to inculcate values in our children that will make them become better human beings, because we want to be reminded that not all is lost in the worst of times, because we care for ourselves and for our future generations. And if we all buckle up and make sure the Beautiful Magazine reaches us every month we won’t need the government to bail out what should be there in the market anyway. Why go out with a begging bowl when we can make things happen ourselves? Let the free market play out and let good sense prevail. Let’s get down and read the Beautiful Magazine so that we feel good and make those around us feel good too. We can’t let a good thing go away quite so easily. Not when we have got so much from it.

 Disclaimer: Lest you believe that I am an employee, a share holder or a distributor of the Reader’s Digest, let me assure you that I am none of these and I have no financial interest or any other such interest in Reader’s Digest, except maybe an academic interest, which I admit without any hesitation. I have grown up reading the Reader’s Digest and have found it to be a useful magazine and one that I would recommend everyone to read. Happy reading!!!

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