In 1920, media entrepreneur DeWitt Wallace created an idea for a new media property: a monthly periodical that contained one interesting and timely story for each day of the month. Two years later, Volume 1, No. 1, of Reader’s Digest was published, with DeWitt and his wife, Lila Wallace, on the masthead as editors. From the beginning, the Reader’s Digest Association’s business model was different. It bypassed traditional distribution to sell the magazine directly to consumers by mail. It also had a strict no-ads policy to ensure that nothing came between its stories and its readers.
By 1935, the United States circulation of Reader’s Digest had surpassed one million. It later became the first truly international magazine, expanding publishing in the United Kingdom in 1938, creating its first Spanish language edition in 1940, and eventually publishing in 17 languages in 34 countries.
The magazine also adapted its business model to fit the changing media business and to expand into new products. In 1955, rising production costs forced founder DeWitt Wallace to choose between a price increase or selling advertising for the first time. As always, Wallace put his readers first, polling for their opinion. They overwhelmingly preferred advertising. The Reader’s Digest Association also expanded beyond print for the first time. Its first nonprint product line: music collections, followed by books and video.
The Reader’s Digest Association created and acquired a number of new brands to diversify its portfolio. In 1987, it acquired The Family Handyman, the leading DIY lifestyle magazine in North America. In 2002, it acquired Reiman Publications, a leading publisher of cooking, gardening, and country lifestyle magazines and books, including Taste of Home, Birds & Blooms, Reminisce, Country Woman, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. In 2005, the company launched Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine followed by the acquisition of Allrecipes.com in 2006.
In 2007, the Reader’s Digest Association took bold steps to reorganize in a rapidly changing media landscape. Allrecipes.com was sold to Meredith Corporation at a profit of $109 million. Every Day with Rachael Ray was also sold to Meredith Corporation. Weekly Reader was sold to Scholastic Corporation. The company then purchased the Haven Home Network to fortify its strength in the DIY space. Finally, the Reader’s Digest Association changed its international publishing model, licensing rights to the Reader’s Digest brand in several European countries and South America.