Q&A: Robert Goyette on the way forward for Reader’s Digest
Reader’s Digest Association (Canada) has announced several new initiatives, including the June launch of a Canadian Taste of Home, an iPad edition of Best Health, and augmented reality features for several of its titles.
But the news has been set against the backdrop of its flagship mag falling from first place in subscription numbers, and the company’s U.S. parent filing again for bankruptcy protection. For more on what to expect from Reader’s Digest and its sister publications, we spoke with Robert Goyette, Reader’s Digest Canada editor-in-chief.
Masthead: Can you talk a bit about the recent data from AAM? Reader’s Digest's paid subscriptions fell 15% in the past year.
Robert Goyette: We have plans to maintain that number at around 500,000, where it is now. It was a question of how much we wanted to invest [in driving subscriptions], and the return on that investment. Higher paid subscriptions are the most difficult to get, and so on a long-term basis we wanted to establish a baseline that we could sustain. And while overall print circulation has been declining, we've grown our online audience.
How are your online numbers?
It’s reached about one million unique visitors per month. We launched in 1998, but didn't really start investing in it until 2004. Our numbers were around 200,000 per month back then. We're at a million now. We're quite proud of that. We’re still reaching millions of Canadians. It's still the biggest audience for a magazine in Canada.
Your American counterpart recently filed for bankruptcy protection. How does that affect your decision-making process?
It doesn't affect us. In fact, we have plans to launch Taste of Home Canada magazine in June. That's moving forward, and that's an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars. We've hired around four new people in the ad sales force. I signed up an editor-at-large for Taste at Home Canada; we're putting people and resources behind it. Nothing’s changed. We don't have any assets in the Readers Digest Association American filing.
Tell us about the new quarterly, Taste of Home Canada.
Funnily enough, there are 60-70,000 people subscribing to the U.S. edition, which has no Canadian content. What we'll be doing is providing a different experience with Canadian content and celebrating Canadian cuisine, with the same sort of DNA appealing to home cooks. The first issue is looking really good.
How will it be distributed?
It's going to be a combination of newsstand and subscription. Most of our models are subscription-driven. And we’re looking at making an offer to Canadian subscribers to the U.S. edition, and leveraging [that audience]. We'll be on newsstands in English and French.
Will you be giving those subscribers the option to switch over to the Canadian version?
No, it's going to be an extra subscription to the Canadian quarterly. We're not trying to switch them over.
Reader’s Digest, Best Health, Sélection and Our Canada will all be adopting augmented reality (AR). What can readers expect?
We've used QR codes before, but now we're moving to image-recognition software that brings the pages alive if people scan it with their device. The April issue of Reader's Digest has a portrait of Justin Trudeau. If you scan the cover you'll get to see a flipbook of Trudeau portraits. And in the feature there's a video of the writer, Philip Preville, engaging him in a boxing match. That's something we couldn't offer our readers before, that sort of behind-the-scenes, extra content that shows the characters in Reader's Digest in a different light.
Is AR a strategy to leverage digital while encouraging and maintaing a print audience?
In a way, it is. But what we're actually doing is trying to engage people in new ways. It's just another way to bring them to our content. As an editor, I want to reach the audience wherever that audience is.
Do you have to hire more staff to handle iPad editions and AR content?
Not really. We had to hire someone for the technical aspects of publishing an iPad version, but for producing videos like the Justin Trudeau boxing video, we just hired somebody like we would hire any freelancer.
Can we expect any more digital initiatives this year?
Sélection is looking at launching an iPad version as well. We're looking at a different digital model for Our Canada; it’s too early to say what it is, if it's going to work and when it's going to come out. It's just about the amount of people we think would be interested in reading Our Canada on a tablet; I don't think the penetration is there right now.
Thanks, Robert. Anything you wanted to add?
I guess what caught everyone's attention was the bankruptcy protection filing in the U.S. But in Canada, we're forging ahead. Obviously, the whole media landscape is changing and is rapidly evolving into digital, and we're here with the rest of them. We're not throwing our hands up, we're saying let's forge ahead. We believe in this, and it's working.