How does Readers Digest work?

Do they pay people to print portions of their work? If so, do they get approval for what they end up printing? I’m wondering whether an author ever looks at what his publisher has sold to Readers Digest and goes, “What the fuck! That’s not the message I intended to convey!”

I don’t know about the editorial policy, but you can bet that somebody gets paid when an article is reprinted in RD. It all depends upon the rights the author retained when he first published the piece. If he sold only the rights to the first publication, then he’ll get the check for it appearing in RD. If he sold the other rights, then the rights holder will get the check.

I had assumed after many years of infrequent browsing that the majority of articles are written specifically for RD and very few are reprints. This piece gives a similar impression.

And even if they were reprints, standard contracts only give up first publication rights for a piece. Otherwise P J O’Rourke’s How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink would have been the property of The National Lampoon.

And clearly it isn’t.

Magazines vary greatly in their contracts. Some magazines buy all rights, so that they control the work thereafter. If so, it’s the magazine that receives the payment if an article is reprinted.

Other, usually better, magazines buy limited rights. These also vary. You can sell first North American, first English-language, first world rights etc. If so, it’s the author who gets a reprint fee (normally half of the original, but “normal” doesn’t mean that much) if the article is resold.

The Reader’s Digest is sort of a special case. My assumption is that they pay the magazine a reprint fee, which is then further split to the author if the contract has that language. The article in don’t ask’s link notes that these days they commission many original articles. What it doesn’t say - and I don’t know whether it’s because their policy has changed or they don’t like making a public point of it - is that the RD often originates the idea for articles, contracts with the writer, and then finds a magazine to run the article. This gets them the articles on the subjects they want, but doesn’t make it look like it’s an all-original magazine, which would be against the image they’ve polished over the years.

I would doubt if authors of articles that are true reprints have anything to say about how they are cut. That would be unusual for a reprint. However, the RD is a special case, so they may be an exception and there may be certain authors who write into their contracts that they have approval over cuts. Mostly, however, they’re a corporate giant who gets to do pretty much what they want and they pay very well for the privilege.

Writing is one of the last cottage industries, so almost everything about it winds up in some variation of “it depends.”

My major questions about the Reader’s Digest are

(1) Do they do any checking to avoid reprinting the same jokes? I swear, every once in a while I come across a joke that’s old enough to have already appeared in the magazine five or fifteen or fifty years ago.

(2) What, aside from a freakishly large head, qualifies “Laskas” to give advice on anything and everything in her advice column? While I have nothing in particular against her answers, surely there must be thousands of people who can do what she does.

What about their condensed books? Do they have editorial control over what they condense and how?

Of course they repeat jokes. Where do you think people find the jokes to send in? :smiley: (Seriously, they do, and people love it.)

Who is “they” in this question? Writers? Publishers? The Digest?

The usual answer is that writers, with very few exceptions, have no control over anything. I don’t think that publishers would have much control either. Once you sell the condensation rights, the other party can do pretty much as they please. I don’t remember, off the top of my head, ever hearing a controversy over an RD condensation so any complaints would be unusual and nobody would go into the deal expecting any problems. And they paid huge money.

Does the RD even do condensed novels any more? I thought they had abandoned the practice.

Thanks for those answers. That’s what I was wondering about.

Apparently, they now call them Select Editions.