Monday, August 24, 2009

Another household name bites the dust

Well, if General Motors can file for bankruptcy, who is safe ? This recession has been brutal to famous names from the past. Lehman Brothers has vanished. GM and Chrysler went into bankruptcy and are emerging with large parts of them brutally chopped. When the dust has cleared, there will indeed be a new world where many of the familiar faces are gone. That’s the way it should indeed be. The fittest should survive, shouldn’t they ?

Buts it's still a sad day, when an icon like Reader’s Digest totters. They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection yesterday. They aren’t going out of business; at least not yet. The Chapter 11 filing is only for the US business; not for their operations in the rest of the world. And they’ll continue to hit the stands – Chapter 11 does not mean you stop operations ; it just means that you get some breathing time and space from the creditors hovering outside and have time to restructure.

But for sure, the old Reader’s Digest is gone. What emerges out of Chapter 11 may be a different animal. For people of a certain generation, like mine, these icons stand for something. They stand for your time in the world. And when one after another, they fall, however compelling the logic may be, it is a nagging reminder that your own clock is winding down. You can’t but help look back with nostalgia.

Step back and look at the media today. Is reality television the only taste that we have ? Are scandals and stories of gloom, the only stuff that titillates us ? Every “current affairs" publication, online or otherwise, reads like a chronicler of the world’s woes. Is that the only thing we want ? Is there no place in the world, for stories of warmth, large heartedness and the generally good things in life ?

The fall of Reader’s Digest is both clear and puzzling. Clear, because its brand of journalism was always most vulnerable to the new media – 24 hour television and the internet. So readership declines. Ad revenues fall. And in a recession, both fall in a landslide. Who can withstand that ?

But puzzling, because, we all hear that in most of the developed world, populations are ageing. Baby boomers are a huge group in the US. Everywhere, even in China, the world is greying. And yet a product like Reader’s Digest, whose customers are mostly from the greying generation, is tottering.

Please do me a small favour. Go out a buy a copy of Reader’s Digest today. Or better still, take a subscription. Some things in the world, should not be allowed to fade away, however illogical that may sound.