- The Atlanta Journal (the afternoon paper, which had then not yet fully merged with the morning Constitution);
- The World Book Encyclopedia, which our parents bought as a Christmas gift for us kids when I was 7, and which I had read in nearly its entirety by the time I was 12; and
- The Reader's Digest.
The basic idea was that each month's issue would include 30 articles -- an article a day, a diet of literacy for the ordinary person who couldn't subscribe to dozens of magazines, but who, via Reader's Digest, could keep himself informed, enlightened and, yes, entertained.
There was a true variety of content and, in my role a top Hayekian public intellectual, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Reader's Digest famously helped make The Road to Serfdom a nationwide bestseller by publishing a condensed version that went through several printings in its own right.
Just the most wonderful thing you could imagine for a kid to have in the house back in the day. There was no cable TV or Internet, and many an idle hour was spent poring over those thick little magazines. Mom kept them collected in stacks on the bottom shelves of coffee tables and end tables. Sometimes, scouring around for something to read, I'd go into the stack and read articles from five, six, seven years previous -- just fascinating stuff, really.
What a sad dessicated thing the Reader's Digest had become in recent years, a steep decline for which I blame consultants. The publishing industry -- newspapers, magazines, books -- is plagued with these overpaid "experts" who collect fat fees to give bad advice.
Whatever his advice, the one thing the publishing consultant will never tell an editor this:
"Hey, you've got a pretty good [magazine/newspaper/book company], so basically, you should just 'dance with the one that brung ya.' Circulation and sales might be a little bit slow lately, but your basic content is pretty good. Maybe you could add more photos or try some snappier cover layouts, or develop a new marketing campaign. But in terms of the basic product you're delivering to your readers, that's great. Focus on maintaining quality and high standards, and you'll be fine."
If you're ever working for a publisher and you get a memo from the executive suite telling you that they've hired a consulting company to "refocus our brand," etc., you should put in your two-week notice immediately. If the folks in the executive suite don't know how to run their own company . . .
UPDATE: Wow, strong reaction in the comments -- welcome Instapundit readers. One commenter questioned the extent of the role of consultants in the decline of Reader's Digest. We don't know the full answer, but one of our commenters who used to work in their D.C. bureau had some interesting observations about their switch to a celeb-focused lightweight approach in recent years.
One of the things I've noticed over the years is that journalists can be divided into two classes: (a) those who spend their time reading publishing-industry trade journals, trying to spot new trends, and (b) good journalists.In every newsroom there are worthless drones who waste hours of company time sitting in their cubicles reading useless crap like Editor & Publisher or the monthly ASNE newsletter. Keeping up on "industry trends," you see -- a convenient substitute for doing actual work. Is it any wonder that the main "industry trend" is the worst gotterdammerung in publishing since Guttenberg invented moveable type?
UPDATE II: Thanks to the anonymous commenter who found at least one consultant's fingerprints on this story -- which is certainly not to say that this particular consulting firm did anything wrong or that their services are not valuable.
Rather, it merely demonstrates how the hiring of consulting firms so often serves as an indicator-light on the company dashboard, a potential signal of managerial incompetence. If your IT despartment can't do its own system upgrade and your graphics department can't handle a page redesign -- so that your bosses are always hiring outsiders to do such things -- it's not exactly a hallmark of a well-run publishing concern.
But hey, don't believe me. It's not like I have experience with the publishing industry or clueless management . . .