Reader’s Digest: The Fox News of Magazines?

Late last year, Reader’s Digest announced that it was partnering with Rick Warren to launch a multimedia effort called The Purpose Driven Connection:

Together the organizations will pool their international resources to produce and publish this Purpose Driven platform to help people who are seeking their purpose in life and wish to interact with others on their spiritual journeys. The platform will provide a suite of bundled multimedia tools: “The Purpose Driven Connection,” a quarterly magazine; Small Group study materials delivered in DVDs, workbooks and downloadable discussion guides; and a state-of-the-art Christian social networking website.

“We are excited about this new partnership and its unprecedented potential for international impact,” said Warren, who will serve as Editor-in-Chief and be heavily involved in the conception of each element. “The Purpose Driven Connection represents more than simply integrated multimedia resources; it will become a platform for a movement of people to change the world.”

Apparently, the effort has been a success, so much so that it is going to be the model for the future as the magazine seeks to turn itself into the print equivalent of Fox News:

For 87 years, Reader’s Digest, that monthly breadbasket of condensed articles, can-do tales and grandmother-approved jokes, has aimed squarely at Middle America.

Now it is aiming a little more to the right.

After years of trying to broaden the appeal of Reader’s Digest, the publishers are pushing it in a decidedly conservative direction. It is cutting down on celebrity profiles and ramping up on inspiring spiritual stories. Out are generic how-to magazine features; in are articles about military life.

“It’s traditional, conservative values: I love my family, I love my community, I love my church,” said Mary Berner, the president and chief executive of Reader’s Digest Association.

The project that signals Reader’s Digest’s future, Ms. Berner said, is a new multifaceted effort produced with Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor, called the Purpose Driven Connection.

For about $30, subscribers get a quarterly magazine with religious workbooks, along with DVDs featuring Mr. Warren, and membership in a social-networking Web site, including tips on what to pray for each week. It is available through churches and at Wal-Marts, and Ms. Berner wants to introduce other unorthodox distribution strategies.

“That is the model going forward,” she said.

“It’s an unabashed commitment to and focus on a market that’s ignored but is incredibly powerful,” she said.

The editorial team had even considered turning Reader’s Digest into a right-wing handbook, a companion to Fox News. “It was a supposition,” Ms. Berner said, that half the country is annoyed that Barack Obama is president.

“What if we just go after them?” said Ms. Berner, who has a framed photograph of President Obama in her office. But testing the right-wing handbook idea with cover lines like advocating prayer in schools flopped.

“What worked was conservative values,” Ms. Berner said.