Weekly Reader Folds Into Scholastic News

By Jason Tomassini — August 07, 2012 4 min read
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After more than 80 years of providing student-friendly twists on current events, the classroom magazine Weekly Reader will be folded into Scholastic News, Scholastic Inc. has announced.

The consolidated magazine will be called Scholastic News Weekly Reader and will be published weekly in print during the school year, said Hugh Roome, the president of professional and classroom magazines for the New York City-based Scholastic. Junior Scholastic, the most popular classroom magazine in middle schools, will merge with Current Events, a middle school magazine published by Weekly Reader.

The news late last month, which followed Scholastic’s purchase of Weekly Reader in February, came with conflicting stories on whether the publication was given a fair chance to survive on its own.

Weekly Reader had approximately 60 full-time employees. Mr. Roome said 30 Weekly Reader employees in New Jersey were laid off, some employees based in former parent company Reader’s Digest’s White Plains, N.Y., office would be kept on, and others were offered “preferential treatment” in applying for new jobs.

Weekly Reader was distributed to pre-K-6 classrooms on Friday afternoons in the form of a magazine, with articles about current events catering to different age groups. In its heyday, from the 1970s to early 1990s, the publication reached millions of students nationwide, offered at an annual rate on the cheap, most recently for $4-$5 per student.

Its main competitors were Time for Kids, a newsmagazine for the elementary grades, and Scholastic News. Scholastic News publishes 28 titles, reaches 30 million pre-K-12 students, and also dates back to the early 20th century, according to its website.

At the time of the purchase, Weekly Reader had been on the market for “a little while,” after years of declining circulation and changes to its corporate structure, Mr. Roome said. Scholastic initially had no intention of consolidating Weekly Reader but wanted to see how its brand and content fit with Scholastic’s, Mr. Roome said.

Valuable Subscriber Base

But sources close to Weekly Reader said that Scholastic’s main interest was in Weekly Reader’s subscriber base, and that a decision to consolidate it into Scholastic News was made before the purchase.

“They bought a competitor and essentially put it out of business,” said Neal Goff, a former president of Weekly Reader, who worked there from 2004 to 2010. “They reduced the field from three competitors down to two.”

Scholastic kept the acquisition news quiet so new subscribers would continue to sign up, according to sources. As of last week, subscriptions to Weekly Reader were still offered on its website.

“They didn’t want to let anyone know it was going away until the last minute,” said a source who worked at Weekly Reader for several years and asked not to be named because he is getting severance from Scholastic.

But Mr. Roome said the decision to consolidate the publication came recently and was based on content, not subscribers.

“Weekly Reader has been in a steep decline,” he said. “The idea that it’s suddenly going to be a hockey-stick uptick that we will exploit is ridiculous.”

“We thought we could take the best of what they do and the best of what we do,” Mr. Roome said, “and put it together with what we publish.”

A new website will offer interactive features based on the content in the publication.

While many news outlets wrote off Weekly Reader’s decline as another casualty of the demand for digital media, industry observers said the situation was more complicated.

In 1999, Ripplewood Holdings, a private-equity firm based in New York City, purchased Weekly Reader Corp. and supplemental educational properties for $415 million. The classroom publisher had been owned by Primedia Inc., a media company that, at the time, also owned Channel One News, the in-school television newscast that had emerged as another competitor for classroom magazines.

Circulation for the publications dipped to around 6.5 million in the late 1990s and early 2000s as more competitors entered the market, but Mr. Goff said the publication’s problems didn’t arise until 2007, when Ripplewood merged the company with Reader’s Digest, the general-interest-magazine company the private-equity firm had recently purchased for $1.6 billion.

By 2009, Reader’s Digest went bankrupt, Weekly Reader became “starved for resources,” and circulation dropped, Mr. Goff said. But the magazine moved toward online editions and digital subscriptions relatively early, and profit margins remained positive, though stagnant, he added.

Ripplewood representatives could not be reached for comment.

The adoption of the federal No Child Left Behind Act also contributed to the publication’s decline, in Mr. Goff’s view, because schools had less time for social studies with an increased focus on math and reading. Weekly Reader tried to position itself as a literacy tool, but didn’t gain much traction.

Scholastic Inc.’s classroom magazines seem to have avoided some of those pitfalls. The company’s classroom and supplemental-materials division saw increases in revenue (from $197 million to $208 million) last year.

Coverage of the education industry and K-12 innovation is supported in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 08, 2012 edition of Education Week as Scholastic Stops Printing Weekly Reader


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