As a 25-year-old working at a farm publisher in Minnesota, DeWitt Wallace was struck by so much pointless information clogging the pages.
Sensing opportunity, he came up with a plan to pare down the information into one, concise publication. He pitched the idea to his boss, who fired him, saying, “We don’t believe in this sort of thing.”
Wallace did, however, come away with a $700 credit to proceed with his farmer’s digest. Scouring hundreds of farm bulletins, he came up with a 128-page, user-friendly guide for farm families in 1915. To extend the book’s shelf life, Wallace dated it ahead to 1916. Then he hit the road, pitching it to banks and seed stores in the Upper Northwest.
At some point he realized that instead of digesting only specialized information, he could condense the best magazine articles and sell them to everyone.
After World War I, he borrowed $600 and, armed with a sample issue, began selling subscriptions. Then he and his wife moved to New York City, where he set to work at the New York Public Library and put together the first issue of Reader’s Digest in 1922.
It didn’t take long for circulation to top 100,000. Reader’s Digest published its first Spanish edition in 1940 and expanded into other languages and the Reader’s Digest Book Club.
By 1981, when he died, Wallace had left behind an empire selling 30 million copies a month in 163 countries.
— Adapted from “Here’s The Condensed Version,” Christina Wise, Investor’s Business Daily.