Landmark publication Weekly Reader to shut down
By JOSH KOSMAN AND KEITH J. KELLY
Last Updated: 12:56 AM, July 24, 2012
Posted: 2:22 AM, July 23, 2012
Weekly Reader, a staple in American classrooms for a century, has some hard news for its young readers: it’s shutting down.
Chief rival Scholastic, which bought the school newspaper earlier this year, is folding it into Scholastic News and axing all but five of Weekly Reader’s 60 employees in White Plains, NY, The Post has learned.
Like all papers, Weekly Reader was struggling with changes roiling the print world and was under pressure to develop digital editions. Along with school budget cutbacks, those challenges were compounded by ownership turmoil that left the paper with few resources to invest, sources said.
Weekly Reader and its predecessor My Weekly Reader, which grew out of Current Events magazine in 1902, was read by two-thirds of all kids in grammar school at its peak and hit a high of 13 millions subscribers across its editions for pre-school through 12th grade.
Subscribers to each of the most popular editions, which cost as little as $4.99 a year, have fallen from 1 million in 1990 to less than two-thirds of that figure, according to sources.
“We are confident that the combined Scholastic News/Weekly Reader team will now offer an even better news and information experience in print and digital formats for teachers and students,” said a Scholastic spokeswoman, who declined to comment on the layoffs.
Scholastic, the publisher behind the Harry Potter franchise, agreed to buy the paper from Reader’s Digest Association for between $10 million and $20 million in February. At the time, RDA sent notices to employees warning of 40 layoffs.
Sources speculated Scholastic may have bought Weekly Reader to get its hands on the subscriber list. Regardless, the death of the Weekly Reader is bad news for all classroom periodicals, including Scholastic News and Time For Kids.
“I think whenever you cut out a major part of the industry, it weakens everyone,” said Charles Piddock, Weekly Reader editor-in-chief from 2001 to 2004.
The paper’s development ground to a halt in 2007, when Ripplewood Holdings merged it with RDA, which filed for bankruptcy just two years later. Ripplewood bought it in 1999 from Primedia for close to $310 million.
“We looked into digital and online production, but we were hamstrung due to a lack of funds,” said Keith Garton, Weekly Reader’s senior vice president of product development from 2006 to 2009.
Ripplewood did not return calls for comment.
“It was a wonderful business and an American icon, and it is sad to see it disappear,” said former Weekly Reader President Neal Goff.