Collaborative Authoring - Part 6: Final Analysis
Peter Dolan of BMS Fired

Reader's Digest - A DTC Disaster in the Making?

Rdcover You never know when a connection will be made.

Recently, I started to follow a new series on Healthcare Communications by Mark Senak on his Eye on FDA blog. In his latest posting, Mark begins to discuss the curbs that may be placed on Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) advertising by the FDA. He states that "the sheer volume of the discussion around DTC almost guarantees some change."

A few days after reading this post, the September 2006 issue of Reader's Digest showed up in the mail. As usual, I flipped through the pages looking for the humorous pieces dotted throughout the magazine.

And then it hit me! The number of ads for prescription drugs was astounding. If Mark is right, Reader's Digest will be in big trouble if the DTC ads dry up.

With my curiosity peaked, I began a bit of market research. Here are the results:

The September issue of Reader's Digest has 240 pages, including the front and back cover. The issue has 52 ads, 12 of which are for prescription drugs. That's 23% of all the ads! The rest are for all kinds of products from detergent to blue jeans.

But guess what? The average length of an Rx ad is 3.3 pages. Why? Because it's mandatory that the package insert be included. In contrast, most of the other ads are either one or two pages long.

The drug ads in this issue take up 40 of the 240 pages. That's 17% of the total number of pages. Here is the list:

  • Lunesta (Sepracor) - 3 pages
  • Coreg (Glaxo) - 4 pages
  • Astelin (MedPointe) - 2 pages
  • Relpax (Pfizer) - 4 pages
  • Crestor (AstraZeneca) - 6 pages
  • Lyrica (Pfizer) - 4 pages
  • Cymbalta (Lilly) - 4 pages
  • Rozerem (Takeda) - 3 pages
  • Celebrex (Pfizer) - 4 pages
  • Avandia (Glaxo) - 4 pages
  • Diabetes PSA (Glaxo) - 1 page
  • Merck PSA (Merck) - 1 page

You can bet that each pharma advertiser negotiates some type of discount with Reader's Digest for the "extra" package insert pages. They'd also get discounts for placing more than one ad in a specific issue and for committing to multiple ad placements over several issues.

No matter. You can bet that ad revenues from pharma companies far outstrip those from any other source.

But why Reader's Digest? My guess is that the reader demographics are just right for the pharma companies. The average reader is probably a baby boomer or senior citizen, just the type who needs more medical attention. Can't sleep? Take Rozerem. Or, maybe Lunesta. Have high cholesterol? Use Crestor.

Interestingly, I saw no ads for erectile dysfunction (ED). Perhaps the readership is too conservative or the magazine considered to be a "family-oriented" publication.

In the final analysis, I don't know if I should be happy for or concerned about the revenue stream for Reader's Digest from drug ads. At least, I can offer them some advice.

You will need at least two or preferably three new advertisers for each pharma company that falls off the list. Start the search NOW!

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