Purpose Driven Club Fails to Connect With Members' Money

Reader's Digest Drops Rick Warren Title; Content Moves Online, for Free

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Maybe membership clubs aren't the paid content model of the moment after all.

Rick Warren's membership club -- which charged $29.99 a year for a quarterly magazine, four spiritual DVDs, four workbooks and access to a social networking site -- is dropping the fees, abandoning the magazine and going online-only.

Mr. Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and a best-selling author, and Reader's Digest Association introduced the Purpose Driven Connection club and magazine last January, guaranteeing paid circulation of 500,000 but projecting a rate base of 1 million by the third issue this fall. But takers proved far fewer than they had anticipated; the fourth issue, shipping this month, will be the last in print.

The magazine didn't seem to catch on with mainstream advertisers. The first issue included a mix of ads from Christian organizations, ads promoting Mr. Warren's own products and a two-page spread from one major marketer, Procter & Gamble. Later advertisers included Oriental Trading and Big Idea, which produces "Veggie Tales" books and videos.

Both Mr. Warren and Reader's Digest Association described the project as a net positive. "For RDA's part, we learned a lot about the dynamics of serving a community like this with a multiplatform communication, and we may use those learnings going forward with other, potentially larger projects of this type," a Reader's Digest spokesman said by e-mail. "For Saddleback's part, they found that their community loved the content but paying for it was an issue."

Mr. Warren said the web turned out to have some crucial advantages. "From our viewpoint," he said in a statement, "an online magazine allows us to minister to more people internationally, provide more content and features than we could fit in a print magazine, create interaction and two-way dialogue, and offer it for free."

Reader's Digest, which has been in Chapter 11 since the end of the summer, said the shutdown won't lead to any layoffs. One full-time staffer already left after editing the fourth issue; the website editor is continuing in that role during the transition, which will see Reader's Digest exit the project and Saddleback Church assume full control. Reader's Digest will refund any unused print subscriptions.

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