RDA'S RYDER MAPS MASSIVE EXPANSION: 'READER'S DIGEST' PARENT TO WOO BABY BOOMERS ON MULTIPLE FRONTS

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Chairman-CEO Thomas Ryder revealed a war plan for Reader's Digest Association last week at a meeting with Wall Street analysts, and at its center is a five-point target he thinks his troops are most comfortable with: family, finance, home, health and faith.

"Those are five areas where people trust Reader's Digest most," said Mr. Ryder. "So everything will be focused around those.

"We'll publish more books, more magazines and more videos on those subjects, but also venture outside the world of publishing," he said.

The company is currently exploring partnerships with financial-service marketers to offer credit cards and insurance to those on its database, and Mr. Ryder is hoping to name a partner by June.

CAPITALIZING ON AGING POPULATION

Another area of direct sales could be health-related products, such as pharmaceuticals and vitamins sold by mail.

RDA wants to be poised to take advantage of its large number of baby boomer customers, and the five areas are considered key due to the explosion of interest as the population ages, he said.

Internationally, the company plans to enter new countries, including China, and expand activities in countries where RDA already has a foothold.

Electronic commerce looms large, and the Internet is

integral to Mr. Ryder's growth plan. He pledges to invest $100 million in buying and developing Web sites and enhancing RDA's online activity this year.

As with the direct sales of products, Mr. Ryder is looking for partnerships to further growth online.

Analysts who attended the meeting were for the most part upbeat about the plan and give Mr. Ryder credit for creative solutions to building the challenged company.

"What I really liked was the emphasis on the Internet, which was greater than I expected . . . and the idea of using partnerships to grow is also appealing because it is a less capital-intensive way to bring new products into the Reader's Digest [Association] pipeline," said Monda Hermosa, media analyst for Lazard Freres & Co.

"It was not what I expected; in fact it was substantially different from what I anticipated. But on the positive side, it's clear he didn't let an established situation rule the day. He looked beyond what was in front of him. Some of the stuff he proposed is a pretty radical departure, like the mail-order drug stuff, but it makes sense," said Dennis McAlpine, media and entertainment analyst for Ryan Beck & Co.

2004 PROJECTION: $5 BIL REVENUE

While most of the presentation lacked any hard numbers, Mr. Ryder appeared confident by projecting that in the year 2004 the company's revenue would nearly double to $5 billion, from 1998's $2.6 billion.

Mr. Ryder would not comment on reported talks with Time Warner, but he did slip in a sly reference to it during his presentation.

In a short video showcasing where management pictured RDA in the year 2004, the last satirical frame referred to three "pesky little subsidiaries" of the

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