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The interactive market must be ready for the masses, because Reader's Digest Association is jumping in.

Reader's Digest and Microsoft Corp. plan to release a CD-ROM disc in the second half of 1995 that will draw on content from Reader's Digest's reference books, covering such topics as home repairs, gardening and travel.

This will be the first interactive title introduced by Reader's Digest, a giant but generally conservative media company.

"We've always said that we've got the editorial content and we would start making the move when we saw the industry was moving and the market was picking up," said Lesta Cordil, associate director of public relations for Reader's Digest. "When the opportunity arose to work with Microsoft, we thought the timing was just great."

Reader's Digest has a tendency not to make a big plunge into new media until a market has developed. It didn't begin selling home videos-involving subjects like home projects and travel-until 1986.

"Our approach may sometimes feel slow to people," Ms. Cordil said. "But when you watch the industry and know when it's time to move, that's what has kept this company going."

The disc will carry the brand names of both Reader's Digest and Microsoft Home, the PC software marketer's growing consumer line. Microsoft has worldwide rights to sell the product at retail, while Reader's Digest will handle mail-order sales globally through its massive direct-marketing arm.

Initially, though, the product will be sold only in the U.S. and in English, Ms. Cordil said. Given the global clout of both companies, it easily could be translated to other markets, she noted.

The two companies hope to develop additional products together.

Reader's Digest did have one false start on the interactive front. It announced an agreement in November 1992 to develop software for Philips Consumer Electronics' Compact Disc-Interactive player. But CD-I has been slow to take off, and Reader's Digest quietly canceled the project earlier this year.

"The market wasn't developing as quickly as we had hoped and as we had been led to believe," Ms. Cordil said.

This time, Reader's Digest is aiming at a booming market while teaming with the world's largest PC software marketer.

Microsoft, in addition to developing its own consumer titles, also has entered into joint ventures with such well-known names as Walt Disney Co., Scholastic and the World Wildlife Fund.

Although Reader's Digest's The Family Handyman and Travel Holiday have both gone online this year, the mother ship, Reader's Digest, has yet to enter the new-media realm. "We're investigating, but we haven't committed to anything," Ms. Cordil said. "We're always open to suggestions and opportunities."

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