22 September 2016

Rich, Engaging, Storied Digests

Richard Krauss
by Joe Wehrle, Jr.
The first time I met Richard Krauss was at Left Coast Crime in Portland a couple of years ago. He gave me a copy of the first issue of his magazine, The Digest Enthusiast. I liked it a lot. I liked the second issue even better because I was interviewed in it.

This month I got the idea of inviting him to tell us why digest magazines fascinate him - and maybe you too. Take it away, Richard!
—Robert Lopresti

by Richard Krauss

In February 1922 an innovative new reading experience emerged: Reader’s Digest. The first edition was 64 pages and measured about 5.5” x 7.5,” a magazine small enough for readers to carry in a pocket or purse.

In that era, the word digest referred to previously published content in a condensed or abridged form; but as the years went by the word also came to define a publishing format.

By the 1940s—and particularly 1950s—these smaller-sized magazines were more economical to produce than the pulp magazines that dominated popular fiction on newsstands before WWII. In the mid-twentieth century there were hundreds of digest magazine titles targeting every popular market—mystery, western, romance, adventure, science fiction, etc. Many lasted only a few issues, but others went far beyond, racking up impressive runs over a dozen years or more.

Fate magazine brought readers “true reports of the strange and unknown” beginning in 1948, and continues its unique mission through over 700 issues spanning nearly 70 years in print.

Lawrence Spivak, who first published Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in the fall of 1941 also launched a companion digest magazine devoted to fantasy in 1949 called The Magazine of Fantasy, under the editorial guidance of Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas. By the second edition it expanded its purview to Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF), and like EQMM is still delivering the goods—it recently published its 727th issue.

 In 1953, Manhunt exploded onto newsstands with a brand new, serialized novel by Mickey Spillane, concurrent with the height of his popularity. Manhunt #1 sold half a million copies and launched the beginning of the magazine’s phenomenal 114-issue run, inspiring dozens of similar titles like Verdict, Murder!, Pursuit, Guilty, Menace, Conflict, Trapped, etc.

Westerns fared better in regular-sized magazines, but a few digests like Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, Gunsmoke, Western Digest, Western Magazine and others, appeared on newsstands before the public’s interest in the genre shrank.

The proliferation of detective and mystery digests was eclipsed only by science fiction. Analog holds the distinction of the longest running science fiction magazine, reaching issue 1000 in June 2015, and is still going strong every month. It began its life as the pulp magazine Astounding Stories in 1938, changing its title to Analog in 1960, and its format to digest-size in November 1943.

In many ways the storied past and present of digest magazines is yet to be recorded. There is far more to tell than it may seem at first glance. In fact, the relative lack of information about the titles and history of these “lost” gems inspired me, along with a small band of like-minded fanatics to begin recording their story.

What titles do you remember? Which were your favorites, and which would you like to read more about?

Thanks to Robert Lopresti for the invitation to share a few covers and thoughts here at SleuthSayers. The Digest Magazine Blog provides daily news on current digests, old favorites, opening story lines, and lots of killer covers. Our magazine, The Digest Enthusiast, covers similar territory in greater depth.


  1. Love the history of the digests, Richard. And welcome to SleuthSayers!

  2. Nice article. Enjoyed it. So many pulps with so many stories, some good, some not so good, some great.

  3. Love the covers!
    Thanks for contributing.

  4. Thanks for reading and commenting, Paul and O'Neil. It's a real treat to be here with the SleuthSayers!

  5. Welcome to SleuthSayers, Richard, and thanks for a very interesting piece. When I think of digests, the first one that comes to mind is Reader's Digest--my mother was a subscriber, and when I was growing up I browsed through issues after she'd finished with them. I hadn't realized magazines such as EQMM and AHMM can also be called digests. The size is definitely a convenience--when I'm heading to the dentist's or doctor's office, I often slip a digest-sized magazine into my purse to help pass the time in the waiting room.

  6. Interesting column, Richard. And thanks for pointing us to The Digest Enthusiast--what a unique magazine.

    It's great to have you at SleuthSayers!

  7. Thanks for the warm welcome, B.K. I had a similar experience with Reader's Digest, only it was my grandparents. As a kid my favorite parts were the cartoons!

  8. Thanks John! I guess you could say TDE is my guilty obsession!

  9. THis reminded me that when I was a kid I read a story in one of Reader's Digest's true-tale columns. Life in the united States, or one like that. It stuck with me and I used part of it as a clue in my novella "The Red Envelope," which Hitchcock published a few years ago.

  10. I also liked the humor in my grandmother's Readers Digest. Years later, RD became a consulting client. Every employee would receive a copy each month and was expected to read it cover to cover. RD became a technology leader in its time. Most people don't realize RD provided one of the earliest on-line services predating AOL, GEnie, and the World Wide Web. Unfortunately they were too far ahead of their time and had to wait for technology to catch up and prices to fall.

    I recall a number of digest magazines in the 1960s such as Mike Shayne. Besides fiction, a number of non-fiction digests were devoted to special interests such as cars (in general), hotrods (in particular), motorcycles, project building specialities such as sailboat building, scuba diving, furniture making, and I seem to recall mags devoted to guns.

  11. There's a lot here to digest, Richard — all of it extremely interesting! Thanks for the read.

  12. Love it, one digest inspiring the work for another!

    Had no idea of RD’s early on-line service—fascinating. My understanding is that newsdealers aren’t always fans of the format (display challenges), but publishers have used it often.

    Thanks for the warm response Sleuths!


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