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July 13th, 2016

An Iconic Black Magazine Has Been Sold

William Reed
Are Black media outlets still relevant?  Is it smart business to invest in Black media?  Ebony, the 1.2 million circulation lifestyle magazine aimed at African-Americans, has been sold by Johnson Publishing to a Black Texas businessman with private-equity backing.   The Austin, TX-based Clear View Group (CVG) is a 25-year-old investment group experienced in creating, developing and running successful corporations, has acquired the assets of Ebony Magazine, the premiere destination for this generation of African-Americans’ cultural insight, news and perspective.  But, as African-Americans illustrate a major preference and propensity toward mainstream products, is investing in Black media products a smart move?

The business model is legendary.  John Harold Johnson got rich catering Black Americans’ pride amid America’s prejudices.  For over a half-century Ebony-Jet type ethnic media played an important role providing news about places and issues that are more-than-often absent from mainstream media.  But, as African Americans go whole hardly toward mainstream offerings, will there be sufficient-enough support for media targeted to them?

Johnson Publishing Company, Inc. is an American publishing company founded in November 1942 by John H. Johnson, a grandson of slaves.    His depiction of African-American notables living elegant lives set a new standard for coverage of Black Americans.  Johnson set the mark for Black business success.  Headquartered in the only Black-owned building in downtown Chicago, at 820 S. Michigan Avenue, Johnson Publishing was the nation’s largest African-American-owned publishing firm.  Johnson published the Jet magazine weekly from November 1951 until June 2014.

John Harold Johnson was one of the nation’s most significant businessman and publishers.  In 1982, Johnson became the first African-American to appear in the list of 400 richest Americans (Forbes 400).  In his lifetime Johnson gained iconic status and was recipient of numerous awards that spanned decades for outstanding work and contributions. He was also awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor - the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  In 2003, John Johnson pledged $4 million to the John Johnson School of Communications at Howard University, however; in 2010, his name was dropped from the school.
John H. Johnson was born January 19, 1918 in rural Arkansas City, Arkansas.  After they moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1933, a young John Johnson used his mother’s furniture as collateral to gain a loan of $500 to come out with the first edition of “The Negro Digest” in 1942. The content of the magazine included African American history, literature, arts, and cultural issues. After it evolved to Ebony the major reason for ongoing success was the positive image it presented of African-Americans.

Because of the acclaim and successes of his business enterprises, Johnson was invited to take part in various government international missions.  In 1961, Johnson represented the U.S in Africa’s Ivory Coast and Kenya. In 1966, he received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Spingarn Medal for contributions in race relations.  Johnson served on the board of directors of businesses: Greyhound Corporation, Dillard’s Inc, Supreme, Dial Corporation, Zenith Radio Corporation, and Chrysler.  He died August 8, 2005 from congestive heart failure.

What’s your allegiance to the media structure at Ebony Media?   What contemporary Blacks seem to value most is Mainstream acceptance, so can the new people at Ebony count on their support?  After Johnson’s died, January 2011 the company sold its headquarters building of 39 years.  In July 2011, it announced that JPMorgan as a partner that held a “minority stake,” and seat on the board.   In 2013, Johnson Publishing reported revenues of $90 million in the sale of books, magazines, television and cosmetics. The company’s founders’ 58-year-old daughter Linda Johnson-Rice retains the title of chairman of the old company and will take a position on the new board.  Johnson-Rice says: “Ebony Media is African-American led and owned.”

Ebony Media’s new chairman Michael Gibson said: “We are excited about the future. Our team has a true understanding of the Ebony brand as well as its legacy, and is committed to providing premium content.”  Johnson Publishing will retain ownership of Fashion Fair cosmetics and photo archives.  Most of the company’s current staff will retain offices in Chicago and New York offices.

William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America”

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