Ebony and Jet Turn a Page on Sales

August 16, 2011  |  

By Alexis Garrett Stodghill

Ebony and Jet have seen a remarkable increase in their circulation over the first six months of 2011. Ebony’s readership has increased 10.9% to 1,235,865, while Jet magazine saw a 7.6% rate of growth to 820,557.  This improvement comes after Johnson Publishing had decreased its promised circulation numbers to advertisers for Jet and missed previous quotas for reader guarantees for about two years for both tomes. Leaders in the advertising and publishing industry see this growth as a big win for Johnson Publishing and its CEO Desiree Rogers, who took the helm of the company about a year ago. Rogers is challenged to grow the magazine business at a time when the industry in general faces declines in advertising, subscriptions and newsstand sales. These 8-11% increases in circulation mark a stunning coup.

How did she do it? For Ebony magazine, Rogers employed a creative combination of input from outside circulation experts and a regenerating redesign. Ad Age reports on Rogers’ ability to grow the iconic Johnson Publishing title despite the harsh magazine business environment:

[Johnson Publishing ] places most of the blame on its prior circulation management, which it says it has improved by outsourcing it to circulation veterans last October. Their diagnosis found insufficient direct-mail campaigns and prices that were occasionally more aggressive than other magazines.

“If you’re not constantly reaching out and asking people to come back on, they fall off,” said Rodrigo Sierra, senior VP-chief marketing officer at Johnson Publishing, which owns Ebony and Jet.

Last August Johnson Publishing named Desiree Rogers, the former White House social secretary, to take over as CEO, just one of several personnel changes that might play a role in Ebony’s effort to rebound.

Ebony’s latest step is the redesign from Amy DuBois Barnett, who was named editor in chief last June, and Darhil Crooks, who joined in January as creative director from Esquire, where he had been art director.

Ebony revamped every aspect of the magazine from the logo to the layout. In addition an effort was made to shift the editorial focus of the book to reflect the desires of the modern African-American audience for self-improvement and inspiration. Jet also benefited from the outsourcing of circulation management, and saw its numbers increase.

By comparison, other black magazines like XXL and Essence have seen readership declines of 22% and 2% respectively, according to Richard Prince’s Journal-isms™.

From purely casual observation, it is clear that Ebony and Jet are both featuring younger stars, and are more on the pulse of trends in African-American lifestyle and entertainment. This month’s cover features hot actress Zoe Saldana, for instance — a celebrity who is not strictly African-American — who discusses the implication of her more complicated black identity for her cover story. It’s hard to imagine the Ebony magazine of two years ago placing someone who is neither strictly “black,” nor an old-guard African-American luminary on the cover.

Clearly these risks — using hot stars and stirring a little controversy — are working out for Ebony magazine. The numbers prove it. Jet is making similar moves to remain relevant to an Internet-trained audience that craves conflict to fuel Facebook discussions, mixed with a sense of immediacy. If Johnson Publishing can continue to take editorial risks and modernize its approach to information delivery, their well-known black brands will flourish for another half-century.

This kind of longevity is sorely needed in a world where most black media is owned and controlled by mainstream companies without a direct interest in serving black audiences as part of a heart-felt service to our community.


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