By Victor Ochieng
After 71 years in business, the historic Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Co. sold its Ebony magazine and the digital-only Jet magazine to Denton, Texas-based private equity firm Clear View Group. In the sale, Johnson Publishing withheld ownership of Fashion Fair cosmetics and the magazine’s photo archives that boast of $40 million in market value.
For those who may have been worried about the change in ownership of the family-owned business, more so about its Black ownership, there is nothing to worry about as the acquiring entity is also Black-owned. The new outfit, Ebony Media Operations, maintain the original Ebony’s Chicago headquarters and its New York editorial office, and of course, most of the company’s current staff.
Linda Johnson Rice, the chairperson of Johnson Publishing and daughter of the firm’s founder John H. Johnson, released a statement in which she said: “This is the next chapter in retaining the legacy that my father, John H. Johnson, built to ensure the celebration of African Americans.” She also pointed out that the media company still remains black-owner. “You’ve got two African American companies coming together and doing business with each other,” she said.
The Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Co. was founded by John H. and Eunice Johnson in 1942. It’s been acting as an outlet of African-American past experience, present and future.
Johnson borrowed $500 against his mother’s home and furnishings and used the money to start the publishing business. His business’ first publication was The Negro Digest, which folded in 1951. Their second publication was Ebony, which was a picture-based news magazine first released in 1951. Then Jet magazine followed in 1951, with the main aim of sharing African-American news in politics, sports, entertainment and business.
The Ebony Fashion Fair, whose ownership the publishing firm has retained, came as a result of a 1958 touring fashion show. It’s through the initiative that the Johnsons embarked on creating Fashion Fair cosmetics that targeted runway models who were finding it a challenge accessing makeup that would fit their darker skin tones.
The recent sale was described by Rice as a bitter sweet moment.
“The bitter might be just an initial reaction of, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s sold,’ but not really understanding fully that I will be chairman emeritus of the new company, which is Ebony Media Operations. It is African American-led and owned, and I have a seat on the board. I also have an equity position in the company, so I’m still there. I’ve not walked away from this at all. I love Ebony, I love Jet, so I think the audience needs to understand that.”
Asked if it was painful for her to have made the move to sell a business that her family had owned for seven decades, she said: “I think if I have to be honest with you, I’m very excited. There are different emotions that you go through at different stages. But I think when you come to a realization that this is really in the best interest of the brand and that it really is in our best interest to be able to expand our audience and reach, then you get to a point where you decide that this really is a decision that needs to be made. You have to be confident and feel very good about that.”