Linda Johnson Rice is back in charge at Ebony magazine, after the exit last week of the African-American magazine company’s CEO, Cheryl McKissack.
Johnson Rice had remained chairman emeritus of Ebony Media Holdings after a sale last year of a majority stake to an Austin investment firm. Now she will become CEO of the holding company’s Ebony Media Operations entity, which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines online and in print.
McKissack had been named CEO of Ebony Media Operations last June in conjunction with the sale to CVG Group, formerly known as Clear View Group. She departed as Johnson Rice is looking to redirect the media company.
McKissack “did a really great job during the transition,” Johnson Rice, 58, said in an interview. “We’ve gotten to the point where we just decided to make a change.”
Johnson Rice, whose father founded the magazine company, had been CEO of the Chicago-based magazine outlet until she tapped former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers to lead the magazines as CEO of Johnson Publishing in 2010. Rogers is still CEO of Johnson Publishing’s now separate Fashion Fair cosmetics entity, which is still owned by Johnson Rice.
McKissack couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
A NEW ERA
Like other print media organizations, Ebony and Jet have been struggling to adjust to a new era in which advertising revenue has declined steadily over the past decade. While the magazines have tried to trim costs, by cutting employees and print issues, among other things, drumming up new revenue has been the tougher task.
The former weekly Jet ceased print editions in 2014, but Johnson Rice said she is reviving the magazine with print editions four times this year and added a new editor-in-chief, Tracey Ferguson, who is focused on millennial readers. In addition to its website, the magazine has a presence on social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.
While the editor-in-chief at Ebony remains Kyra Kyles, there has been significant turnover in the company’s magazine staff in recent years.
Ebony, which once was a monthly, will publish its regular issue eight times this year, but it will also have six special theme issues this year, like the “Hail to the Chief” issue published in January that showcased President Barack Obama’s two terms in the White House. The special issues will be more expensive at $10.99 an issue, versus $4.99 for the standard Ebony magazine on the newsstand, but it will be less costly for the company without the expense of delivering it to subscribers and will still help boost the brand, Johnson Rice said.
“A lot of publications are doing that now,” she said. “It’s another revenue stream,”
Johnson Rice is also continuing to work with advertisers who want to sponsor events tied to the magazines’ brands. For instance, last month the company joined with Apple to throw a party celebrating black Hollywood celebrities a few days before the Academy Awards ceremony.
There are other new initiatives in the works, but Johnson Rice wasn’t prepared to discuss them now. She also declines to say whether the private company is profitable.
Back in 2012, it looked like the company might return to profitability, but it’s unclear whether that happened. The company tried in 2015 to sell its iconic photo archive of black American history and sold its longtime Michigan Avenue headquarters building in 2010 to tap capital.
The magazine operation currently has 38 employees who mainly still work in Chicago, despite the owners being based in Austin, Texas.