Question of the Day: Ebony/Jet In Crisis

From Black Web 2.0:

By some accounts, Johnson Publishing is in crisis mode, with its print advertising revenue down three consecutive years and getting worse because of the recession and the wholesale shifting of advertising dollars to the Internet. This year alone, Ebony’s advertising revenue has dropped 31.8 percent, according to the Publishers Reference Bureau. And the worst may not be over, as many marketers continue shifting dollars away from black media and focusing on the faster growing Hispanic audience. The situation is so serious that Johnson Publishing has been forced to make a series of staff layoffs totaling some 150 people, according to published reports.

I don’t read Ebony or Jet and haven’t done much more than skim through one in years. I’m apparently part of the problem that is killing the two magazines — younger readers who use the internet as their primary news source and not print. According to Black Web 2.0, Johnson Publishing, which owns the magazines, is starting a new push on-line to redevelop their content and make it more internet savvy, but when Jet sent yet another letter in the mail essentially begging for my parents to renew, this time without even having to pay a thing, I realized how dire it was. It was even more interesting how little my parents, who have read both publications their entire lives, seemed interested in renewing.

If older people aren’t buying and younger people aren’t reading, Ebony/Jet is going to have a tough time weathering the great Newspocalyse that has already claimed Vibe Magazine and many others.

The question of the day is: Do you care if Ebony/Jet is still on the shelves?

Ebony/Jet are the originals, the survivors and the best known black publications in the US. But both have been criticized for their content and their content is why I don’t read. I find both magazines lacking in complexity. Others have their reasons for not reading. But part of me is sad that both magazines are struggling in light of the fact there are so few black-owned publications. What would Ebony/Jet have to do to get you interested in reading their product or do you believe that if they can’t survive the market they should be allowed to die?

49 thoughts on “Question of the Day: Ebony/Jet In Crisis

  1. Snob:Their loss is your gain as well as the gain of every other African American blogger with interesting content. Instead of just just one or two magazines many other people have added their voice. It is, to paraphrase Mao like "letting a hundred flowers blossom".

  2. Both magazines need to die a quick death. They haven’t been relevant for some time now. I read them only if I’m in a waiting room somewhere and there’s absolutely nothing else to read. Both the look and content of both are dated and unappealing. They may have some luck transitioning to the web, but unless there’s a drastic change in content, I doubt it’ll do well even there.

  3. I agree with Michelle. I’d be more upset if either magazine had had any relevant interesting material in the last 10 years. Still, I will be sad to see them go as old respected Af-Am institutions.

  4. I only lament their passing in that I hate to see more people out of work. My mom still has her subscription (that they hoodwinked her with when she attend the last Ebony Fashion Fair Show) but the magazines generally pile up until we put them in recycling… unread.

  5. They will not be missed because they failed to be relevant and or add value – hence the lack of readership. The lesson learned though is adapt or join the dinosaurs. It may unfortunately be too late for them to re-invent themselves. Rest in Peace.

  6. It will be sad to see Ebony and Jet fold yet it seems inevitable. They seem to not have a clear direction in their content and the stories seem to be written on a 3rd grade level. No in-depth analysis of ANYTHINIG. I only read Ebony when I am at my parent’s home visiting. They are in their 70’s and have had a subscription for years.

  7. I’m sort of used to picking up a copy of both, though in recent years, its been hard to relate to anything in their content.

  8. I wish they had managed to keep themselves relevant over the years, but I guess that’s what comes from a lack of competition. I read my parents’ copies when I was growing up, but once I got past about 7th or 8th grade, the simplicity of the writing and the lack of challenging topics got really old. At the same time, they were such an integral part of our community for such a long time I really hate to see them disappear. Perhaps a major redesign and better writing could still pull out the save. But it would have to be a major overhaul and it would have to happen very quickly.

  9. my girl stays having ebony and essence subscription. i find magazines subscriptions a waste of money.

  10. Not surprised to hear this, but I love magazines!! I am like a kid waiting for Christmas when it comes to looking forward to getting my magazines in the mail. That being said, I get a subscription to Ebony, but not Jet. There really just isn’t that much to read there. Even with Ebony, I pretty much just look through the pictures and I’m finished in 5 minutes. While I am an avid reader of blogs and online news sources. I still get the daily paper (Miami Herald). There s just something about flipping through the pages that I like. besides, I feel like you can share the experience of reading the (Sunday) paper with someone, but when you read inline, it seems much more solitary. Sorry for the ramble. Just my two cents…..

  11. I think we have evolved into something more than what Ebony/Jet can produce. As a black woman over the age of 40, Ebony/Jet aren’t the magazines I would purchase today.

  12. I will not miss them. The writing is medicore. The layouts look archaic. The news is always 3 weeks behind. They haven’t evolved with the times at all. I don’t understand how they make money. Jet still comes to my home almost every week, but no one is paying for a subscription. This has been happening for about 15 years. I am sure my home isn’t the only one.

  13. I like both mags for what they are; light reading. To me both are like People magazine or US. I don’t expect them to explore complex issues anymore than I expect it of People. I know it’s cool in this ‘post-racial’ world we live* in to knock Black owned publications like these but these magazines have a long and important history. This debate sort of reminds me of how all the ‘post-racialites’ always seem to put down HBCU’s. We are so quick to forget or discount the value of what’s ours. If it’s Black run and owned many of us seem to think that means those things have less value. As a young person I tire of older African Americans advocating for the demise of everything that is ours. And these are the same people that go apesh*t when White owned publications photoshop us ten shades lighter or feature unflattering and maybe racist covers or refuse to feature Black models. I hope that Ebony and Jet find a way to not just survive but to thrive. Which obviously puts me in the minority here.*Sarcasm

  14. Jet is a waste of paperEbony did a decent job covering the election lst year from a differnt point of view so I used some expiring airline miles to get a subscription for this year. So far this year is back to the same ole stuff so I don’t plan to renew.

  15. Just don’t take my Essence!! I’ve never been a big Ebony/Jet fan, and I haven’t picked one up in years…for the same reasons described here already. But I know they are a big source of information for lots of people. A relative of mine is often quoted in major publications, but he says he hears from more people anytime they mention his name in Ebony or Jet. Apparently, their readers find the pubs valuable. So, I’d be sad to see them go for that reason … just not sad enough to actually subscribe.

  16. Plus, what would teenage boys do without Jet’s Beauty of the Week to post on their walls? HA! Do young guys still do that? Or am I dating myself?

  17. I won’t be sad to see them go. As a matter of fact, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed. Both mags haven’t done much to remain relevant. The articles only seem to be recycled from past years. I wonder how Essence is fairing? Anyone know?

  18. @CK – Ha! I forgot about the Beauty of the Week!!! My cousin was once a BOW when she was crowned Miss Black D.C. back in the 70’s.

  19. I care. But only because I like the idea of Original people publications. Not because I like the magazines myself. Used to be all we had were Ebony and Jet. But I don’t like to read them because they try to be all things to all Black people. Are they fashion mags, tabloids, food, financial, fitness, what? When you do too much, you’re not doing anything in particular well.

  20. Wow… y’all are pretty harsh. I have to side with Monie here and I’m not even African-American but Ebony and Jet were still a part of my childhood in the Caribbean..Why are we so quick to dismiss and belittle our own product? And if the Ebony/Jets of the world fade, what large, mainstream publications will we have to look to for positive depictions of black people?And when I say mainstream publications, I mean both print and web. Because while there are plenty black blogs out there, none of them are really mainstream are they? Who is going to represent for us? Global Grind?To be honest, like Snob said, I am probably part of the problem too. I cannot tell you the last time I bought or read an Ebony, far less Jet – I’m definitely more inclined towards Essence and various blogs (Black Snob for snobbery, YBF for gossip, JJ politics for politics and Islandista for Caribbean stuff :).But I definitely still appreciate what they have done and what they stand for. But they need to update their image – either by changing their core product or by branching out and creating another publication under the same Johnson Publishing umbrella that is more youth oriented. Or else… the future does look grim for them and that would be a terrible shame.

  21. Honestly, I have not read a copy of Ebony or Jet in years in their entirety. Every once in a while, I might see it and browse through it in the hair salon, but that’s about it. Like someone else said, they lack complexity in their subject matter and the writers seems to only have a grammer school reading level. As for Essence, that magazine started to fall apart when Susan Taylor left. Now all the articles in Essence read like soft pornography (i.e. August issue w/Idris Elba), and they seem to be catering to a demographic with a lower IQ. I enjoy blogs like Black Snob, JJ Politics, WAOD, Global Wire and Field Negro for their diverse perspectives. The black media world needs to figure out how to make money off the Internet while writing content that was relevant.

  22. Cosign with Onechele. It’s sad that more people are going to be out of a job, but if they want to sell magazines then be relevant and provide quality.

  23. Actually magazines are dying, no matter what their market, unless you are the economist ( Being, being a huge white geek that thinks loaning people her economist is a good mating tactic…I still morn the loss of a publication by a community for a community, because if you are not the majority, who else gives you a voice? And what about folks who have the internets savvy of my parents? I mean not everyone is online…

  24. I haven’t bought either in many years because I can’t stand the content. It saddens me that they may go under but what their publishing isn’t worth the company continuing either.

  25. LOL @Laurel I agree. Essence is morphing into the print version of BET’s shuck and jive minstrel programming.

  26. Print mags are a dying breed and sadly, Jet and Ebony have not been on my reading list for decades now (I don’t care if I date myself.. aged like fine wine). These publications can take a lesson from blogs like this and even take a hard look at what Huffpo is doing with face book and social networking. I still occassionally see a Jet or Eb at my older aunts/uncles homes, but to be honest, I’m not sure if they’re even reading them… however, these older relatives ARE on FaceBook. Hmmm. 50 and 60-year olds are actually thriving online… if that’s the main Eb/Jet demographic then they should have been one step ahead with a strong and relevant online presence a long time ago. I feel no sympathy for companies who refuse to move with the times.

  27. God, thats a legacy,,,,,,,,getting flushed in the toilet. Yeah I don’t read Ebony/Jet anymore but its still heartbreaking to see such an institution going to waste. I’m MORE upset that alot of people will lose their jobs, thats ALOT of people.But yes, Ebony has been "safe" these past 15 years,,,,,,,back in the day they used to thought provocative and sincere, now they seem to be redundant, bored and going with the motions.While the internet route might be an option, its still not that much of a good idea,,,,not all people use the internet or check the blogs(as much as I’d like to believe).Still, I hope for them all the best.

  28. I agree with Monie and Islandista. There is so much self hatred going on in the black community, and not it’s not from the people who work at the much maligned BET, it is regular so-called middle class negroes like most of the commenters on this thread who, everyday on hundreds of black blogs participate in the demeaning of our culture, our people and our institiutions; while at the same time, praising white and other ethnicities for being soooo much better than us, in….everything. I think it’s sickening how much black people put down each other. You will never see me praising the downfall of any historical black institution or engaging in classist rants against poor black people.It is so easy to get on blogs everyday and run your mouth off about how horrible Ebony/Jet are and blah blah, but not actually use your brain to think of solutions. If for all these years, you have felt the quality of these magazines decrease, why didn’t you get together some other people who felt the way and sent letters of constructive criticism to the editors? I’m sure if Ebony/Jet/Essence had started receiving thousands of letters telling them that the quality of their work had gone down and they were gonna lose you as a subscriber/reader, i’m sure they would have been like, maybe we should reasses our product and take these criticisms as a way to improve.Cause i know if my company(if i had one) was delivering a product and i got thousands of letters telling me that the quality is bad and they were going to stop supporting my company financially, then i would damn sure take it seriously and work to improve my product.And would people please stop acting like Ebony/Jet was supposed to be the black Time or Newsweek cause i really don’t think that was the creator’s intention. These magazines were created to showcase our culture and discuss issues that affect us and I think they did and still do that quite well.

  29. Sasha,Your strawmen aside….The fact that readership numbers have been plummeting for years should have been a sign that something was wrong. This is a business that got slack and contemptuous in that they failed to perceive the evolution of their readership. The better argument is that this business failed their black customers.

  30. "it is regular so-called middle class negroes like most of the commenters on this thread who, everyday on hundreds of black blogs participate in the demeaning of our culture, our people and our institiutions; while at the same time, praising white and other ethnicities for being soooo much better than us, in….everything. "Wasn’t Ebony/Jet founded on the "black middle class" household, and still is? Just wondering….

  31. After reading the comments it seems that there are three questions to ask ourselves:1. how much are we willing to commit to a publication by us and for us to preserve black ownership?2. Are we really bored by the content of Ebony/Jet or are we just used to the idea of FREE information on the Internet? My guess would be the latter.3. Are we emotionally connected and invested in Black owned businesses knowing that if they’re sold to the man that we run the risk of less diversified content? (like when Essence was sold and now we complain about that!!!)For the most part not enough of us care to win the battle of ownership. OWNERSHIP is what’s at stake when you separate the wheat from the shaft. Like Thembi said…we’re not connected to owning anything….all we care about is a job. But outside of African American culture…folks think OWNERSHIP.

  32. I also agree with Islandnista. Ebony and Jet magazines opened the doors for many black journalists and bloggers like myself. I don’t read the magazines, but at the same time I don’t see myself as part of the problem. Ebony and Jet needs to revamp their content. That’s the problem. They should go out, take polls, interview people and find out what do readers want to see in their magazines. There is a still need for the black press because so many of our stories aren’t covered in mainstream press. I want to see interesting news features, interviews with people other than Halle Berry and Will Smith. Run stories I won’t see in the mainstream. If Johnson Publishings tapped into the need and wants of the black reader in the 21st Century, they could survive.

  33. La Jane Galt nailed it.We still receive the publication.To improve they would have to update their entire magazine. That would mean becoming the Economist of magazines.

  34. Those were the barber shop magazines of my youth. But you can’t go home again. Those mags had their day. Newspapers a lot older than them are closing their doors. Online content might be their only hope.

  35. old habits sometimes die hard…my mother gets ebony and essence and i get the jet…yeah, they’re mostly fluff, and yeah i don’t actually read them, but i like seeing the jet in my mail every week…sue me…

  36. my first reaction, similar to the other respondents who mention class, is that tech-savvy people who read blogs, consider themselves media literate, and pride themselves on having a sociopolitical analysis might not enjoy ebony and jet. but what about our kinfolk who don’t have that combination of bougie privileges? the johnson publications may still appeal to them, making the mags remain relevant. just a thought.

  37. could not care less if jet and ebony folded. jet, especially…it’s like reader’s digest…I only pick it up if I’m stranded at a beauty salon for 3 hours.

  38. dkan71:Apparently Reader’s Digest is going into bankruptcy as well. The bottom line is, if you don’t stay relevant to your market you will go out of business.

  39. Things have their time and the age of Ebony/Jet is over. It was good when it was good, but the entire world has changed since they began publishing They ran a lot of years and made a lot of money. Now it’s just time for other mediums to come along and take their place…. Like The Black Snob. 🙂

  40. I guess I’m about to age myself here since I can remember when both Ebony/Jet were much bigger mags (yep, Jet was not always the little "pamphlet" as Uncle Ruckus would say, that it is now). I’d say I’d read Jet before I’d bother with Ebony since as a weekly (still??) publication its’ info is a smidge more relevant and articles are less recyled than Ebony’s. Plus sometimes I get to see photos/articles ("Weddings"!) of folk I know/have lost contact with.

  41. This is a sad reflection of black media and its ability to stay connected to its audience. Ebony and Jet are indeed outdated and no longer relevant but has been an acclaimed presence for years and nobody here seems to be aware of it. I feel disheartened by this situation on many levels. As a writer who used to write for, I wonder just how many readers actually follow the site (which doesn’t use writers or content from the print publication and is very well written) and as a friend to many of the editors and writers, I’m very afraid for their livelihoods. I think readers have been loyal to Ebony and Jet but there has been a disconnect for decades. A lot of that has to do with the stagnant internal structure of the publishing company but I also feel that we should feel an obligation to at least communicate with any company that is trying to maintain positive portrayals of our community.

  42. It’s funny that this post popped up on a day I opened an Ebony for the first time in years (decades). And the most ironic thing of all is that it was in the home of a subscriber who is a white guy! Like so many of you, I have found both Ebony and Jet to be very, very fluffy — if not down right insulting to my intelligence. It would be wonderful if the publisher would reconsider the format of Ebony and remake it as an Af Am version of my personal guilty pleasure — Vanity Fair (People Mag with long, well written articles). That would maybe satisfy the need for celebrity juice, fashion, etc. while covering some serious issues in depth. And a stylish redesign wouldn’t hurt either. Also, it might be good to publish fewer but larger issues. If Ebony was recast that way, I would totally consider subscribing. I do, as some other posters do, appreciate the positive portrayals of members of our community, but really we need a little (perhaps a lot) more substance. — a journal that is slick but thought provoking.Jet is lost cause for me.

  43. One more thing: There’s at least one successful mag that, while not black-oriented, is black owned and widely read – O. Don’t know what the long-term prospects are, but it’s well put together and has a little of this and little of that – mostly a message of empowerment. Isn’t that what many of us want? Linda Johnson Rice, call Oprah please.

  44. does use ebony and jet staff writers. you should read it through again before posting something that’s not true. and, i have noticed that the magazine is retooled and redesigned. i find it funny that the very people who complain about it ADMIT that they didn’t read it in the last 5 years! i went ahead and bought the last 2-3 issues. it’s actually pretty solid. now, it don’t look like they have enough writers on their staff, but the stories were analytical and everything else. plus, they keep picking up journalism awards, which is what got me interested in buying them in the first place. i saw that ebony had won an award for an investigative piece last year, so i tried to find that story. i couldn’t find it, but i did get the next few issues. i think the whole staff is different from what it was last time i read one. so major changes there. i’d say give it a read thru and then post here again. always good to ahve an informed opinion. thangs have def changed over there.

  45. My aunt’s club holds an Ebony Fashion Fair show annually, so she gets free subscriptions and passes them on to my mom and me. @Shawn: I don’t know what well-written articles you’ve been reading in Ebony, because I haven’t seen any. And, Sasha, no, this is not about knocking black publications: I think Black Enterprise, for one, is informative and well-written (it also gives the lie to the misinformed meme that blacks don’t care about ownership, but I digress). Not only are the articles generally stale and not very informative, as many folks have mentioned, the layout is very dated–it’s a magazine; looks matter–and the writing is just plain awful. At least once in every issue, I find some passage that I cannot believe escaped an editor’s red pen, and I’m not talking about typos.

  46. I too am about to date myself AND use the R word: I remember when both Ebony and Jet were still relevant. I also remember exactly when I started to lose interest in Ebony in particular: It was when Linda Johnson Rice took over and the magazine became heavily skewed towards celebrities. That was in the early 80s and Ebony has not recovered.That said, I too would hate to see the institution die, but at the same time print media’s dying all over, as has been said. What would have to happen for me to return to Ebony and Jet? The quality of the articles would have to go WAY up, and the celebrity coverage and the ads (esp. the hair ads, lol) would have to go WAY down. Wait a minute…I think I just described most of the black blogs out here. 🙂

  47. I echo the views of many previous bloggers. Jet and Ebony haven’t kept up with the times, they seem to have the same ten revolving faces on the covers, and almost every cover features someone in sports or entertainment. Few intellectuals ever seem to qualify as cover material. Alas, the same can be said for too many black newspapers (especially the Afro-American, based in Maryland. They have an entire section devoted to social news–tea parties, debutante balls, etc.) I live in DC, and I subscribe to the local, black-owned paper. Thankfully, it has recently developed a website so I can respond to articles without having to write a letter to the editor!Ebony and Jet, heed this advice: get relevant and go high-tech–or die!

  48. Unfortunately, Ebony spent too many years churning out "The Stars and their Cars" or updates on the stars new jewelry. They missed the boat in not being as relavent as Black Enterprise. If they can’t change or catch up they might as well start ordering those bankers boxes.

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