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Johnson Publishing Sells Ebony & Jet To Texas Investment Firm

It is another sign of the times for the publishing business and an end of an era in Chicago media, as Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) has announced its exit from publishing magazines -- both print and digital -- after nearly 74 years. JPC has sold both of its iconic magazine brands, Ebony and Jet to Austin, TX-based private equity firm Clear View Group.

Founded in November 1942 by businessman John H. Johnson and his wife Eunice W. Johnson, Johnson Publishing Company went on to become the premiere publisher for books and magazines targeting the African-American population -- one greatly ignored by Caucasian-operated media corporations for many decades. Thanks to its great success in staying true and loyal to its niche market, JPC grew to add on additional divisions and properties such three radio stations (including WJPC-AM in Chicago), a traveling fashion show, beauty and cosmetic products, and numerous different magazine titles.

John H. Johnson passed away in 2005, while Eunice W. Johnson passed away in 2010. JPC has been overseen and operated their daughter Linda Johnson Rice basically since she received her master's degree in 1987.

In recent years, JPC has been hurt badly by the sharp decline in readership and advertising within the print media industry -- perhaps even hurt harder than most. In 2011, the company was forced to sell its longtime Michigan Avenue headquarters. Later that same year, JPC had to sell a significant minority share of the company to JPMorgan Chase's Special Investments Group, as well as give a Chase representative a seat on the JPC Board. It was the first time in 69 years that Johnson Publishing had an ownership partner.

The company has also been in the slow process of attempting to sell off its entire photo library, featuring over 70 years of exclusive pictures that greatly chronicle the Black experience in America.

In 2014, one of JPC's two remaining magazines, Jet, was forced to go digital-only due to declining sales and revenue. This left JPC with Ebony magazine as its last remaining printed periodical. Over its history, JPC has published a dozen different magazine titles.

Recent years have also seen a great deal of executive turnover, with the company unable to retain top publishing and editorial talents.

With all this turmoil and trouble for the Chicago publishing company, selling off all of its remaining publishing properties, as sad as it is, comes as no surprise.

JPC has confirmed it sold its publishing properties to Clear View Group for an undisclosed sum. Clear View Group will also be absorbing much of JPC's media-based debt as part of the deal. The New York Post reports that Houston private-equity firm Park View Capital Partners is also involved with the deal, backing Clear View.

Clear View is owned by Michael Gibson, a businessman and angel investor with no prior experience working in or operating a media business. He is currently the CEO of Advantis Healthcare Solutions.

A new parent company for Ebony and Jet will be formed, named Ebony Media Operations. Despite its Texas ownership, Ebony Media Operations will stay headquartered and operating out of downtown Chicago.

Not surprisingly, there will be changes at the top for the new company...

Kierna Ali Mayo, who has been Ebony's New York-based Editor-in-Chief since June 2015, announced on her Twitter account Tuesday night that she has exited the company. She will instead become the new Senior Vice President of Content and Brands for digital company Interactive One. Replacing her as E-i-C will be Kyra Kyles, who has been Vice President/Head of Digital Editorial since June 2015 and served as the Editorial Director of Jet for the year before that.

Gibson, the Chairman of Clear View Group, will serve as Chairman of the Board for the new Ebony Media Operations. JPC's Chairman Linda Johnson Rice will have the title of Chairman Emeritus with the new company.

Desiree Rogers, who has been JPC's CEO since 2010, will have nothing to do with the new company, but will instead remain with JPC overseeing Fashion Fair, JPC's cosmetic line which the company is retaining. Taking over as CEO of Ebony Media Operations will be Cheryl Mayberry McKissack, who has been JPC's Chief Operating Officer since 2013.

In a statement Rogers said: "The overall strategy of separating these two distinct businesses -- media and cosmetics -- will ensure that both iconic brands are positioned for future investment and growth."

In a statement of her own, Johnson Rice said of this huge transaction: "This is the next chapter in retaining the legacy that my father, John H. Johnson, built to ensure the celebration of African Americans."

Clear View's Gibson said to the Chicago Tribune's Robert Channick on Tuesday: "We made this purchase because this is an iconic brand -- it's the most-recognized brand in the African-American community. We just think this is a great opportunity for us."

Gibson told Channick that he plans on keeping Ebony in its monthly print form for the foreseeable future and not converting it to all-digital, as JPC did with Jet. That being said, Gibson wants big improvements with Ebony's digital presence.

"It's a dream come true," Gibson said. "Growing up, we had Ebony and Jet in our household all along. You knew you made it when you made it to the cover of Ebony or Jet. It is just exciting -- I pinch myself every morning."

Ebony launched in November 1945, while Jet launched in November 1951.

As it is no longer a publishing company and will be focusing almost entirely on cosmetics, plus the selling of its vast photo archive, JPC is expected to change its name in the near future.

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