In what many see as a heartbreaking development, Johnson Publishing Company, the esteemed African American owned publisher of Ebony, announced plans to sell its photo archive of five million photos, reports The Chicago Tribune.
The iconic collection of photos spans 70 years of African-American history, culture and life, including a 1969 Pulitzer Prize winning photo of Coretta Scott King taken at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral.
The company says it would like to get $40 million for the collection.
“We really need to monetize that in order to ensure growth in our core businesses,” said JPC CEO Desiree Rogers to the Tribune.
As with print publishing in general, Ebony has fallen on some hard times in the last few years. The Tribune says that the company is “facing declining revenue and a rocky transition from print to digital under Rogers, the former social secretary for President Barack Obama, who has been steering the legacy African-American media company since 2010.”
Reports The Tribune:
In 2011, JPMorgan Chase’s Special Investments Group took a 40 percent stake in Johnson Publishing to infuse much needed capital into the historic but struggling media company. Rogers said selling the photo archive is a much bigger deal for the company, which has seen declines in its ad revenue outpace that of the magazine industry at large.
In addition to King’s funeral, Ebony also reportedly has photos of Jackie Kennedy consoling Coretta Scott King, Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson’s first fight in 1965, and glamorous shots of jazz singer Billie Holiday.
Linda Johnson Rice, the daughter of founder John Johnson, and current chairman of JPC, says that there are also thousands of images of every day black people and their sojourn in America since the 40s.
In 2012, Johnson Publishing began offering select photos for sale from its collection, and also has pursued licensing to other media on a limited basis. An outright sale of the images could be the best way to monetize the assets, says The Tribune.
Ebony, which was founded in 1945, has a total average circulation of 1.26 million, according to the Alliance for Audited Media, and is the number one publication in the space, besting rival Essence. Advertising revenue at Ebony was down 24 percent last year.