For 50 years, the Ebony Fashion Fair has been a glamorous social event in dozens of U.S. communities. The traveling fashion show has raised $55 million in college scholarships for African-American students. But this year the company behind the show, Johnson Publishing which publishes Ebony, pulled the plug on the event, citing lack of corporate sponsorship due to the recession. “This is devastating to us,” Ann Lee, publicity chairwoman for the Charmettes, a civic group that staged the event in Broward County, Fla., told The Miami Herald.
It’s been a year of excruciating decisions for publishing companies—layoffs, pullbacks, closures. Now it appears Johnson Publishing’s chairman and CEO, Linda Johnson Rice, has reached what must have been an agonizing decision: Johnson Publishing is seeking a buyer or investor for its flagship publication, Ebony, in an effort aimed at securing the survival of the nation’s oldest magazine devoted to African-American life. It’s unclear whether the company’s other properties, including Jet, would be part of a possible sale.
According to media and investment executives familiar with the developments, Chicago-based Rice, the daughter of Ebony‘s legendary founder, the late John H. Johnson, has approached, among others, Time Inc., Viacom, and private investors that include buyout firms. Time Inc., the world’s largest periodical publisher, already owns Essence, a monthly lifestyle, beauty, and fashion magazine for African-American women. Viacom, meanwhile, owns BET (Black Entertainment Television).
Nothing has yet resulted from any of Johnson Publishing’s overtures, however. And it’s unclear whether negotiations are underway between the publishing company and any of the identified parties or other potential rescuers.
Time Inc. declined to comment, as did Viacom. “Your facts are incorrect with respect to Time Inc. and Viacom,” a spokeswoman for Johnson Publishing said. Johnson Publishing likely made its overtures through the media giants’ properties, NEWSWEEK’s sources indicate. They also declined to elaborate much beyond acknowledging, on condition of not being named, that they were aware of Johnson’s efforts. According to one top magazine executive, Johnson Publishing is requiring potential bidders to sign a confidentiality agreement to access the company’s financial information, a standard practice in the dealmaking world.