Snubbed by advertisers when he founded his company 60 years ago, the late John Johnson pushed his magazine company to the front of the pack. Led by flagship EBONY (a monthly general interest magazine for African-Americans), Johnson Publishing Company is a black-owned publishing firm. It also publishes news magazine JET. Its Fashion Fair Cosmetics is marketed for African-American women, while its EbonyJet Entertainment Group oversees branded content through theatrical, TV, and digital platforms. The company additionally has licenses for consumer products such as sunglasses and greeting cards. John H. Johnson founded the family-owned firm in 1942 with the publication of Negro Digest, inspired by Reader's Digest.
Johnson Publishing has been faced with a challenging environment for print media, as well as intense competition from rival publication ESSENCE. Advertising revenues and circulation figures have both seen some decline in recent years, and the company has been revamping its operations to combat the declines.
In 2011 EBONY launched a major redesign to target younger readers, featuring a new logo, look, and website. The redesign helped to boost circulation of EBONY, which had declined in 2010 (to 1.1 million, down from 1.3 million in 2009) but picked up some in 2011 (to 1.2 million). The company also made the changes to attract advertisers such as Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Fifth Third Bank.
At JET, circulation has fluctuated as well. In the first six months of 2012, JET circulation averaged about 745,000, down from about 820,000 in the same 2011 period. In response, in 2012 Johnson Publishing decreased the publication frequency of JET from weekly to bi-weekly. The company has also reduced the number of free copies distributed to salons and other commercial locations.
The company is boosting its digital operations, such as its EBONY digital application, as well as its non-publication operations. In 2012 the company stated that it is working to bring back the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show. Also in 2012, Fashion Fair Cosmetics expanded its offerings by launching a makeup collection from Sam Fine, a well-known makeup artist.
Chairman and former CEO Linda Johnson Rice is daughter of company founder John Johnson. The family still owns majority control of Johnson Publications, though JP Morgan Chase has also purchased an equity interest.