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Ebony to license branded merchandise

Source: Chicago Sun Times - BY ERIC HERMAN Business Reporter (original article no longer available)

Ebony will soon be more than a magazine.

Johnson Publishing Co., the Chicago-based publisher of Ebony, plans to license branded merchandise bearing the name of its leading publication, according to Chief Executive Linda Johnson Rice. The company took its first step into the merchandising world, signing a deal with TurnerPatterson, a licensing and marketing company in California catering to the minority market.

"We have built up the brand name of Ebony over the last 60 years, and it's a name that's very well recognized," Rice said. "I thought this would be a growth opportunity for the company, and a great way to brand the name in other areas."

Rice and Debra Turner, the president of TurnerPatterson, envision a variety of products with the Ebony name: games and toys, clothing, mobile technology products and financial products like credit cards and mortgages.

Licensing has become a big business, generating $108 billion a year, according to EPM Communications. Among publishing companies, Playboy Enterprises set the standard for making merchandise a big business. In 2004, Playboy generated $20.4 million in licensing revenues -- 6 percent of its total sales. Playboy's signature bunny logo can be seen on lipstick, snowboards, shot glasses and other items.

Don't expect to see Ebony shot glasses, though. Rice said the company would be careful about the products it approves.

"It's got to be reflective of what the magazine is about. It's a family magazine," she said.

Turner noted Johnson Publishing owns extensive archives, with text and images that could be used in mobile technology and other formats.

Though the first products have not been selected, and will not come out until the end of this year, Turner said to expect "games and toys that educate kids and children, and focus on the rich history of African Americans."

John Johnson, Rice's father, founded the company 60 years ago and built it into the country's largest black-owned publishing firm. Johnson remains chairman of the company, though Rice has held the CEO spot since 2002.

Rice said her father, now 87, likes the licensing idea.

"I just told him about it last week," she said. "He thought it was a great idea. He told me, 'You're the CEO. You're in charge.'"

The company plans to unveil its initiative at the Licensing International 2005 Show this week in New York City.


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