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At 60, Ebony mag is branching out

Source: New York Daily News - By DIANA RANSOM - DAILY NEWS WRITER

Ebony is dipping its toes in the licensing waters, but will take its time before jumping right in.

The storied magazine dedicated to African-American-centric content for the past 60 years is now looking to lend its brand name to T-shirts, baseball caps, financial services, ring tones and maybe even inspirational stage plays.

"It has been a long time coming," Linda Johnson Rice, the president and CEO of Johnson Publishing, told the Daily News. "We have extremely loyal subscribers who are really looking for something from us."

Rice and her co-branding partner - Debra Turner, CEO of TurnerPatterson, a licensing and marketing firm - are hoping the magazine's success will translate into new areas. Producing products and services for the African-American market has become increasingly fruitful, experts say. And Ebony believes it's well-positioned to offer more.

Rice also noted the potential that prospective licensing deals geared to the African-American consumer carries. The magazine has 1.6 million subscribers, 12.6 million monthly readers, and according to sales materials, Ebony reaches 40% of all African-American adults with a median household income of $44,566.

Ebony plans to start out small, lending its logo to affordable mass market affordable products like T-shirts and caps as early as this holiday season - which would likely use the familiar red from the cover of the magazine.

After getting into clothing, Ebony hopes to expand into Internet technology and educational DVDs.

The CEO plans to roll up her sleeves and spend even more time at work to push through this effort. "I am fairly hands-on," she noted. "We will try our hardest not to dilute it or disillusion Ebony magazine in any way."

For some of its products, Ebony could also use its now defunct Ebony Jr. brand. Rice said children and families make up a large part of Ebony's licensing focus. Still, the company has no immediate plans to restart the magazine.

If the branding effort takes hold, Ebony could work with movie studios on entertainment products, Rice said.

Ebony also could get involved with the inspirational market by sponsoring spiritual gatherings and even inspired plays, she said.

Upon taking over the helm of Johnson Publishing from her father John Johnson in 2002, the 47-year-old chief exec has become known as an agent of change.

In addition to this new licensing effort, she also pushed through a redesign at the magazine in 2003.

She said that her father is receptive to her efforts. Rice said he believes in her vision of what's right for Ebony.

She knows her audience and the magazine she grew up with. Rice said, "There isn't an issue or an article that I don't read."

She is especially concerned with the 60th anniversary issue in November, which will hit newsstands in October. It will span the decades and include guest editors who will distill topics from civil rights to music. It will be a larger issue and may cost more than its normal newsstand price, she said.

As an added celebratory act, the company is considering the possibility of a television special around its anniversary.

The Ebony brand should hit stores by next year.

Rice hopes consumers could see some merchandise in time for the holidays.

"It was time" Rice said. "Change is a good thing."


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