January 24, 2015 Last Updated 10:12 am

Publisher of Ebony, Johnson Publishing, to sell photo archives in attempt to raise cash

The publisher of Ebony, Johnson Publishing, said it would attempt to sell its photography archives, a collection that goes back 70 years.

The sale, the magazine publisher hopes, will raise close to $40 million in one lump sum.

Ebony-cover“It’s just sitting here,” CEO Desiree Rogers told the Chicago Tribune. “We really need to monetize that in order to ensure growth in our core businesses.”

The rich archives the history of African-American life in the U.S.including documentation of the civil rights era – and attractive acquisition for a museum or other institution.

The move reflects the condition of the publisher. Some imaginative publishers have begun monetizing their archives through special editions, eBooks and other products. Playboy, another publisher will roots in Chicago, has at various times created new products from its archives. The Nation and Boston Globe have both launched eBook (and print) lines from their archived content. (See interviews with both companies inside Talking Digital.)

Other publishers, with archives as rich as those of Johnson Publishing, remain against creating new print and digital products from their photo and editorial archives. One magazine publisher I spoke to insisted that they simply did not have the time and resources necessary to build out new products (though, when told of ways to do it without added resources, still expressed no interest.)

But creating a new revenue stream from archives takes time, something Johnson Publishing may not have. In May of last year the company announced that it would turn JET magazine, its 63 year old digest sized magazine, to digital-only. That title remains the only magazine in the group that has an app under the Johnson Publishing name, and that one has received mostly negative reviews inside iTunes.

Ebony, which has a replica edition inside the App Store, shows a circulation level of 1.26 million in its latest publisher’s statement, with only 1.1 percent of that figure representing digital readership. At the end of 2004 its total circulation stood at 1.7 million.

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