As the Page Turns

Black magazine owners shake up the industry with the next chapter of business

To juxtapose an early cover of Essence magazine with an early cover of Honey magazine is to see a glaring sign that times have changed. In one hand, you’d see an afro-ed beauty with fake eyelashes, and in the other, you’d see the belly of a pregnant African American blonde. Just as different as these images are from 30 years ago to the present, are the business practices of black publishers.

The publisher of the leading black women’s magazine for 30 years, Essence Communications Inc. (ECI) (No. 22 on the be industrial/service 100 list, with $123.4 million in sales for 1999), shattered the glass ceiling for black magazine publishers when it confirmed a deal to join with the nation’s largest publisher, Time Inc., a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc., that publishes, among other magazines, Time, People, and Sports Illustrated. While this was a move that startled some black consumers, it also served to legitimize their existence in the mainstream business community.

Once Ed Lewis, CEO and chairman of ECI, got past the whispers of “sellout,” he was able to bask in a deal that not only catapulted his empire into the big leagues, but also made him proud. “People are saying things like we’ve been acquired and I sold out,” said Lewis in an interview the day the partnership became public. “But Time’s decision to partner with us validates our worth and our market, and that’s one thing that makes me feel good because we never thought marketers valued black women.”

Just as notable a milestone is the deal struck between two African American concerns that are positioning their franchises to take advantage of their own burgeoning market. On the adjacent shelf, next to the ECI deal with the largest majority-owned publisher, is newcomer Vanguarde Media Inc.’s deal with BET Holdings II Inc., (No. 6 on the be industrial/service list) one of the largest black-owned media conglomerates with $225 million in revenue for 1999. Vanguarde publishes Honey, a fashion and entertainment magazine aimed at young urban women, with an estimated circulation of 200,000, and Impact, an urban music trade publication.

Prior to forming Vanguarde, CEO and Chairman Keith Clinkscales had made a pretty reputable name for himself in the media industry. As president, CEO, and co-owner of Vibe/Spin Ventures, a former joint venture between Quincy Jones and Time Warner, Clinkscales grew the circulation of Vibe magazine from 100,000 to 700,000 in less than seven years. Ever since Clinkscales resigned in May 1999 to start Vanguarde, industry players have been waiting for him to change the publishing climate. So, it only follows suit that he would be at the forefront of this new order of business for publishers.

“The rules of publishing for African Americans have changed, and the new top three rules are partners, partners, and partners. That’s the thread that runs from the Essence alliance with Time Warner and Vanguarde’s relationship with BET,” says Ken Smikle, president of Chicago-based Target Market News, a marketing research firm that tracks the trends of black consumers.

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