Essence Magazine Has Run Out of Time

Essence Communications recently sold the remaining 51 percent of its company to partner and media conglomerate Time, Inc. The sale, effective Jan. 4, has further reduced the already minute number of black owned magazines in the U.S.

Since 2000, Time, Inc. has owned 49 percent of Essence Communications, the publisher of Essence magazine, a monthly magazine created for people of color that also produces Suede magazine.

The sale has many in the media world wondering how this will change the content of the magazine and has caused Black Enterprise Magazine to remove Essence from its list of black owned companies. The National Newspaper Publishers Association recently published statements by Black Enterprise CEO, Earl Graves, saying that he thinks Essence should have sought black buyers and allowed black owners to make an offer for the 51 percent stake in Essence Communications before selling it to Time, Inc.

In a press release, Ed Lewis, CEO and chairman of Essence Communications said,
"Once the deal has been approved and we become a full-fledged member of the Time Inc. family, we’re looking forward to aggressively broadening the scope of the Essence brand and penetrating new markets around the world."

He also stated, "It will give me great pride and comfort to know that Essence will be secure for generations to come and that its prospects for even greater success will be brighter than ever."

Executives at Time Inc. including Ann Moore, chairman and CEO, have said that they are not interested in changing the magazine.  Reports have said that they are interested in the "editorial view of the magazine" and its growing circulation.

Essence magazine was founded in 1970 and now has a monthly circulation of more than one million. The male readership of this once Black woman’s magazine has also been consistently rising, now reaching about 30 percent.  The company also began recently publishing a multicultural fashion and beauty magazine, Suede, and has produced books and several other spin-offs.  Essence Communications also sponsors an annual music festival in New Orleans that has received great acclaim.

The sale has come as a surprise after the nation’s top black magazine outperformed other magazines in generating advertising revenues earlier this year. According to the latest figures released by the Publisher Information Bureau of the Magazine Publishers Association, Essence’s advertising revenues rose by about 15 percent in early January and December.

So far, the executives at Essence are not planning to leave.  Former chairman and CEO Ed Lewis will become a non-executive chairman and Group Publisher, Michelle Ebanks will be promoted to president of Essence Communications.  Editorial Director, Susan Taylor plans to remain chief visionary for the magazine, despite the change in ownership. Many hope that this will keep the content and the vibe of the magazine consistent and unchanged.

Other readers share the sentiment of subscriber, Ashley Williams, 20. She says, "It may take some time to see the changes in Essence magazine, but one important thing is still not the same—it is no longer black owned."  

In a media niche where Black magazines like Savoy, Heart and Soul and Honey are no longer being published, the need for Black magazines and their ownership seem to have a stake in their survival.  Karen Cole, a junior journalism major at Western Kentucky University, said, "Just like when BET was sold to Viacom, there were major changes in the programming and many positive Black shows like Tavis Smiley were cut, I think the same thing is destined to happen to Essence."   Only "Time" will tell what the future of Essence holds.