Johnson Publishing, Publisher of Ebony Magazine, To Sell Historic Photo Archive of 5 Million Photos.

Ebony Magazine 1961

For over 70 years, Johnson media, the Chicago-based publisher that publishes Ebony and Jet magazines, has also been home some of the most iconic photos in African-American history. Now, in a move that has shocked and surprised many, the publisher has announced that it will be liquidating its extensive archives of over 5 million photos, all for the low, low price of $40 million.

According to the Chicago Tribune,

“It’s just sitting here,” said Johnson Publishing CEO Desiree Rogers. “We really need to monetize that in order to ensure growth in our core businesses.”

Ebony, a monthly lifestyle magazine targeting African-Americans, was first published in November 1945. It came of age during the Civil Rights movement, with Ebony staff photographer Moneta Sleet Jr. producing some of the most important images of that turbulent era.

In 2012, Johnson Publishing made prints of the images available for sale online, and CEO Desiree Rogers points out that additional licensing options are being considered — akin to what she describes as a “black Getty.” But for now, it seems that a straightforward sale of the images might be necessary for the health and growth of the company.

The decision to sell off the archives serves as another example of how revenue continues to be a problem for black media outlets. This situation has definitely spurred some interesting conversations about how black media companies are often managed or mismanaged. I’m hoping that these iconic photographs end up in a library at an HBCU or an African-American museum.