The 'Ebony' Blade

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Ebony magazine is introducing what it calls its first cover-to-cover redesign since its introduction in 1945 as part of a bid to regain momentum after missing its paid circulation guarantees to advertisers for a year and a half. Ebony missed its guaranteed rate base of 1.25 million by an average of 6.5% in the second half of 2009, 10.8% in the first half of 2010 and 20.2% in the second half of 2010, according to its statements with the Audit Bureau of Circulations. 

It places most of the blame on its prior circulation management, which it says it has improved by outsourcing it to circulation veterans last October. Their diagnosis found insufficient direct-mail campaigns and prices that were occasionally more aggressive than other magazines. "If you're not constantly reaching out and asking people to come back on, they fall off," said Rodrigo Sierra, senior VP-chief marketing officer at Johnson Publishing, which owns Ebony and Jet. 

Last August Johnson Publishing named Desiree Rogers, the former White House social secretary, to take over as CEO, just one of several personnel changes that might play a role in Ebony's effort to rebound. Ebony's latest step is the redesign from Amy DuBois Barnett, who was named editor in chief last June, and Darhil Crooks, who joined in January as creative director from Esquire, where he had been art director. 

"This is a top-to-bottom redesign, not a small one," Ms. Barnett said. "This is everything from introducing an evolution of our 65-year-old logo to really taking apart every single page in the magazine and putting it back together with an eye to the brand pillars that we now think best reflect our target demographic."

As a fan of magazines, and black people reading them, I hope it works. I'm more curious about how black people consume these days. I don't know that I'm typical, but there's very little "black-targeted" media which I consume (black rom-coms make up the lion-share.) But I'm very likely to consume media with black people in prominent, and unpredictable, places. I was recently told that this means I need to start watching Gossip Girl.

And then there's what's happening to the field at large. I don't think that tablets are going to save magazines, indeed, I don't think magazines really need "saving." But I do think it will change how those of us who love magazines consume them. I know if I owned an iPad, I'd pretty much be done with the news-stand.

It would be interesting to see how an Ebony would look there with all the attendant multimedia functions, and freed of printing costs. The audience probably isn't there yet. But you don't want to get there with them. By then it's already too late.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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