Corner Office: Breaking New Ground With Google
In December 2008, Google announced that it had launched an initiative to add online magazine archives to its already established digital book archive database, Google Book Search (Books.Google.com). One of the first publishers to offer content to the new initiative was Chicago-based Johnson Publishing, the world’s largest African-American-owned and -operated publishing company, which produces Ebony and Jet magazines.
Eric Easter, chief of digital strategy for Ebony and Jet’s online component EbonyJet.com, spearheaded the Google partnership. Here, he discusses why Johnson Publishing was eager to sign on to this new initiative and how digital media plays a part in the company’s overall publishing strategy.
Why did Johnson Publishing want to make its magazine archives accessible online?
Eric Easter: We wanted access for our own internal use and then to do what I call “recontextualizing,” which is just a fancy term for leveraging the content. Due to the nature of our content—we’re not just about news, we’re a lifestyle—we can provide folks with a unique, historical perspective of black culture. We want contemporary writers to look at the archives and put them into today’s perspective. We’re not simply repurposing our content; we want to put it into a new context.
Why partner with Google?
Easter: It was really serendipitous. Digitizing our material was a high priority, and I had been researching our options. While looking at several other costly solutions, I just happened to reach out to Google at the same time that they were reaching out to me. Google has a lot of resources, and they wanted to get this project rolling. They proved to be a dramatically less expensive option—100-percent less!
Have you encountered any roadblocks thus far?
Easter: The difficult part is that digital archival is a fairly destructive process. Once you give up those magazine copies [to be scanned], they are gone forever. That was one of the biggest limitations we faced when trying to convince our CEO to approve the project. We had enough copies of Ebony issues from 1960 forward to give them up; however, prior to 1960, many editions were either very rare or in questionable condition. We might have one or two copies of an issue, and we’re not willing to relinquish those. We’re actually planning to use that shortfall as a marketing opportunity, to reach out to our audience to search for copies of those older issues.
What archived content is currently available?
Easter: The archive currently contains Ebony issues published after 1960, all the issues of Jet since its launch in November 1951, issues of Negro Digest/Black World (which was the bible of the civil rights movement) from the 1960s and 1970s, and 12 or 13 years of Ebony Jr! magazine. We may decide to archive other publications—such as Tan Confessions and Ebony Man—in the future.
We were already using Zinio to put our current issues online, by the way, but for this project, we were more interested in past magazines.
What content isn’t available?
Easter: Not all of our photo assets are available. Knowing who shot each of the 20 million photos we have can be a very difficult thing, and in some cases, you don’t know whether or not you own a particular photo. So, you can’t separate the assets out. The only way you can use them is to present the whole page in its original context.
Do you have a monetization strategy in regard to this partnership?
Easter: Contextual ads are being sold around the content, which generates shared revenue with Google. And beyond the contextual search ads, we can use the archive to sell our own ads on our site. We now have a couple hundred thousand more pages and a solid foundation of information that we can leverage. We can sell across subject matter, using the decades of health, travel, food or family stories in the archive. We may also create widgets as fun tools and offer iPhone apps.
What role does EbonyJet.com play in Johnson Publishing’s overall publishing strategy?
Easter: EbonyJet.com is only about a year old, and it is more news-oriented than the print magazines. On the site, we are not offering repurposed content, but rather 100-percent original content that is updated daily. If you want to keep people coming back to your Web site, you have to offer more original content, and you must be able to reach out to a younger audience. EbonyJet.com is very much geared for the 25-39 age demographic. The site has an edgier tone, uses its own writers and takes its own approach.
Those differences are very purposeful. The audience for the Web site is different than the magazine audience—there’s only about 17-percent crossover. But that’s fine; I would rather bring in a new audience to the brand. …
EbonyJet.com also draws people who are not part of our traditional demographic. We have a large white and Hispanic online readership, for example. The Internet can be a comfort zone for people who might not want to read a magazine “in public.”
What are your current priorities as chief of digital strategy?
Easter: We’ve spent the last year launching new projects and initiatives, and are about to do a site redesign. So, the next step is working on maximizing revenue. We’re gearing up to work with Legacy.com to use their “Celebrations” tool for wedding and other special announcements. Legacy.com usually works with newspapers; we may be their first magazine client.
We are also working on bringing in different categories of advertisers and placing a heavy focus on music. Johnson is not just a publishing company: We are also involved with cosmetics, entertainment and fashion. So, what we’re doing on EbonyJet.com is also building the foundation for business initiatives for the rest of the company.
Dawn Greenlaw-Scully is a freelance writer and former editor of Publishing Executive.