Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing Company (JPC), which publishes JET Magazine. / Johnson Publishing
Samir Husni took this one hard.
Husni, founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi and the man who trademarked his nickname "Mr. Magazine," was doing some consulting in Cape Town, South Africa, when he got the news about Jet.
Jet, a 63-year-old publication aimed at the black community, played an important role in thrusting the civil rights movement into the American consciousness. On Wednesday, the pocket-size magazine, which already had cut back from weekly publication to once every three weeks, announced that it will be converting into a digital weekly at the end of June.
"I've never been as saddened by the demise of a magazine as much as I was by the news about Jet," Husni says. "It's an American institution."
It's easy to see Jet's fate as yet another nail in the coffin of print in a digital world. But the reality is more complicated. Many magazines continue to make money, albeit not as much as in their halcyon days. Husni points out that quite a number of titles have recently published their largest issues ever. There are about 10,000 magazines today, as opposed to 2,000 in 1980. And a number of digital-based magazines have made forays into the print world.
Similarly, newspapers, while embattled, don't seem on the verge of going away anytime soon. Again, many are profitable. And a number of intriguing new players - think investment superstar Warren Buffett, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, free-spending Orange County Register owner Aaron Kushner - have been drawn to a field once largely consigned to the dustbin of history. Suddenly we have new newspaper wars in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Long Beach.
So Husni takes another lesson from Jet's shift. It's a crowded, competitive market out there, and you've got to put out a first-class product to compete. And that means investment. Jet, Husni feels, was moving in the opposite direction, with thin issues and less frequent publication.
But while Husni is in mourning, Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing, which owns Ebony as well as Jet, would urge the magazine maven not to be so blue. Rogers, a former White House social secretary in the Obama administration, sees the development as a move back to Jet's roots.
Jet was born as a small, digest-size publication intended to be a quick read. "In the world today, everything is moving faster. There is more news and far less time to read it," founder John Johnson said in the first issue back in 1951.
Jet had gotten away from its weekly format, Rogers points out. Now, it will be weekly again, presenting a new issue every seven days on a paid app ($20 a year) for mobile devices. The magazine also will post breaking news updates daily on its website.
Rogers says the quick digital read will be a perfect complement to Ebony, with its longer-form pieces on lifestyle issues
Jet will continue to cover entertainment, politics, pop culture and social issues important to the black community. But Rogers is excited about the new features the new format makes possible.
Instead of just mentioning that hot new movie, Jet will link to a trailer. In the Love and Marriage section, Jet may take you to the wedding.
Johnson Publishing is a private company, and Rogers won't discuss the magazine's financial state. But she says pointedly that Jet's printing and postage bills are a formidable challenge, given the magazine's rate base of 700,000.
So what would founder Johnson, whose magazine's high point was its groundbreaking coverage of the Emmett Till lynching in Mississippi in 1955, think of the forthcoming digital plunge?
"If Mr, Johnson were here," Rogers says, "he would have said, 'What took you guys so long?'"
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Read the original story: Rieder: 'Jet' magazine makes a digital landing