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African American Backgrounder

Essence, a monthly publication founded in 1970, has a focus on fashion, lifestyle and beauty.

Essence’s average circulation increased 2.9% to 1,080,633 in the six months ending June 2012, compared to the same period the year before.1 But it saw a 10% decrease in web traffic to 719,000 unique visitors in November 2012 compared to the same month in 2011 (799,000).2  Even worse for the magazine, its ad pages decreased 15.5% in 2012.3

Essence's Circulation Increases While its Ad Pages Drop

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The magazine faced management and staffing changes. It started in March 2011 when Constance White, who was previously the style director of eBay, became the magazine’s editor-in-chief, replacing Angela Burt-Murray, who left the magazine the previous November.4 Several other staff changes followed. In December 2011, Dawnie Walton, previously the managing editor of Life.com, was hired to be Essence.com’s managing editor.5

In April 2012, the magazine’s managing editor, Michael Bullerdick, was transferred to another division after images from his Facebook page calling the Rev. Al Sharpton an “MSNBC Race Pimp” emerged online.  A few months later, in July, Australian-born Ellianna Placas, Essence’s fashion director, left the magazine. Her initial hiring in 2010 generated considerable debate since she was the magazine’s first white fashion director. A number of African American bloggers expressed anger toward the hire and during the fashion shows in New York, a group staged a silent protest against her hiring.6

In February 2013, editor-in-chief Constance White left the magazine along with beauty editor Corynne L. Corbett, creative director Greg Monfries and photo editor Deborah Boardley. The executive editor, Vanessa Bush, stepped into the role of interim managing editor.

Another magazine geared toward African American women is Heart & Soul. Under new ownership, the wellness magazine broadened its target audience to “all women of color” in an effort to expand its readership. As part of that effort, a Latina, Sandra Guzman was named top editor in January 2012.7 But by November 2012, she left the post.

But even with this wider targeted demographic, Heart & Soul is still struggling through turbulent times.

In October 2011, the magazine’s president and publisher, Edwin V. Avent, announced he was resigning with plans to start a new television venture, Soul of the South.

In January 2012, a media content company, Brown Curry Detry Taylor & Associates, bought the magazine from Avent, installing a member of the purchasing group, the veteran journalist George E. Curry, as executive vice president of content and editorial director. All of the principals in the buying group had past ties to Heart & Soul. Brown Curry Detry Taylor & Associates is the magazine’s sixth owner in 23 years.

The new owners promised to compensate a group of angry writers who said they were owed more than $200,000 in back pay when Avent owned the magazine. Some contributors said they had not been paid since January 2011. In July 2011, several were told that payments were delayed because Avent was in the process of selling the company.8

The National Writers Union, a labor union for freelance writers, along with some of the writers, launched a campaign against Heart & Soul, which resulted in compensation for several. But as of November 2012, the union said the magazine still owed 13 freelancers $150,000.9

In November 2012, George E. Curry stepped down as executive vice president/content and editorial director.

“This has been an extremely disappointing experience and I don’t want to go into the details about everything that went wrong,” Curry told Journal-isms, “The hardest part for me was bringing talented writers and editors aboard after being assured that the funds would be there to pay them. Obviously, that was not the case. I’ve never been in this situation before and hope to never be in one like it again.”

Heart & Soul is no longer audited by the Alliance for Audited Media and ad pages numbers were not available through The Association of Magazine Media.

Endnotes

  1. Alliance for Audited Media. Publisher’s Statement: Essence.
  2. ComScore data. Dec. 19, 2012.
  3. The Association of Magazine Media.
  4. Andrews, Jessica C. “Essence Fashion Editor Departs.” The New York Times. July 30, 2012.
  5. Prince, Richard. “Essence Hires Dawnie Walton as M.E. of Website.” Journal-isms. Dec. 30, 2011.
  6. Andrews, Jessica C. “Essence Fashion Editor Departs.” The New York Times. July 30, 2012.
  7. Prince, Richard. “George Curry Group Buys Heart & Soul.” Journal-isms. January 18, 2012.
  8. Prince, Richard. “George Curry, Partners Seek to Own Women’s Magazine.” Journal-isms. Dec. 14, 2011.
  9. Prince, Richard. “George Curry, Editor Step Down at Heart & Soul.” Journal-isms. Nov. 26, 2012.