Longtime readers of Ebony magazine, who still remember receiving their copies of the 1964 issue with Martin Luther King Jr. and his family on the cover, opened their mailboxes recently to find something different: Disney Channel darling Raven-Symoné. For a magazine that made its name documenting civil-rights battles, a wholehearted embrace of celebrity youth culture is its own revolution. To ensure that history goes on at 62-year-old Ebony, magazine chief Linda Johnson Rice is giving it a makeover. "You have to stay current to compete," she says.
These past few years, magazine advertising dollars and readers have run to the Internet. The change has been especially hard on niche publications like Ebony. Its ad revenue fell more than 10 percent between 2005 and 2006. And circulation has been in a downward spiral, falling 21 percent between 2002 and 2006.
Entertainment magazines, however, continue to do well. Lisa Jenkins, 17, of Inglewood, Calif., mostly reads celebrity blogs but was drawn to Raven-Symoné. "When I saw her on the cover, I was, like, 'Yeah!' and I bought it." Johnson Rice says the response to the makeover has been great, but it's unclear if the over-40 crowd will continue to hold a spot for Ebony on their coffee tables.