Selling Its Soul – Johnson Publishing Putting Image Archive Up For Sale

I remember when I was in elementary school, we only had a Black History Week, not a month. I remember the one year when my teacher asked me to create a display for the main hallway that would be up for the entire week. I was nervous at first because in the eyes of a child that hallway loomed so very large, and I couldn’t think of what in the world I would come up with to display on that hallway where everyone would have to walk past it. I remember going home and talking to my grandma and she suggested I get some poster type board and use some of the pictures from her collection of Ebony magazines in sort of a black history timeline. It brought a smile back and I ran off to find scissors and markers to get to work.

See, Ebony back then was primarily the main magazine that I knew and saw on a regular basis. Family Circle and Reader’s Digest might appear on occasion but Ebony was a must along with the Sunday paper.

I remember when I brought the panels in to  my teacher – seeing her teary eyed and not understanding why at the time.

I remember thinking “Lord don’t let this woman cry all over my stuff and mess it up’

 I remember the big fuss that was made by her and the staff to make sure they had tables to put the panels on and to make sure they were positioned so that they could be seen but not disturbed.

I remember the principal coming to talk to me and to thank me for my hard work in creating the display.

What I really remember was the enjoyment I got from reading through stacks of Ebony magazines and learning about people, places and things that were not in my school books.

I remember the ads with black people nice looking happy and it was like a whole different world.

These memories were kicked up with the recent news that Johnson Publishing intends to “monetize” the archive and is looking to sell it with Getty Images as the leading bid. It brought a tear to my eye in realizing that such an extensive collection of imagery focused on African Americans is about to disappear down the rabbit hole of capitalism instead of being available to the public.

To understand the scope, we are talking about over 5 million images that span 70 years of African American history and culture.. Getty is a large and well known repository and purveyor of images. There is no way that their acquisition would not be motivated primarily  by profiting off of those images.

ebony-johnson-publishingBecause of the scope of the collection and the rarity of the kinds of images in that collection a viable argument can be made that the collection belongs in a museum with public access not in a pay per use situation which will curtail them being seen by those who would have the most interest in seeing them.  Johnson publishing as a business entity has of course every right to take measures including the sale of this collection to keep the company afloat. Sometimes the ends never justify the means.

While the company may be struggling (Ad revenue for 2014 was down 24% from previous year), due to declining revenue in recent years including the Jet Magazine debacle which still has people screaming about being billed for subscriptions to a digital version that they were never able to get access to.

This collection and its sale will not stave off what the inevitable result of selling your soul to the highest bidder entails.

Now I have tears in my eyes.

Selling our history to remain viable – I bet somewhere Mr. Johnson has tears in his eyes too.




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