Johnson Publishing, the mothership company of the beleaguered yet iconic magazines Ebony and Jet has put their legendary photo archives on the market for an estimated $40 million.
The 5 million image archive have snapped the African American experience dating back to 1942, including exceptional, intimate photographs of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., singer Billie Holiday and boxer Muhammad Ali.
“Nothing exists like it. It’s almost like an African American Getty,” Johnson Publishing Chief Executive Desiree Rogers told Reuters, referring to the renowned Getty Images photojournalism archive.
“We are still the curators of the African American experience. That’s the mantle the editors wear,” she said.
Rogers has elicited market experts, including Mark Lubell, executive director of the International Center of Photography in New York.
Rogers would not comment on potential buyers or whether commercial or historical archives had expressed interest.
The company spent 18 months organizing the images but has digitized only about 6,000 of the millions of photographs and videos, said Rogers, President Barack Obama’s former White House social secretary.
Johnson Publishing makes little money off the rights to the images, she said.
Faced with declining readership and ad revenue, Jet magazine went digital-only last year. Ebony’s print and digital versions both went through expensive redesigns in recent years.
The archive includes the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by Moneta Sleet, Jr., of Coretta Scott King with her daughter Bernice on her lap, at the funeral of her husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. Sleet in 1969 became the first African-American man to win a Pulitzer prize.
Over many years working for Ebony, Sleet photographed King and his family and covered the civil rights movement as well as black leaders and politicians such as Adam Clayton Powell, entertainers such as Stevie Wonder and sports greats.
The collection also includes many images of black business owners and professionals.