Sunday, March 5, 2017

The American Paradox and Ownership

An artist with control over their masters has control over their career. In America’s Paradox, Cashmore (1997) revealed the cycle of ownership and race in the music industry by bringing the business full-circle in how it has impacted the success of black artists. America's self-contradictory conflict of black artists and creative control got me to think of other creatives and business owners who developed entities when none were available and would later deal with the impending questions of ownership over profit.

Essence Magazine was founded by Edward Lewis and Audrey Edwards in 1969. To start the magazine, Lewis would schedule meeting with businessmen, mostly white, to offer a loan to start the development and distribution of what would later become one of the top-selling magazines for black women. Their dream was to create a voice on celebrities, fashion, and pieces that reflected the issues of the black community. Historically, black businessmen and women campaigned with white counterparts in order to gain access to an opportunity that was never immediately afforded which would keep them stationed from any social, political or profitable growth.

After earning more than $130,000 from Jackie Robinson's Freeman National Bank and Hugh Hefner, the two successfully created a new public company that was owned, managed and supported by black people. Work was circulated through the community created as an outlet to reflect the culture and its people, but once it became of interest to other readers and business owners the Essence brand was headed towards a “hybrid audience.”

The hybrid audience appears to be an alternative for diversity but it reached beyond those who enjoy the music and more to who is purchasing the music, the audience gaining more interest in the product and the potential sales that can be made from the work. Once an audience reached a hybrid audience, the transformation of erasing the ethnic authenticity can become threatening to future black-owned publications and the narration of the topics often discussed for the intended audience. In this case, once Essence became surrounded by a hybrid audience more white entrepreneurs had a greater opportunity to work and profit from existing management institutions that have historically kept black artists from talent management.  

In 2005, Essence made a deal with Time, Inc. to acquire the magazine by purchasing the remaining assets that were left after Essence Communications, another black-owned agency that was bought by the company years earlier. This ended the magazine's years as a black-owned business and would become a leading voice on black women under male ownership and authority in the office. It seems as if the work accomplished to help open the door for a black leader has a short shelf life. Entrepreneurs are welcomed to grow and develop a business that lives beyond their years but the virtually silenced demographic are able to do so within an allotted time until media corporations decide to buy out a name before it becomes out of their control.

1. Should owners of media continue to keep control of their brand?
2. How does the change of ownership impact the longevity of a unique media outlet?
3. Have you seen a change in a favorite publisher after the incorporation of new leadership?

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