I feel overwhelmed whenever I glance at the sea of covers on display at my local newsstand. There is no denying that there are countless magazine titles out there, with choices for almost every type of person, personality, hobby or genre. There are more than 20,000 different magazines published in North America, according to the National Directory of Magazines. Yet somehow, despite this staggering number, I see a void in the magazine market: There is no national print publication for the successful, fashion-forward black male.
There are magazines for African-Americans. Ebony and Jet are for readers of both genders, but it is safe to say that their primary target audience is African-American women. And, yes, there are magazines for African-American men. King, Black Men Magazine and XXL are targeted to black males, but they are focused on cars, women, sports and music. Currently, the only men of color who can be seen on magazine covers are athletes, rappers, movie stars and maybe the occasional politician. African-American men are left without a journalistic vision of what success for them can look like outside of those arenas. Where is the magazine that focuses on social issues, politics, fashion and grooming for the man of color? Such a magazine is needed badly to bolster black males’ self-esteem by letting them know they don’t have to be the next Kobe Bryant to be successful and by showing them that they have not been overlooked by the media.
The newsstands didn’t always ignore the African-American male. In 1985, Ebony Man was born. John H. Johnson, founder of Johnson Publishing Company, believed that there were successful black men like him—or who aspired to achieve his success—who needed a publication that catered to them. Johnson was aware that in the past there had been attempts at such a magazine, but none had lasted. Ebony Man was characterized as the “fashionable-living magazine for black men,” or a black GQ, said Johnson.
The magazine contained articles on fashion, grooming, health, fitness, personal finance and shopping techniques. Among the features in the first issue was an article titled “A Guide to Investing in a Leather Couch” and even a nutrition column. The initial circulation was 200,000. More than 30,000 people snagged annual subscriptions before the magazine even hit the stands. After one year it had 230,000 subscribers, and when Alfred Fornay, the original editor-in-chief, left the publication about four years later, it boasted a circulation of almost 400,000.
“Our formula was: Look at yourself, this is how we see you,” says Fornay today. “We see you as a black man who has a sense of fashion.” Describing Ebony Man’s content, he says: “We really wanted people to see the manliness of man, the gentleness of man. We even looked at the religious man.”
After almost six years, Johnson Publishing made the decision to terminate Ebony Man. “We broke a lot of ground,” says Fornay, but this magazine, like so many others, failed because of a lack of advertising.
I asked Fornay if he feels there is still a need for a magazine that caters to the African-American male. “Absolutely, absolutely,” he says. “Why not? We don’t see our face in GQ on a regular basis. We don’t see our face on Esquire. That’s the reason why there’s a need for a magazine for men of color.”
Fornay points out that we live in a time when popular African-American athletes and musicians have clothing lines, fragrances and other products. Usher’s fragrance, LeBron James’ shoes and Sean John’s clothing line would be perfect advertisers and would be directly reaching their desired audience. Still, the question remains: Can this type of magazine get enough ads? For Tia Brown, senior editor of Jet, this is the bottom line. Brown says that advertisers need to be convinced that there’s an audience broad enough worth targeting. “We are very integrated, so it’s hard to have a niche publication for the gender,” says Brown. “It comes down to money.”
So let’s talk money and numbers. What are the demographics? There are nearly thirty-nine million Americans who self-identify as black, according to 2010 census data. The median income of a black household was barely $30,000 in 1985, when Ebony Man was launched. Since then, the median income has increased only slightly, to $32,068. That relatively small income bump makes it easy to assume that the “buppies”—the black middle and upper class—have not changed enough to support this kind of magazine.
Now to the nuts and bolts. What about advertising dollars? Among the main advertising categories for a men’s magazine are shaving cream, razors, cars, clothing, fragrances and shoes. A definite plus is that there are tons of such products on the market that could benefit from running their ads in a magazine for black men. For example, it makes perfect sense to advertise a suit from Sean John in a magazine aimed at the black professional and fashion-inclined male. Still, according to Fornay, advertisers are very skeptical about the profitability of this market.
Before you launch a magazine, you need four things: an editorial plan, an advertising plan, a circulation plan and a financial plan, according to David Sloan, president of Sloan and Associates Magazine Consultants. “Like a car, if any of those things are missing you ain’t going anywhere,” says Sloan. There has to be an editorial focus that makes the magazine unique, a business plan that lays out how the magazine will be distributed, an advertising plan that enumerates the categories of advertisers desired and, to stay afloat, a reliable source of income.
“Advertisers are buying eyeballs,” says Sloan. “What are you giving me that other magazines don’t?” In order to compete, this new magazine has to have content that is different and valuable, or it has to reach an audience that advertisers haven’t been able to reach.
There is a quarterly called Krave Magazine that describes itself as a “fashion, lifestyle and entertainment magazine for all men of color,” but it is a regional magazine, based in Dallas. It aspires to go national, but Krave, which was introduced in 2005, has the same problem any new magazine would face: Without enough advertisers, its publisher can’t afford to distribute the magazine nationally, which means they won’t achieve a high enough circulation to attract more advertisers. It’s a catch-22.
“There are hundreds of thousands of magazines. You hardly ever see a black person on the cover,” says Kenny Hibbler, editor-in-chief of Krave. Minorities spend money, but it is hard to convince advertisers of this, according to magazine industry insiders. “The capital is there, the desire is there,” Hibbler says of the African-American market. “It is very important for minorities to have multiple options.”
Hibbler hopes to grow the magazine’s national presence. In the meantime, Krave’s largest hurdle is the hunt for advertising. “We really try to focus on companies that focus on men of color,” Hibbler says. “They can be minority-owned or minority-targeted.” The products for minorities are out there. The numbers of prospects for subscriptions and circulation are there, too. The missing piece of the puzzle is the advertising dollars. It is not a question of whether a magazine for African-American men would attract an audience, but whether it would be able to get advertisers so it can stay in business.
The editorial content for this sort of magazine could range from love to business, from fashion to music. A sample table of contents for potential articles might include: “How to Dress for Success: What to Wear for the Interview,” “Turn a Hobby into a Small Business,” “Best Sports Bars in the U.S.,” “What Women Really Want, According to Supermodel Tyra Banks.”
Such subjects would cater to the interests of the African-American male audience and would enrich the literature out there for the well-groomed man of color. The existence of this editorial content in a national magazine would create nationwide public conversations about the things men talk about.
As I see it, a magazine like this could not be anything less than a game changer because it would add even more diversity to the magazine content currently available. Furthermore, it would serve as positive representation of the black male by showing that he has interest in things outside of sports, cars and scantily clad women.
I know I am not the first to wonder why there isn’t a substantive magazine for the African-American male. It is just simply ludicrous to me that in the twenty-first century there isn’t a magazine for this man. He cannot wear the same clothes as a white male because the fit is different. Black culture and what is considered fashionable are different from white culture. The clothes and accessories considered “on trend” in mainstream society are not always viewed as trendy by the black community. For the black male, what is beautiful and cool does not coincide with mainstream standards. His hair can be coarse, wavy, kinky or curly, and tight-fitting clothes are not always considered acceptable by his peers. As a result, his sense of style can be a hybrid between black and mainstream culture. He also grows weary of seeing rappers as the only successful black men on magazine covers.
It is time African-American men grace the cover of their own magazine, with content that understands them. Actually, this magazine wouldn’t be just for men, because, as an African- American woman, I’d buy it too.