Launched in 1951, Johnson Publishing Company's digest-size JET magazine will cease its print product and will replace it with a weekly-updated app. Starting in June, subscribers will have the option to transfer their subscription to sister publication Ebony or continue on with JET and its new offerings.
The new JET app will replace the PDF-replica digital edition and will be available for download across all platforms. The download will require a paid commitment from readers (expected to be around the same annual $19.99 price point) and will offer a host of new enhanced digital storytelling features like video, 3D images, archived content and daily breaking news updates.
According to Cheryl Mayberry McKissack, COO and president of digital, this move was not made in haste. "I started about a year and a half ago," she says. "I came in with the understanding and mission to take this 70-year-old start-up and the assets we have like our digital archive and really modernize and digitize them. This is something we have been thinking of before I got here."
Still, there are troubling indicators that suggest the transformation was made out of necessity. Cutting print is an obvious cost-saving measure. Also, not only did the magazine with a rate base of 700,000 cut its frequency from weekly to bi-weekly to every-three-weeks within a few years, but its ad page decline has been significant. According to sister publication min, JET's ad pagination is tracking -27.15 behind last year's totals.
Of course, now the brand is reviving the weekly frequency, and Mayberry McKissack says that decision is based on the brand's original mission statement. "John Johnson created JET because people wanted to get information and news more quickly; that's why they called it JET," she says. "It's interesting that even though that statement was made in 1951, it couldn't be more true today."
Also promising is that Mayberry McKissack says no staff reductions will result in this transformation, in fact, she says she expects the brand will be adding staffers. She also says that the brand's advertising partners are excited.
"We haven't lost any advertisers," she says. "I think we are in a very unique position. We're in a niche space; we know what we focus on and we offer something for everyone. What our advertisers are asking us for is a 360-degree experience. They don't want just print or digital, they want it all."
That means clients will be able to buy across both JET and Ebony brands, and across platforms.
There are also a couple more interesting components to the new strategy: JET and Ebony will be launching a co-branded online store, which will provide a new stream of revenue through e-commerce. And JET will continue to produce an annual print SIP, which may expand to more if the market shows a demand for it.
"One of the things we always want to do is not overpromise and under deliver," she says. "We have done these specials before and they have been successful. We're going to take a look at it. We know we're going to do a Best of JET, but as we work through this we have a lot of products to deliver. It really will be about what the audience and the advertisers want. If we see a demand for it we will adjust."