But stats and numbers can’t begin to explain the depth and breadth of an Essence. So you got the impression that there was always something about the magazine that TI couldn’t quite put its finger on.
Here’s the thing: Time, Inc. has done an excellent job of reaching mass audiences. Four of its 21 titles are among the top 25 most widely circulated magazines in the country. (Thus it stands to reason that the top rated ones are the ones they’ll keep.) Time magazine has 3.2 million subscribers; People beats that at 3.6 million — and that’s not even counting single-copy sales or pass-along rates. Yes, Sports Illustrated and InStyle are for specific audiences — but for everybody in those audiences, every sports fan, every fashionista.
And here’s the problem: Essence was never a mass product. Essence was a religion. Black women bought it, read it, saved it, shared it. As the first major magazine for women of color, it was the publication its readers had grown up with. It was iconic. They believed in it; it believed in them. Even when (I suspect) people weren’t reading it as much, they still subscribed. They didn’t want NOT to have it.
To keep Essence essential, Time Inc. or a new parent company will need to understand how to do religion as well as it knows how to do magazines. Yes, the decision-makers could argue that religion is not their job; selling magazines is. But what is that but proselytizing — bringing new people into the fold and bringing the prodigals back? How do you do that but by appealing to them on a soul level?
So, who can do that best? Meredith certainly knows how to do niche and has a feel for “real people.” That’s evident in titles like More, attuned to a sophisticated woman over 40; Better Homes and Gardens, a shelter mag that feels like home; and its handful of family and parenting titles. If it can, as it claims, “tap into the special interests of women” like the Essence reader, Meredith might be a good match.
(Of course, there have always been those folks who thought that Essence should belong to Oprah.)
Whoever ultimately fills all those empty seats at Essence will have to find people who understand the Essence reader and the depth and nature of her devotion.