The news this week that Sundial co-founder Richelieu Dennis was buying Essence magazine came as a surprise to many in the media business. But Dennis says that for those who know him, acquisition of the iconic publisher of black culture makes perfect sense.
"Anybody who knows my philosophy won't be surprised," Dennis said during an interview Thursday. "I've always felt that there is an opportunity to serve women of color more deeply across genres, across geographies, across platforms, across content... With Essence, we've got a great brand to build upon and an incredible consumer audience to speak to and with."
Dennis created Essence Ventures LLC, an independent African-American owned company focused on merging content, community, and commerce, to acquire Essence. The group is a completely separate entity from Sundial, with a different leadership team. Essence President Michelle Ebanks will continue at the helm of the company and will also join its board of directors. In addition, the all-black female executive team of Essence, including Ebanks, will have an equity stake in the business.
"This acquisition of ESSENCE represents the beginning of an exciting transformation of our iconic brand as it evolves to serve the needs and interests of multigenerational Black women around the world in an even more elevated and comprehensive way across print, digital, e-commerce and experiential platforms," said Ebanks. "In addition, it represents a critical recognition, centering and elevation of the Black women running the business from solely a leadership position to a co-ownership position."
Essence was founded by Clarence Smith and Ed Lewis 47 years ago. They sold a minority stake to Time Inc. in 2000, and the rest of the company to Time in 2005. In November, Time Inc. announced it was being sold to the Meredith Corp. for $3 billion and Essence, which was not a part of the sale, became available. And Dennis jumped at the chance.
"I thought, 'Wow what an opportunity to take an iconic brand and bring it back under black ownership,'" Dennis says. "We were lucky enough to be the ones chosen to be the custodians of the Essence brand moving forward."
With the sale, Essence magazine is once again a fully black-owned publication.
Essence has a majority-black readership, with a focus on black culture, entertainment, empowerment, and beauty. Essence currently reaches a global audience of more than 16 million across its various platforms encompassing its signature print magazine; digital, video and social platforms; television specials, including the Black Women in Hollywood Awards on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network; books; and live events, including the Street Style Block Party during New York Fashion Week.
The Essence Festival, the magazine's annual music festival in New Orleans, has grown into one of the largest events for the black community – attracting nearly a half million people last year - and is a staple for brands wanting to reach them.
Dennis says he's long had an interest in publishing, having sold books under the Nubian Heritage retail whole business early in his career. He says to expect big things from Essence, although he didn't want to tip his hand. "I want people to be surprised by some of the things we're doing. Keep in mind, everything we're going to do is about serving and engaging women of color at a deeper level."
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