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Tuesday, August 09, 2005 11:17 AM
An Inspired Life
Anita Sharpe on Passionate Work

Here is how John H. Johnson, one of the wealthiest and most powerful black business leaders in the United States, made his fortune:

While still an employee at a life insurance company, Johnson borrowed $500 against his mother's furniture to start a publishing company that eventually included Ebony and Jet magazines. He asked 20,000 of the life insurance company's policyholders to pay $2 for a subscription to a magazine, Negro Digest, that didn't exist; 3,000 signed on.

To get it on the newsstands, he had 20 of his friends ask for it so that retailers would order the publication. Then, after his friends bought the magazines, Johnson resold them. Using a similar strategy in a number of cities, Johnson built the magazine's circulation to 50,000 within a year. His goal with Negro Digest, and later Ebony and Jet, was to 'show not only the Negroes but also the white people that Negroes got married, had beauty contests, gave parties, ran successful businesses and did all the other normal things of life,' according to a story in the New York Times.

Johnson, the son of a millworker and grandson of slaves, died this week at age 87.

1 comment

Frank - 8/9/2005 12:44:17 PM
Isn't it interesting how successful business people like Johnson often get their initial boost by creating the look and feel of demand that's stronger than reality. I seem to remember that the publisher of the first Harry Potter book did something to make demand for the book look much stronger than it was at the time. Does anyone remember that story?


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