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6:58 PM / Wednesday July 6, 2022

28 Nov 2011

AALBAC president Troy Johnson assesses the state of the Black Press(part one)

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November 28, 2011 Category: Stateside Posted by:

Interview with Kam Williams

 

Troy Johnson is the President of AALBC.com, LLC, whose main property is the website AALBC.com, for which Troy is the founder and webmaster. AALBC.com (The African American Literature Book Club) was officially launched in March of 1998 and has grown to become the largest and most frequently visited site dedicated to books and film by or about people of African Descent.

 

In 1984 Troy earned a degree in Electrical Engineering from Syracuse University and spent the next seven years working for defense contractor like United Technologies in Florida and General Electric in Pennsylvania. During this period, he earned a master degree in engineering, while working full time.

 

In 1991, Troy went back to school on a full scholarship from The Consortium, and received an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. And over the next 16 years he was employed in financial services and consulting by such Wall Street firms as Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

 

However, it was during his tenure on Wall Street that Troy discovered and began to pursue his passion for sharing the full breadth of black culture through the words and stories contained in books. As a regular contributor to AALBC, I’ve not only been lucky enough to work with him for years, but have also enjoyed just hanging out with him as well.

 

Married for over 21 years with two daughters currently in college, Troy divides his time between East Harlem, where he was raised, and Tampa, Florida. Here, he talks about both the challenges and rewards of running AALBC.com

 

Kam Williams: Hi Troy, thanks for the interview.

Troy Johnson: No problem, Kam, it is my pleasure to have this opportunity. Thank you.

 

KW: What interested you in starting AALBC.com?

TJ: During the mid to late Nineties, I had a sideline business building websites for other businesses. I wanted to learn more about using websites to generate sales and earn money, so that I could better advise my clients. I actually offered to help someone else rebuild their book business’ website, for free, as a part of that effort. Amazingly, they declined the offer. So instead, I decided to create AALBC.com. I immediately discovered I would prefer building a website for myself, rather than for others, and I focused solely on AALBC.com. That was back in 1997.

 

KW: How long had the website been in existence before you decided to quit your job on Wall Street to work on the site full-time?

TJ: I had been running AALBC.com for about 11 years before I left Wall Street. That was three years ago.

 

KW: Do you see the recent closing of Borders Bookstores as a sign of the demise of brick-and-mortar operations and hard copy books? How does this development affect your business?

TJ: Those changes are really reflective of more profound and fundamental shifts that are greatly impacting the entire book industry. But I don’t think the closing of Borders or the rise of eBooks is sign that the days of brick-and-mortar stores, and physical books, are numbered. This may sound counter-intuitive, but the closing of Borders actually hurts my business, in much the same way that the closing of independent black bookstores did. Sure, on a superficial level, one can say there are less competitors in the marketplace and that will drive more people online to learn about new books and that that helps sites like AALBC.com. However, on a deeper level, Borders was actually a big seller of black books. They helped generate excitement and sales for our books across the nation. The better-run stores established relationships with the community and local businesses. They purchased advertising in our publications. This benefits the entire industry, publishers, authors, readers and even other booksellers. When these groups thrive, so does AALBC.com.

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KW: How else has the business changed over the years?

TJ: Kam, keeping AALBC.com a viable business, in an environment where major technological changes are a constant, is my single biggest challenge. I’ve been active on the World Wide Web since it because available to the general public in the early Nineties. It really is remarkable how much and how quickly things have changed since then. When I first started, one had to code an entire page in HTML by hand. Everything was very labor intensive. If I wanted to create a page with a photo on it, I had to take a photo with my camera, take the film to a business that developed and printed photographs, wait a few days and hope that the photo came out OK. Then, I would need to scan the image, usually at work, because scanners were expensive, open up the photo in an image editing program, save the image in a compressed format so that it would not take too long to download over a 1200-baud modem, and FTP it to my web server. Finally I would create an HTML document and write a line of code that would position the photo on a webpage. Do you see where I’m going?

 

KW: Yeah, it was much less user-friendly back then.

TJ: All of this for one image on a single page. Imagine the difficulty in creating an entire website! I learned to build websites by looking at the underlying code of a page, copying it, and modifying it to suit my needs. Today, given how complex websites are, it is really not possible to learn how to build websites this way anymore. When I first started building web pages, most people did not have a PC at home, and almost no one had internet access. Today most homes have PC’s, a smart phone or a cable box with internet access. A grade-school kid can create a terrific looking website with 100 photos in a fraction of the time, with virtually no technical skill. Despite websites being infinitely easier to create, the challenge of launching a viable web-based business is even more difficult than ever before.

 

KW: How are African-American-oriented websites faring nowadays?

TJ: Kam, it is a challenging time for the vast majority of our websites. I think we should make a distinction between different types of African-American-oriented websites. First, there are the large corporate entities like AOL’s Huffington Post/Black Voices whose primary mandate is to maximize shareholder’s wealth. Then there are the mostly independent entities who also have a profit motive, but are driven by a more conscious mission. Sites like AALBC.com, The Network Journal, Black Star News and the other entities who regularly publish your content are part of this mix. As a result of these two different goals, the content produced by the large corporate entities focuses more on scandal, celebrity, and superficial pop-culture. That content is more popular and easier to produce and is therefore more profitable. The content produced by sites like AALBC.com is less sensational which makes keeping the associated sites profitable much more challenging. In fact, even Google favors the larger entities, making things even more difficult.

 

[Part two of the state of the Black Press next issue of the SUN]

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