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 films 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 contractors, 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
KW: Can you elaborate more about Google’s impact?
TJ: How much time do you have? Seriously, I could write a very long book about this topic. Consider this: for most sites, the largest source of new traffic comes in through people who discover the site through search engines. The lion’s share of this traffic comes from Google. As a result, Google is effectively a gatekeeper who controls access to your website through their ranking of your website in their search results. Over the past year, I observed Google start to do some really strange things with their search results that have not only adversely impacted my website’s traffic, but the very nature of the web itself. Google search results skew to very large corporate websites that are publishing less valuable, usually more scandalous content. This was not always the case with Google. At least the search engine Bing doesn’t do this currently. Here are two examples: if you were to do a search for Terry McMillan on Google, you will find in the top five search results a site containing two sentences talking about Terry accusing Will and Jada Smith of pimping their kids, and another site discussing the details of Terry’s divorce. My site, which has published original book reviews, a video of Terry reading from a then-unpublished manuscript, a list of all of her published novels and more, only appears on the second page. I talk about her being a New York Times bestselling-author, not what she tweeted about the Smiths’ kids months ago. Which content do you think should rank higher?
KW: Your content is of substance, obviously.
TJ: Here is the second example: I recently paid a writer for an article which I published on AALBC.com. Sometime later, the same article was published on the Huffington Post. The next day when I ran a Google search for that specific article, not only was the Huffington Post returned ahead of AALBC.com, but so were many other sites I call “autoblogs,” including a porn site. Yes, you heard me right, a pornography site that posted a very short excerpt of the original article and ended-up ranked ahead of the AALBC.com original publication. All of these “autoblog” sites are created automatically on the fly and contribute nothing new. Their only apparent purpose is to serve advertising, mostly Google ads. For now, AALBC.com is in the mix, but Google can literarily throw a switch tomorrow and AALBC.com can be, effectively, erased from the internet. Other black book sites have fared much worse. In fact we have fewer independent book sites focused on black authors than we did five years ago. And the ones that remain are even more difficult to find.
KW: What can people do to support sites like AALBC.com?
TJ: People simply need to visit the website, tell their friends about it, use social media to share the articles, reviews, and author profiles. Folks can participate on our discussion boards, instead of having a conversation on Facebook. As an aside, we should be using Facebook to send people to our sites. I also encourage people to send us feedback, to suggest books for review, and authors to cover. I know I sound like I’m beating up on the Huff Post, but many writers contribute to that site for free. I suggest those writers consider contributing to independent sites like AALBC.com once in awhile. It really is in everyone’s best interest for independent voices to survive. We are not going to survive, over the long term, without the support of the people we try to serve.
KW: What do you think is in the future?
TJ: Of course, If I knew that I’d be a rich man. I fear the trends I see online are escalating offline as well. There are fewer independent bookstores, magazines, newspapers and radio stations. Journalism is dying, sources for critical book and film reviews of black work are drying up, author advances are shrinking and writers are finding it more difficult to make a living. Content generation across all platforms are coalescing into the hands a few very large multinational corporations that don’t have our interests in mind. At best, the content they spew does not truly represent what we, as black people, feel, care, or think about. At worse, it is destroying us by perpetuating negative stereotypes and images for the sake of making money.
KW: Is it already too late in your estimation, or can something still be done?
TJ: Fortunately, we can absolutely do something about this – we must continuously support independent entities as best we can. With the continued support of my community, there is no reason an AALBC.com should not thrive. Ideally, the Google search result should be an unimportant detail. Indeed, maybe we should create our own Google.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
TJ: Yes, but I won’t pose it in this interview. [LOL]
KW: Are you ever afraid?
TJ: Yes, but being afraid and overcoming those fears is what makes life exciting.
KW: Are you happy?
KW: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
TJ: All the time. My wife and I were sharing a glass of wine. Out of nowhere she says, “I really do love you.” Touched, I replied, “Is that you or the wine talking?” She looked at me and said, “That’s me talking, baby… to the wine.” That is an old joke I told this past weekend and is always good for a laugh.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
TJ: I like to play poker.
KW: Now, you get to answer your own question, the bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
TJ: The last one I read was “The Only One” by Cynique. It is currently being published in a serialized format through a website called “A Chapter a Month.” http://achapteramonth.com I plan to publish this novel as a book next year.
KW: What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?
TJ: Well certainly starting AALBC.com would rank up there as one of the best. As far the worst… you don’t have enough time.
KW: How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
TJ: It forces me to try to be more empathetic to the feelings of others. My biggest life regrets have to do with others I may have hurt.
KW: How do you define success? And, what key quality do you believe all successful people share?
TJ: Striving for freedom is success. I believe all successful people know what they love to do and are actually doing it or working toward it.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
TJ: Don’t. Everyone needs to find their own path to happiness and success, because they will all be different. Again, determining what motivates you and makes you happy is the key to that.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
TJ: As a gentleman who tried to make a positive impact on family, friends and anyone he may have touched.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Troy, and best of luck with the website.
TJ: Thanks Kam, It has been a pleasure to work with you over the years as you have been an integral part of that success.
Postscript from Troy:
In response to Kam’s question “Is it already too late in your estimation, or can something still be done?” the idea of creating “our own Google” stuck with me. As a result, I created a new search engine called “Huria Search” http://huria.org
Huria is a Swahili word which means independent, autonomous, self-reliant, free. Huria Search results are restricted to independent websites who generate content of interest to and about the global Black community. I really think visitors will be pleasantly surprised by the search results. Check out huria.org and if you believe in the idea please help spread the word. Feedback is also greatly appreciated: [email protected]
You can read more about why I started Huria Search here: http://aalbc.it/huriasearch