Troy Johnson Assessing the Black Press
Interview by Kam
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
* * *
Kam Williams: Hi Troy,
thanks for the interview.
Troy Johnson: No problem,
Kam, it is my pleasure to have this opportunity. Thank
Kam Williams: What
interested you in starting AALBC.com?
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
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.
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?
I had been running AALBC.com for about 11
years before I left Wall Street. That was three years
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?
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
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
How else has the business changed over the years?
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 became 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?
Kam Williams: Yeah, it was
much less user-friendly back then.
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 PCs, 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
How are African-American-oriented websites
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
Can you elaborate more about Google’s impact?
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?
Kam Williams: Your
content of substance, obviously.
Here is the second example: I recently paid a
writer for an article which I published on
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
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.
What can people do to support sites like
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.
What do you think is in the future?
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 of 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
Kam Williams: Is it
already too late in your estimation, or can something
still be done?
Fortunately, we can absolutely do something
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
Kam Williams: :Is there any
question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone
Troy Johnson: Yes, but I
won’t pose it in this interview. [LOL]
Kam Williams: The Tasha
Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
Troy Johnson: Yes, but
being afraid and overcoming those fears is what makes
Kam Williams: The Columbus
Short question: Are you happy?
Troy Johnson: Yes.
The Teri Emerson question: When was the last
time you had a good laugh?
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.
Kam Williams: What is
your guiltiest pleasure?
Troy Johnson: I like
to play poker.
Kam Williams: Now, you
get to answer your own question, the bookworm Troy
Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
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.” I plan to publish this novel as a book
Kam Williams: The music
maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening
to on your iPod?
A buddy turned me on to an album by the
Buena Vista Social Club. A cut called “Chan
Chan” is so enchanting. I also tune into
Breath of Life
at every Monday for a lesson in music.
Kam Williams: What is your
favorite dish to cook?
Troy Johnson: I’m a
half-way decent cook. I like my buffalo wings. They
always taste good, and are easy to prepare.
Kam Williams: The Sanaa
Lathan question: What excites you?
Troy Johnson: I love
visiting new places. I’ve been to every state in the
Union and to a bunch of foreign countries. I would even
leave the planet if I could.
Kam Williams: Dante Lee,
author of Black Business Secrets, asks: What was
the best business decision you ever made, and what was
Troy Johnson: Well
certainly starting AALBC.com would rank up there as one
of the best. As far the worst . . . you don’t have
Kam Williams: When you
look in the mirror, what do you see?
Troy Johnson: A work
Kam Williams: If you
could have one wish instantly granted, what would that
Troy Johnson: Omnipotence.
Kam Williams: The
Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood
Troy Johnson: My
mother bringing my younger sister home from the
hospital, a couple of months before my 3rd birthday.
Kam Williams: The Melissa
Harris-Perry question How did your first big heartbreak
impact who you are as a person?
Troy Johnson: 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.
Kam Williams: The Judyth
Piazza questions: How do you define success? And, what
key quality do you believe all successful people share?
Troy Johnson: 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.
Kam Williams: What advice do
you have for anyone who wants to follow in your
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.
Kam Williams: The
Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
Troy Johnson: As a
gentleman who tried to make a positive impact on family,
friend, and anyone he may have touched.
Kam Williams: Thanks again
for the time, Troy, and best of luck with the website.
Troy Johnson: Thanks Kam, It
has been a pleasure to work with you over the years as
you have been an integral part of that success.
* * *
Worsens Web Experience by Retuning Poor Search
Results—by Troy Johnson—August 8, 2011—I fully
realize I could be making things worse for myself by
making these accusations against Google in a public
forum. I have first hand experience with
Google shooting first and asking questions later
(yet another topic for a future rant). However,
this is a very important issue that needs additional
scrutiny and awareness. We are already losing
on-line sources for quality news and information
because of a lack of platforms for good journalists
and writers. Now the potential for these platforms
are hampered even more by having their content
devalued relative to sites that promote more
scandalous or otherwise less valuable and relevant
corporate entities produce, broker, promote and
manufacture more scandal, and companies like Google
make this information more accessible by elevating
it in its search results; we are witnessing the
Internet becoming less free while corporate
interests contort the world wide web in to a entity
where profit is the only motive.—aalbc
* * *
Troy Johnson founded in 1998 the African American Literature Book Club (AALBC)
I’m working on
customized search engine (just a modified version of
the Google search) which allows people to query just
Black sites that are independently owned. No
huffpost, Blackplanet, etc, etc. The URL is:
for short. The goal is to eliminate all the
nonsense from the search results when people are
looking for our authors. It is a work in progress,
but take a look and let me know what you think so
Query kalamu ya
salaam for example. Oh and thanks for the great edit
of Kam’s interview of me! You know I can appreciate
the effort to bring in the supporting content.
President, AALBC.com, LLC
* * *
Black Book Websites: An
Appeal for Mutual Support
2 November 2011
It has been a
couple of years since I last reached out to you, in
a mass email, with an appeal to figure out ways we
can work together. To be honest the lack of
response to previous appeals was a little
discouraging so I gave up trying for a while. There
was, however, as some measure of success.
A couple of
years ago Mosaicbooks.com,
AALBC.com teamed up
for a partnership for online advertising called the
This has worked well for the small partnership—each
member was able to utilize the other platforms to
provide a better service to their clients while
generating revenue for all the members.
out now because I’ve observed trends on the WWW
which I’m sure have not escaped your scrutiny. Most
notably Google’s search algorithm devaluating our
I blogged about this recently.
conjunction with Google’s search results is the
fact the Black content is increasingly being
delivered by large corporate entities. The
impact of this should be obvious. I
elaborated about the adverse impact this trend
has had, on independent voices, in a
out again because I see too many Black book sites
disappearing and those that remain are even more
difficult to find. This problem is accelerating.
Of course this situation is reflective of a much
broader problem that is affecting physical books
stores, newspapers, radio stations, journalism,
I have some
ideas of things that we can do. If you are
interested in participating in a conversation.
Please reply with your email address, name, the
website you represent. Feel free to share this
email with any other independent Black owned book
sellers, with a website, you think would be
meantime, I’ve created a search engine which is
limited to, what I believe are, independent Black
owned websites. I ultimately plan to migrate
this to its own domain and include every independent
bookstore that has a website. Right now the
search engine is
I hope this
will be a way to elevate all of our entities. Run a
few queries and let me know what you think. When
this search engine is on its own domain, I think it
will be a way for us to promote each other raising
all of our profiles.
maintained this page,
which lists some of the most popular
independent Black owned book websites. Let me know
if you would like to change something on your
entry. Let me know if there are others I should
* * *
The Best Black Book Search Engine /
Troy Johnson founded in 1998 AALBC
* * *
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.
"Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * * * *
Debt: The First 5,000 Years
By David Graeber
Before there was money, there was debt. Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems—to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods—that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors. Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections.
He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the
ancient works of law and religion (words like “guilt,” “sin,”
and “redemption”) derive in large part from ancient debates
about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and
We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history—as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.
Economist Glenn Loury /Criminalizing a Race
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
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posted 31 October 2011