10 Changes to Make a Difference, Updated

Dan Stiffler <calendar-girls@adelphia.net>, 15 Mar 2004

Eleven months ago, I posted to this group ten suggestions for improving PLAYBOY. Some of them were idealistic, but I believed in them at the time. Since today is our deadline for contributions here, I thought I would review those ten suggestions as a way of finalizing my assessment of the Kaminsky-era PLAYBOY.

    > 1.  Improve the quality of reproduction.

When I made this suggestion, I was concerned about paper quality. Now I must say that even the best paper would not improve the overall reproduction quality of PLAYBOY. Peggy has been disturbed for years about reproduction failures at a magazine that used to define itself as "a quality magazine for men." While the magazine is still using good stock for its centerfolds, many of the recent images might as well have been printed on newsprint. The grain or artifacts wouldn't be so noticeable on poor quality paper. Whether this drop in quality is the result of a change in camera format or a screw-up with the digital transfers is really beside the point. One has to go back to the fifties to find such poor reproduction in the centerfold (small/medium format cameras were used then, too; and printing was less reliable).

A year ago, I was hoping that the thin paper could be improved; now, I just want the centerfold quality back.

    > 2.  Emphasize the photographers.

I made this suggestion because PLAYBOY's original audience cared about the art of photography. I don't think the current PLAYBOY is any better or any worse than it has been for more than a decade in this regard. We all know that PLAYBOY has used basically two photographers for the centerfold since Richard Fegley's death and, throughout the 90s, it was only three. Since all centerfolds are now shot on sets by the two photographers who have done scores of them, the images inevitably have a sameness that often fails to excite (except on the rare occasion when the playmate transcends the set).

Both Wayda and Freytag have done outstanding work, and I am not pushing to replace either of them, only add to the mix. It would also be nice if each could shoot a playmate singly more often so that her PMOM layout and centerfold would have continuity. At the very least, identify who shot the centerfold when there are two contributors.

Freelancers should be used more often. Many celebrity pictorials are shot by non-staffers and some are quite good. Also, most celebrity pictorials are shot on location; it would be nice to see some centerfolds return to location as well (I think 12/03 was on location; too bad it was such a mess). This approach worked well in the fifties and sixties.

    > 3.  Use the history.

Well, we had the 50th anniversary issue. And now what do we have? I expected a regular feature this year detailing PLAYBOY's rich 50-year history. There will probably be some photos from these nightclub parties rotating around the country, but PLAYBOY really missed an opportunity with this one.

Quite frankly, I don't think many of those in decision-making roles at PLAYBOY care about its history; in fact, I would suspect that some of them would rather suppress it. There is the usual flashback on the Playmate News pages; that's about it.

Big disappointment.

    > 4.  Cut down the dependence upon celebrity in both pictorials and interviews.

This is, of course, my pet peeve. Look what the magazine has done in recent months: a Shannen Doherty, a Jaime Pressly, a Sable/Torrie Wilson. Each of those celebrities was doing an ENCORE pictorial! Sable had her THIRD cover. Earlier there was yet another Carmen Electra. Not only has PLAYBOY been unable to shake the celebrity habit but it has become a REPEAT offender.

I thought there was some hope for the Jim Carrey interview (another celebrity interview preceding yet another film release). But just as the discussion got interesting the interviewer said "Let's change the subject."

I am still livid about Sarah Kozer.

Eleven months ago, I didn't think it could get any worse. Little did I know.

    > 5.  Bring back the top fiction.

Well, at least they are still publishing fiction. There is a slight up-tick here.

I must admit that I preferred the old days when PLAYBOY had a stable of writers who regularly published in the magazine, but it looked for a while like PLAYBOY was going to drop fiction altogether.

I won't bother to make a judgment on the quality of today's fiction; after all, I didn't like everything they published back in the sixties either.

    > 6.  Make the reviews matter.

The pictures are nice. The ___ of the Month is clever. The words are scant and superficial. I have suggested elsewhere that PLAYBOY ought to run feature reviews of work that is relevant to the PLAYBOY lifestyle. Apparently, PLAYBOY thinks reviews are meant to be bathroom reading.

    > 7.  Stand for something again.

As I said before, the Forum remains the political soul of PLAYBOY. I am, however, disturbed by the general drift towards crime-sheet exposÚs. Consider this last year: The DC sniper; The Last Score: When a Bank Heist Goes Bad; Phil Spector Murder Mystery; Cop Tease: How a Nubile Narc Busted a High School; Crime Scene Clean Up; OJ Simpson interview; Murder Rap: Who Killed Jam Master Jay?; Busting Robert Blake; Blood Hound: On the Trail with a Bounty Hunter.

This is PLAYBOY? Something is going on here and I don't like it.

Actually, the Kaminsky-era PLAYBOY reminds me very much of those True Detective/Crime magazines that relish putting sex and violence together.

    > 8.  Promote the playmate.

I am going to repeat my original commentary here:

    > Brian Sorgatz has already suggested this but, the
    > more I study the first ten years of the magazine, the more I see that this
    > concept has been lost in the current cloud of celebrity.  Even though the
    > playmate still gets the foldout (no longer the centerfold per se), she is
    > often lost in the fuss over the cover model, who is most frequently some
    > grade of celebrity du jour.  This is a colossal mistake and it is one that
    > could be remedied; but it will take the end of celebrity addiction.  The
    > playmate should be the featured pictorial each and every issue; she should
    > be the girl whom the regular reader looks forward to meeting.  She is a key
    > component, some would say the essential component, of PLAYBOY's identity.
    > Better contractual terms for playmates wouldn't be a bad idea either; after
    > all, the appeal of the playmate far outstrips all but the rare celebrity
    > pictorial.

Steve Sloca (aka gokings111) has written passionately about this subject on the PML. While he and I disagree on a number of things about PLAYBOY, we are in general agreement about how PLAYBOY exploits (in the bad sense of the word) its playmates by failing to exploit them (in the good sense of the word).

Steve's point about charity donations is a good one; in fact, I have a similar idea myself. I have mentioned earlier it to a few friends at Glamourcon, but I might as well repeat it here.

As I noted last April, "better contractual terms" would be a good idea. I would pay each playmate $75,000 for her appearance in PLAYBOY, spread over two years. I would also have PLAYBOY donate $25,000 to the charity of the playmate's choosing, for a grand total of a $100,000 contract. Now this approach would be perfectly affordable if PEI quit tossing six-figure contracts at reality show rejects, and the charitable donation would bring good will and excellent publicity.

I would also see to it that playmates receive courtesy payments whenever their photos are published in a PEI publication, post-PMOM, as well as payment in kind.

Of course, playmates would continue to have the nude modeling restrictions for two years (I understand that) but, as Steve has suggested, playmates who want a career in show business (not all do) should be given every opportunity to pursue the limelight.

I think Steve's basic point is correct: PLAYBOY's relationship with its playmates is primarily one of control. A change in this culture would reap mucho mutual benefits.

"Once a playmate, always a playmate" should not be only a slogan.

    > 9.  Give the cover back to the artists.

Remember the Elle cover? Not everyone liked it, but it was at least artistic. The Rachel cover is simply ordinary.

In the last year, I thought the anniversary cover was tasteful. All other covers have had the same boring layout. I have liked some better than others (the Starbucks cover was good, the Lauren Hill cover was rather nice, and the double Sable/Torrie covers were clever) but not a single cover this last year made me take notice.

This may be the longest running complaint on the PML. I don't know anyone who thinks PLAYBOY is doing the right thing with its covers. Every time this subject comes up, we offer lots of suggestions to deal with newsstand concerns, but PLAYBOY just keeps turning out the same old formula.

Very discouraging.

    > 10.  Recover the marketplace.  I think there are three ways to do this, all
    > of which involve some risk:
    > A) Open Playboy Stores in malls around America, similar in scale to Spencer's.  
    > B) Some on the PML have mentioned a nationwide return of the Playboy Club.
    > I am more wary about this option, but handled properly it might work.
    > C)  This might be my most radical--and reluctant--suggestion, but I know the
    > concept is on the table anyway, so I am going to address it: kill explicit
    > nudity in the magazine.

I am not going to rehearse these ideas.

But I am nostalgic for the time when I could write this:

    > I have the following dream.  PLAYBOY will return to its roots and rediscover
    > how it became great.  In this day and age, it will be generally accepted in
    > all but the most radical right or radical feminist households.  People who
    > used to read PLAYBOY, but gave it up for whatever reason, will try it again
    > and will like it.  Young people who are reaching for the "hilt" of life will
    > discover PLAYBOY and identify with its distinction from other men's
    > magazines.  A quality magazine, drawing upon its great history, setting the
    > current standard for male entertainment, doing so with respect for its
    > readers, its staff, and—most of all—its playmates.

I don't have much hope any more—although the fact that I continue to offer my observations means I haven't yet given up entirely. I suppose that Peggy's eternal optimism inspires me, indeed humbles me, makes me a little ashamed of my negativity. But keep in mind that I have spent the last year carefully studying PLAYBOY's first ten years, most of which I had never critiqued before (I became a regular reader in 1962). What I now see happening in those first ten years is simply not happening anymore: an editorial team with a coherent vision, a desire to appeal to the sophisticated and urbane gentleman.

Honestly, I feel a little sorry for the young guys today.

Peggy Wilkins
Last modified: Mon Apr 5 01:05:32 CDT 2004