From: Dan Stiffler <>, 05 Feb 2003
Subject: PLAYBOY: Your Father's Oldsmobile?

[In reply to: "capture the feel of the old Art Paul covers, not duplicate them"]
The occasional homage would be okay (as the Uma Thurman cover [9/96] repeated 6/67), but the covers need to be fresh. Surely Art Paul had a unique creative genius, but I have seen some fine covers since he retired, just not enough of them to argue that PLAYBOY cover art matters much anymore. I think everyone knows this: at least 75% of the covers in recent years are formulaic. As predictable as the rising sun. More like Cosmo than Cosmo... PLAYBOY could make a very strong statement about the new leadership if those new editors would just think carefully about the long tradition of PLAYBOY cover art and then get out of the current rut.

If I could change only one thing about the magazine, it would be the covers, most of them anyway.

From: Dan Stiffler <>, 15 Apr 2003
Subject: changes

Give the cover back to the artists... There is just no comparison when the art department gets to do a cover without contents type. Most of today's covers, tweaks aside, are nothing better than a Cosmo/Maxim layout. This is not, I promise, a case of the good old days of Art Paul (although he was, I believe, a genius without whom the magazine would not have soared as it did). I have seen excellent cover art from the current staff and director—just not enough to define the magazine anymore. I cannot believe that the artists want to cover their images with predictable stacks of type. No artists would do that without some sense of compromise. After the playmate, the cover is the signature feature of PLAYBOY. Give it back.

From: Alfred Urrutia <>, 14 Nov 2002
Subject: Layout and Design II: Covers

What I miss, personally, are the setups. The cool pictures of the (usually) women. Too often it's just a celebrity caught in the face of a 10,000 candle power spotlight. How hard is that? I enjoyed the older covers with the models in interesting poses, thematic settings (full settings, not just the right outfit for Valentine's, Christmas, etc.) and more natural expressions and make-up.

From: Peggy Wilkins <>, 14 Nov 2002
Subject: Layout and Design II: Covers

The cover is one of the most important components of any magazine, if not the most important: it presents to the viewer an overall impression of what the magazine is about on both a small scale (the particular issue in hand) and a larger scale (all issues in general). Whether the viewer is a first-time reader or is returning for the 100th time, the cover is the first, and hence most memorable, experience that the reader will have with any particular issue. Ideally it will evoke a reaction in the viewer that is consistent with the overall editorial and artistic goals of the magazine. I have no doubt that many a magazine sale has been made on the basis of cover impact—a cover that catches the eye and pleases will be looked at more often and for a longer time, and may push through to the eventual sale. This is certainly true of me as a newsstand browser; I have even begun reading some magazine titles regularly strictly on the basis of their having consistently pleasing covers.

Many of us regular PLAYBOY readers have reacted strongly and unfavorably to the decline of the classic PLAYBOY cover. The great majority of current covers appear as if they were designed by a marketing committee: they are most often laid out in accordance to a rigid formula. The motivation for the formula would seem to be marketing surveys that have determined what sells generic magazine issues; and then featuring those top selling points as prominently as possible. In this formula, the celebrity du jour is typically starkly posed against an indistinct background with contents copy in very large caps along both sides from top to bottom. This is not to say that all PLAYBOY covers are like this; I know that they are not. But certainly most of them have followed this formula for the past several years; and certainly too many of them for my taste.

One derives two conclusions from this formulaic design:

It's a sorry state when the editors themselves no longer believe in the appeal of their own magazine enough to let it pass muster, saleswise, on its own merits—so much so that the cover no longer accurately represents the intended attitude of the magazine. Unfortunately, this seems to be a reality of the marketplace.

While I certainly do understand the desirability of marketing and promotion, I also believe that marketing need not be in such direct conflict with good design. Often it seems that good design has actually been abandoned! It seems to have been deemed not worth the effort. Surely there are some designers out there who can put together thoughtfully designed covers on a regular basis that will not result in the issues' newsstand sales going down the tubes. Respect the readers enough to give them attractively presented cover text that doesn't scream out the contents like a billboard; respect them enough to assume that they want to read your magazine—they are your allies, not your adversaries; give them enough credit to realize that without explicitly seeing NUDE on the cover, they will realize that PLAYBOY presents nudes. Use some interesting fonts; use mixed case rather than uppercase (that can be so unattractive!); place the text in subtle locations that attractively fit into the design; in short, put some thought into cover design again.

I went to some effort recently to state that an essential attribute of PLAYBOY is that it has a strong visual impact. Historically speaking, much of that impact has been from the cover. The evidence for this comes from how many of us remember particular covers. The cover is also a large contributor to the continuing collectible value of PLAYBOY: it is one of the significant reasons that some people want to collect PLAYBOY. While everybody is not a collector, this value should not be overlooked; it builds up respect that contributes to a loyal following, and so contributes to PLAYBOY's longevity.

I would direct anyone who wants to see PLAYBOY covers past and present to the cover gallery at this URL in the Cyber Club:

Interestingly, the text on this page says:

    A blend of popular art, cultural history, stellar design and
    soaring imagination, these are the covers of PLAYBOY magazine.

How true this is! But it hardly refers to most current covers; it only reflects bygone days.

I regret that this topic has to be expressed in such a negative way, but to me it is of such significance that it can't really be accurately discussed otherwise.

From: Peggy Wilkins <>, 20 and 22 Jul 2003
Subject: Celebrities on the Newsstand

I'm sure that many buy individual issues based on who's on the cover. I buy them not necessarily because I like the cover model, but because I like the cover. I buy them for good design. Why not go for both types of audience? The ones who just like the celebrity will buy them when they like the cover model. The ones who like the good design will buy repeatedly, and will even buy every issue, if the good design is there every month. There will never be lost sales over good cover design.

What I have always maintained, and still believe, is that high sales and good design are not inherently incompatible. Just because celebrity X on the cover will sell a lot of copies, or will sell more copies than celebrity Y, does not mean that the presentation on the cover has to be boring, unattractive, or routine. I see a lot of fine celebrity covers out there. Vogue and Harper's Bazaar consistently have excellent covers with good visual impact: they draw in the eye, have an air of sophistication, and make (at least) me want to buy them so I can take them in at my leisure. The inside layouts in these magazines are top rate, too. They used to feature house models on their covers in decades past, just like PLAYBOY did. The problem to me with PLAYBOY is that their covers have become routine and tired for usually 10 out of 12 issues each year. To me, improved cover design, whether with or without celebrities, should be an important part of the new PLAYBOY.

One thing I would like to know is why PLAYBOY has been settling for the formulaic covers of the past few years. True, there have been a few outstanding covers in this time frame, but they are unfortunately very few and far between.

I love magazines, and to me the cover is one of the most important things if not the most important thing. A good cover can have a huge impact on how a magazine is perceived. It can mean it gets put on the top of a pile, or pulled out more times to look at. On newsstands, it attracts notice and makes sales. It is the first thing people see of each issue, and leaves the first impression which can be a lasting one. How such an important feature as the cover can be given a pedestrian treatment month after month, year after year, is a mystery to me.

Peggy Wilkins
Last modified: Mon Apr 5 02:16:13 CDT 2004