Playmate of the Year Cover

From: Peggy Wilkins <>, 18 Jul 2003
Subject: On celebrity and sales

I remember being told by circulation director Larry Djerf that the the PMOY cover issues are consistently the lowest selling issues, year after year... This fact was apparently a strong contributor to Christina not getting a PMOY cover this year. There may be one flaw in their interpretation of the facts here: the PMOY almost always (with rare exceptions) is announced in the June issue; how do they know that the low sales aren't seasonally influenced? My understanding is that newsstand sales slow down in the warmer months. I would be interested in seeing if they moved the PMOY issue a month or (better yet) two earlier, if the sales would improve. An April issue PMOY shouldn't be impossible to realize.

From: Dan Stiffler <>, 19 Jul 2003
Subject: A-listers and Explicitness

Moving the PMOY issue—and one would hope with a PMOY cover!—to April or even March makes a lot of sense to this long-time reader. Such a move would dismiss with any pretence of "reader's choice" by poll and it would also present the PMOY in a more timely fashion.

From: Peggy Wilkins <>, 08 May 2003
Subject: My letter to Dear PLAYBOY

Below is the letter i sent to Dear PLAYBOY regarding the June cover. This was the most condensed statement I could come up with about it. Of course this issue is more complicated than I acknowledge here, but these letters must be brief, and I feel it represents the bottom line of my feelings.

    I hope that Joe Millionaire runner-up Sarah Kozer raised
    your monthly circulation, but in showcasing Sarah on your June cover,
    you neglected another very important reality show runner-up: Playmate
    of the Year Christina Santiago.  The annual Playmate of the Year cover
    has been a tradition ever since Donna Michelle's iconic May 1964
    appearance.  Supplanting the PMOY from this traditional role flies in
    the face of an approaching 50th anniversary that, publicly at least,
    claims to honor PLAYBOY's rich and distinguished history.

    It may be just another magazine cover, but for longtime
    readers—those of us who have supported PLAYBOY and renewed our
    subcriptions for years—something of the PLAYBOY spirit has been
    lost.  Are there really so many hot-selling celebrities scheduled for
    the cover that one can't be devoted to the Playmate of the Year?

    What a disappointment.

    Peggy Wilkins
    Chicago, IL

From: Dave Waldon <>, 8 May 2003
Subject: My letter to Dear PLAYBOY

To devalue the bread and butter of the PLAYBOY tradition, the Playmate, is to devalue the dedicated readers who have made the magazine a integral part of American culture for the past half century. I fear that the new editorial team is in the process of killing the patient in order to save it, and I plead with them to reconsider their current direction.

From: Peggy Wilkins <>, 28 Apr 2003
Subject: Peggy's letter about the June cover

In the specific case of who gets the cover, PMOY or celebrity, I don't think there is necessarily a right or wrong answer. More generally, I definitely think that change can be a very good thing: it is a wonderful opportunity for growth and improvement; and also for finding out who and what you really are and why.

I commend PLAYBOY for trying out new things. What this means for us and for them is that this is a period of uncertainty...

Why am I disappointed that the Playmate of the Year isn't on her cover? One reason I gave was that it broke from tradition. However, the word "tradition" doesn't really explain exactly what I mean. I wasn't disappointed merely because they departed from a tradition. The real point for me here was that this particular tradition is meaningful to me—I hold it in high value. When it wasn't observed this year, I felt that they had given up on a part of what I thought PLAYBOY was.

I recently ran across this letter in Dear PLAYBOY (March 1980):

    I have always maintained that the single most important
    factor that sets your magazine apart from its competition
    is not your fine quality, your exquisite taste nor your
    unparalleled photography but, rather, above all else,
    your keen sense of continuity.  Your unique feature Playmates
    Forever! bears out that fact one more time.  While one may
    enjoy individual issues of PLAYBOY, he can fully appreciate
    its special quality only after having followed it for a
    number of years.           —L.J.David, South Bend, Indiana

This in fact is a point that I had made myself in this very forum when I was trying to define the characteristics of PLAYBOY that impressed me and made me into a loyal reader. Quoting one of those points:

    Playmates are special; the centerfold image is special...
    Playmates give a very special sense of familiarity and continuity
    to the magazine for those who follow it regularly.

The Playmate of the Year is one of the ways that the specialness of the Playmate is honored. It is a very natural concept: everyone seems to have a favorite Playmate, and an opinion about which one from a year was "best". The amount of heated discussion that is generated every year about the PMOY is the proof of just how key a concept this is.

I also think that part of the appeal of a Playmate of the Year is that PLAYBOY has deliberately put a special effort into photographing each year's winner in a special cover and pictorial—I think their extra efforts at putting together a classy, eye-catching set (or location if outdoors), superior makeup and hair, and extra good photos really shows in the end product. This means that regular readers like me have come to look forward to seeing an especially beautiful cover and pictorial to go along with the Playmate of the Year title—it's not just another cover, or just another pictorial. And this is how the concept came to be so meaningful to me: they really made it pay off by going to all that extra effort.

If people are actually looking forward to a particular cover, like I was, then not getting it is a big disappointment. My disappointment isn't due to departure from a tradition, but from having a very positive expectation, built up over decades, pulled out from under me. And what's this about decades? I knew after seeing my first Playmate of the Year issue that it was a special concept, and one that I loved. All it took for me was one issue.

As Dan Stiffler has mentioned here before, going for extra sales via celebrity covers is always going to be a hit-or-miss venture. While I can appreciate their desire to grab more newsstand sales—and I want this for them as much as they do—I also highly value the long term rewards that they have so successfully set in place in the past for the returning reader. I would hate to see them throw that value away permanently.

What I hope is that a certain percentage of the extra readers who picked up the Sarah Kozer issue will see something good in returning to PLAYBOY and so be brought into the fold as permanent readers. Maybe some of the changes they are making now that are evident in the June issue (cover aside) will help that along. But I am still hoping that next year we will get the Playmate of the Year on the cover again.

    Donna> I also think it was smart not to reveal who it was on the
    Donna> cover, after all, the goal of cover lines is to get
    Donna> newsstand buyers to buy the issue, so if you want to see
    Donna> who PMOY is, you have to get the issue.

This isn't a strong point in my view. The Playmate of the Year is no longer a secret: she was revealed to the press at a formal luncheon, she had appearances on television programs such as Extra (which I saw) and other news reports, and her identity is readily available on's main page and in dedicated PMOY web pages as well. Her entire pictorial is available to Cyber Club subscribers.

So to summarize, I like that PLAYBOY is experimenting, and I hope they keep doing so. I hope that what they are experimenting with is not considered by them to be set in stone. If they can make these changes, they can keep making changes until they find what they are most comfortable with and what also will bring in the magazine readers. I hope they realize that their long term readers contribute to their success and are as important to them as the new ones they want to win. And I hope they can cater to both audiences successfully. I don't think these audience segments must be entirely incompatible.

I have always said that PLAYBOY is unique, and I would hate to see them lose what has set them apart as truly special.

From: Dan Stiffler <>, 28 Apr 2003
Subject: Peggy's letter about the June cover

In the process of dismissing the PMOY, PLAYBOY has alienated a portion of their regular readers—those readers who have become loyal primarily because of the Playmates.

From: Mike <>, 30 Apr 2003
Subject: Peggy's letter about the June cover

Except for a brief period during the 1990s, I've been a subscriber to PLAYBOY since 1977. Even though Christina Santiago was not MY personal choice for Playmate of the Year 2003, I was VERY disappointed and upset when I learned that she would not be featured on the cover of the issue containing her Playmate of the Year pictorial.

Peggy Wilkins
Last modified: Mon Apr 5 02:34:23 CDT 2004