Comments on the New PLAYBOY

On Shortened Features

From: Peggy Wilkins <mozart@lib.uchicago.edu>, 03 Dec 2002
Subject: Re: Chit-Chat For Men?

... This newest PLAYBOY issue [January 2003] includes a very short feature titled The Death of Network News which explores—notably, with brevity—how broadcast news has lost its audience to more daring cable programs. This feature occupies less than two full pages of text; I'd almost suggest that the artwork illustrating it occupies as much space as the feature itself. Author Bill O'Reilly ... cuts himself off at the end of the piece, saying "I could give you scores of other examples, but I think you get the picture". Short, indeed. Apparently, good journalism takes a back seat to the implication that the conclusion is obvious, and therefore not worth exploring.

Not that the article should have been overly long; but I did go away with the distinct feeling that it ended too quickly. To me the piece lacks polish for exactly this reason.

I went away with the same impression after reading Bringing Down the House (a book excerpt) in the November [2002] issue. It started out very well, grabbing my attention and pulling me into the story, but then it ended much too quickly. This completely dissipated the momentum that the beginning had built up. I hope that a better balance can be found for future issues.


On the Importance of Layout

From: Peggy Wilkins <mozart@lib.uchicago.edu>, 20 May 2003

[Re: Issues relating to appearance]: These may seem like trivial details; however, I think that layout on pages has a strong impact on the reading experience, and on how viewers perceive the magazine. This is especially true after PLAYBOY has retained the same look and feel for so many years, and so departures can really stand out. But even those who have never seen the magazine before will go away with a sense of what it's about from its appearance. I would like the PLAYBOY viewing experience to give an appropriate sense of elegance and sophistication. It should leave a positive impression. I know this is hard to define—all I can say is I know it when I see it, and I know when I think it can be tuned... I hope to see further refinement in the appearance of PLAYBOY's page layout as time goes on; it is definitely worth the time and effort.


Comments on February-April 2003 Issues

From: Peggy Wilkins <mozart@lib.uchicago.edu>, 20 Mar 2003
Subject: Recent PLAYBOY Issues: Comments

[Regarding the evident changes starting in February]: I think most of these changes are for the better; but as always that doesn't mean there isn't more room for growth/evolution/improvement.

COVERS:
There is a core group who both realize the significance (historic and artistic—and also personal) of PLAYBOY covers and who have despaired over the unfortunate prevalence of the recent formulaic mass-marketing-driven cover design. The great majority of covers over the past several years look like they were designed by a marketing committee, with only the occasional nod toward good design or visual impact. We perceive this as a great and unfortunate loss... Often the cover image takes on a secondary role to the text, as if it were only making an appearance out of obligation. Occasionally PLAYBOY does a good job with the copy type, but most of the time they have fallen back on... a par-for-the-course layout and look that I consider to be very unattractive... I am particularly put off by the all-caps, overly large, square-shaped font that they have consistently used... To me, this gives the magazine a sterile look—and that is just not the vibe I want to get from PLAYBOY.

Both February and April [2003] bring a different, fresher look to the PLAYBOY cover; and April is particularly strong in this regard. To me, the largest factor in this fresher feel is their use of combined upper and lower case letters. The February cover in particular has a very different look and feel than the usual PLAYBOY cover... I still find the overall look of this cover a bit harsh—part of it is that Alison Eastwood looks a bit stiff, part of it is the very crisp and vibrant color scheme, part of it is the italicized font. It is also a welcome relief not to see the usual NUDE following Alison's name; the more clever Makes Our Day is pleasantly subtle. And I like the April cover even more. Carmen Electra is a stunning model, the saturated colors are less harsh/contrasty than February, and the upper case headers and smaller, mixed case subheaders give more of a sense of balance, even elegance, to the overall look.

To me the March cover is a bit of a mistake; I just don't get it. They reverted to the all-caps text, and cover girl Doris Mar's face is blurry. Couldn't they have selected a picture with more depth of focus? The implication seems to be that we are supposed to look at her body and not her face; nothing wrong with that, but I prefer the total package, [especially on the cover]. I also have to wonder if the second hidden bunny is deliberate: were they having some extra fun with us, or just not paying attention? Perhaps it symbolizes the dual Editorial Directors.

INTERVIEW:
Adding the additional photos and career info is in my opinion a positive addition to this classic feature. The sidebar looks clunky, so I hope they will tweak its look/layout if they use it again. How about a larger color portrait, and more side info (as long as it doesn't get superficial)? There's lots of room to go here.

FEATURES:
I gotta hand it to the editors for coming up with some really good, interesting features for these recent issues. The February co-ed sex advice (college sex columnists) is right on target for PLAYBOY, and interesting, too. Chip Rowe's Why You Can't Get Tickets is another high interest feature. In March, the online gaming article was very interesting—and just too short! It could have been even more interesting if it had been drawn out quite a bit more, with a larger scale pace and feel. It's a good, timely topic choice. April's Sex and Two Cities is another winner, again right on target for PLAYBOY. However, I think this sort of feature shouldn't run every month; I think it's more interesting on an occasional basis, to keep PLAYBOY from being perceived as sex-obsessed. I've also been liking the liquor features (e.g., mezcal in April) and hope they will continue. These issues seem to be packed with stuff like this that I feel I have to read because it's interesting—and that's a good thing.

My complaint is that we seem to have almost completely lost larger-scale articles, and it can be a bummer to start reading something that is very interesting, and then have it suddenly draw to a close. Large scale development is a good thing.


June 2003 Issue

From: Gretchen Edgren <budsms@ix.netcom.com>, 21 Apr 2003

Just got my June issue today, and I must say the new formats look very inviting. I particularly like the fashion spread, which actually features clothes a young guy could afford! ... The article about l'affaire Phil Spector-Lana Clarkson may indicate that [PLAYBOY] is getting a bit faster on its feet these days, since the event happened in February and appears in print in April. There used to be a minimum three-month lead time. This might be the single biggest improvement the magazine could make...although it remains to be seen if accuracy (PLAYBOY's painstaking copy checking is legendary) will be compromised.


From: Dave Waldon <cubfan23@earthlink.net>, 22 Apr 2003

The removal of the Playmate of the Year from the cover of the issue that honors her is a critical mistake that causes all of the potential improvements (and otherwise) to pale in comparison.


From: Peggy Wilkins <mozart@lib.uchicago.edu>, 19 and 20 May 2003
Subject: June 2003 issue comments

... This issue has the most apparent changes since the more subtle ones that have preceded it.

Sarah Kozer cover: It's pretty good by current standards, but I have to give PLAYBOY many demerits for supplanting the PMOY. The picture of Christina that opens her pictorial on page 70 would have made a stunning cover with the PLAYBOY title in a color matching the flowers. Christina shows nipples here, which is a newsstand no-no, so how about sending this cover to subscribers, and Sarah on the newsstand? Donna mentioned this possibility as well. This could be seen as a special extra reward by some subscribers [of course it could also be a liability for others]: subscribe to get the PMOY cover.

[Re: cover text]: The repeated use of all caps in the squarish font continues to look sterile and unappealing to me. I commend the turning of the bar code so that it doesn't impinge on the cover image; but would still like to see it on the back cover instead! Or how about making it narrower?

Playbill: The format change is a huge improvement over the previous stale look and awkward text transitions. This section was becoming almost a joke to me in the past couple of years: the textual transitions were sudden and jarring, and the paragraphs used to read like a bunch of press release hype strung together, with little thought given to coherence. Grouping into isolated segments solves these problems and looks much neater. However, it is too short; for instance there is no mention whatever of the pictorial features. More could be made of the issue redesign here; this is the place to logically put info about what PLAYBOY is doing/planning in the months ahead, and perhaps even build reader anticipation (anyone reading this section probably cares). I am also a bit perplexed about photo choice—often the subject of the features is shown rather than the contributor; why not use smaller photos, and feature both subject and contributor together? Readers look to this page to see what the contributors look like; we already know what the feature subjects look like (e.g., Mike Piazza, Frank Sinatra). I would expand it to two pages to say more about the issue and to feature more contributors. Perhaps even introduce the new editors.

Dear PLAYBOY: Good, clean layout, good use of space, the graphics are a good reminder of what features are being talked about. I hope the reproduction of the cover of the issue under discussion will be featured regularly; it's the most tangible reminder of what issue is being discussed.

PLAYBOY After Hours: I really miss the Chicago skyline graphic, it added a nice touch of sophistication; it would be nice to see something like that added again. Instead, we are left with a very blocky-looking title. It's not bad, but it is followed on subsequent pages by a lot of other blocky looking things, so perhaps the opening page could be distinguished.

Babe of the Month: needless to say this is a great feature, and expanding it is a good idea. Maybe move it outside of After Hours—it has sufficient interest to stand on its own as a feature, it could go before the start of After Hours. This would give some room to add an After Hours graphic, too.
Barometer: it seems uninteresting and random to me.
Drink of the Month: what can I say but, A keeper. The photo is a nice touch; elegant.
Employee of the Month: very nice, it looks like this will be a regular feature, and I think it will potentially be one readers look forward to.
Stupid little list: sorry, but it's so stupid, it's annoying.
Raw Data: expanding this to a full page is good. I see a lot of white space in here; given its expansion, add more content, don't just spread it out. The picture of Terri Welles is an outtake from her 5/80 cover and is terrific, the longtime reader will appreciate touches like this.

Reviews: movie reviews have a good, clear layout. A release date is only given for the movie of the month, can one be added for the others? I like the 7-bar rating, it is easy to read/understand and the 7 available slots is a good degree of resolution (more than the usual 1-4 or 1-5 star-type rating). This is the first time we've been given a photo for every movie, and that is a good addition. Regarding Leonard Maltin: I'm now confused about what exactly his role is. He appears to have a smaller role than in the past; if anything, I think he should be given expanded space. Can't the movie section be expanded to accomodate this? His name is a feather in PLAYBOY's cap; exploit it.

A general comment on reviews: I wish they were longer; I wish there were more of them. This is somewhere that PLAYBOY could really shine.

playboy tv/playboy.com: I find these sections clunky looking; i'm not enticed to read them.

Richard Roeper on sequels: another big name movie reviewer; if he comes back (and he should), this is yet another reason to expand the number of pages given to reviews.

Games: this is a fine addition to the magazine. Computer gaming is nowadays a significant part of the entertainment world. The games reviewed in June range from the very popular (Matrix is new and popular; the new Castle Wolfenstein installment) to some I've never heard of. [I am told] to expect a lot of furor over the upcoming Half Life and Doom sequels; so I hope PLAYBOY will be able to feature them as soon as information is available. These games are much awaited.

What happened to the previous Wired section, and Living Online? Perhaps Wired would have been redundant this month with the Major Turn-Ons feature which is devoted to the latest electronic hardware. I really miss Living Online; if it doesn't continue in its past format, it would be nice to see something devoted to the online experience that so many of us live with on a daily basis.

I like the changeover of the Video section to DVD, especially the specific addition of "DVD extras" to the comments. I like the mix of newer and classic titles featured. And I like the history lesson (film noir)—as a classic film fan myself, I appreciate the effort spent on providing meaningful film history and context to a new generation.

Mantrack: I don't have much to say about it. I've never quite understood this feature; and I understand the subtitle ("hey...it's personal") even less.

Forum: PLAYBOY has quite a history of discussing sex and religion in both the Philosophy and the Forum. June's summary of sexual belief and practice in the major religions was well worth a mention in the May "Next Month" feature; and it was certainly worth the wait. This is an interesting two pages that can potentially give one pause to think about the arbitrary nature of belief—perhaps something of a religious topic in itself. For me this was one of the key features in this issue—definitely one of the "must reads" that PLAYBOY has been aiming for. It's both inherently interesting and thought provoking. I wonder how many other people were as interested as I was.

Dan [Stiffler] and I briefly discussed the change of paper in the Forum on the PML recently. I never quite understood why the "cardboardish" paper has been used for so many years; while Dan pointed out its use in art, and in particular in PLAYBOY since the '60s in cut-outs, die-cut pages, etc. I will agree with Dan that those more artistic uses had a certain impact, but I still much prefer the glossy paper, especially as glossy paper lends itself to sharper image reproduction—the cardboardish paper often results in relatively fuzzy images. So I am happy for this change, and want to see it in Playmate News, too.


From: Brian Sorgatz <bsorgatz@hotmail.com>, 20 May 2003
Subject: The Playbill

I'm disappointed by the June Playbill mainly because of its utter failure to provide a sense of unity and cohesion in the magazine's contents. At least earlier Playbills made a pretext of trying to do this. The solution is to write better transitions, not to eliminate the transitions entirely.

[NOTE: Perhaps add a Letter from the Editor to provide that overview? —PW]


August 2003 issue

From: Peggy Wilkins <mozart@lib.uchicago.edu>, 12 Jul 2003
Subject: August feature, CSC: Crime Scene Cleanup

I was quite put off by the CSC: Crime Scene Cleanup article that appears in the August issue. I would guess that the presence of this feature is based on the recent popularity of the CSI television series. I just sent the following letter (based in part on my earlier posts to the Cyber Club message boards, http://boards.playboy.com/) to Dear PLAYBOY via email:

    Date: Sat, 12 Jul 2003 22:54:11 -0500
    From: Peggy Wilkins <mozart@lib.uchicago.edu>
    To: dearpb@playboy.com
    Subject: August feature: Crime Scene Cleanup

    I think I finally figured out why Jenna looks so grim on the August
    cover: she must have read the "CSC: Crime Scene Cleanup" article.
    This unpleasantly morbid feature seemed to have little point other
    than sensationalism, and the accompanying pictures didn't improve the
    situation one bit.  I probably wasn't your only reader who was put off
    by the photographs of a stain left by a corpse and a blood spattered
    wall after a shotgun suicide.

    This article could have been greatly improved without the graphic
    photos, and if the writer had been able to transcend the sensational
    aspects and put it into a larger context.  Writer Pat Jordan only gave
    that context at the very end of the article, in its last few
    paragraphs. It is this larger context that should have been the main
    thrust of the feature—not the sensationalism.

    I hope features like this won't be in PLAYBOY again.

    Peggy Wilkins
    mozart@lib.uchicago.edu
    Chicago, IL

I can give a bit more detail here than I did in that terse note... I thought that the idea for the feature was potentially a good one, in that it is an inherently interesting topic. However, aspects of the visual and written presentation really bothered me. I think I make the visual aspects pretty clear in the letter above. When I open up an issue of PLAYBOY, I want to see beautiful images; to see indications of graphic violence, even reproduced in a small size, is to me the antithesis of what PLAYBOY is (and should be) about. I don't want those associations, and I don't think PLAYBOY does, either. There are already enough people in this country who see a connection between sex and violence, and (illogically) correspondingly between PLAYBOY and violent crime such as rape and murder. As for the text in the article, I felt it was not well written. There seemed to be no cohesive idea to it beyond the mere description of the gruesome facts. I felt that this paragraph, near the end of the feature (p.153), was the start of a good idea that could have been the basis for a good article:

    What these guys have in common is the tendency
    to see in life's cruelties the natural order of
    man.  They don't see the murder and suicide and
    inhumanity through a moral prism.  That would
    be psychologically debilitating.  Instead, they
    see the scenes of destruction as the facts of
    man's existence...
    

Not exactly eloquently written, but here is what the focus of the feature could have been; yet we don't even get the first hint of it until the piece is nearly over. As I said on the CC message boards, I would have canned this writer and found a better one.

To me, to run a feature based on its inherent interest, without having corresponding good writing to back it up, is a mistake. I could have written that article, and I'm not exactly a great writer.

I think it is unfortunate that the sidebar in this feature: "Six Feet Under: What Happens After Death?" was done as a full page feature in a recent issue of Maxim (April). This may have been a coincidence (it certainly isn't plagiarism, the PLAYBOY sidebar lacks Maxim's tongue-in-cheek smartass attitude), but it does make it look like PLAYBOY is hopping on the imitation bandwagon. This is not a good way to be perceived.


From: Peggy Wilkins <mozart@lib.uchicago.edu>, 16 Jul 2003
Subject: August issue comments, part 2

The most obvious change in the new PLAYBOY has been the redesign of the page layout. I have had some time to live with this and have gone back to look at several issues many times now. I have at this point settled upon feeling that the look of this new layout is not what I would hope it to be. Here are some specific points about the layout, and a few additional comments on some other features in the August issue.

PLAYBOY After Hours: This section is very clunky looking, with too many rectangles and margins that are too big. Everywhere I look, I see boxes enclosing things. The Babe of the Month in particular has way too big a margin. How about enlarging the photographs to take up the entire page? The second page (p.18) goes so far as to have a dark rectangle with white text on top of the already rectangle-enclosed photo. Lose the rigid rectangles and the wide margins, and all the After Hours will look much less clunky. This applies less to Reviews, where the division seems to make more sense and where there is more material to fill out the page, but I still think smaller margins would be a positive change here.

There is a clash between old and new looks among the various features. For instance, old standby features like the Advisor and the Interview have very old-fashioned looks—the Advisor looks like it could have come out of an issue 25 years ago, and of course the Interview opening page has remained the same for 40+ years now. I know I have mentioned the Interview layout before, and I'd still love to see a high quality (medium format), color studio full page portrait to open the feature. The layout evokes the classic Interview, but this look is such a contrast to the other features that I consider it problematic, classic or not. How about text in two columns instead of three? This would apply to the Advisor, too. I think a refashioning of these classic features is not only advisable, but mandatory, so they stop sticking out like a sore thumb.

I am ambivalent about the sidebar/entry points. When they add relevant information, they are great, but all too often they seem to be a mess of barely related information; to me, this makes them detract from the features rather than enhancing them. For instance, in the Tobey Macguire interview, there is a sidebar on animals in movies, and the only relation to Macguire is that he is starring in "Seabiscuit". That relation is so tenuous that it is more distracting then helpful. I don't see how this helps pull anyone into the interview, unless the point is only to make them stop flipping the pages.

Carnie Wilson: The photos aren't bad, but I think this is a poor choice for PLAYBOY. This feature is of interest to women, not men, and PLAYBOY is really sending conflicting signals to its audience in running this. I hate to be so glib, but I'll bet a woman editor came up with this idea. I know for a fact that this feature caused one long time reader to cancel his subscription.

Another feature crying out for a redesign is Next Month on the last page. It is just about the most unattractive feature in the entire magazine.

Survivor pictorial: Quite nice, and generally well received except by people who thought they didn't "show enough" for PLAYBOY. The cover line "their clothes got voted off" is wonderful. Jenna seems to have a hard time communicating with the camera in a good way, she looks sullen in almost all the pictures, even (unfortunately) the cover. This timely feature is right on target.

The Playmate feature is absolutely charming with its road trip theme and cute "hey there, going my way?" opener. As nice as this is, I'd still like to see some more updated settings/looks for Playmate pictures. As I mentioned before, the SE people may be a very very big help with any such undertaking.


From: Donna Tavoso <dtavoso@earthlink.net>, 16 Jul 2003
Subject: The August Issue

[Re: Carnie Wilson feature]: I have to say that if someone canceled their subscription over one pictorial that is somewhat sad—my complaint wasn't with the subject but more my issue with all the pictorials - I just wish they were more related to the subject. She's a muscian, a singer, an artist—nothing of that comes through in her pictorial. It was like, here I am, I'm naked. I wish that PLAYBOY would work on a way to bring the Playmates and the celebrity pictorials more in line with their personalities and then tie that back into making it sexy and appealing. I agree with Peggy that special editions has some great photographs in it, it may be because they actually leave the photo studio every once in a while to do a shoot. I remember how much I loved Brande Roderick's original photo shoot because it was shot outside in the wine country—it was fun and I felt it was reflective of her.

While I disagree with Peggy about changing the format of the Interview - I think sometimes you don't mess with what is iconic - at least not when you are changing everything else. But I do agree that the sidebar was a weird choice of topics, I was expecting other great comic movies or even something about other stars who have dependency issues, since that was the most interesting part of the interview in my opinion.

I do agree that they need to do something with Advisor. Personally, it's the first thing I read every month and it looks tired—I can't say I have an exact answer of what to do; maybe this would be a good place for some interesting artwork to go with the piece.

I like the new direction fashion has been taking for a while. It's entertaining and informative at the same time.

And I found the sports feature to be a fun and informative read—it gave me some fun stuff to talk about when I was at parties, which is something I always say about PLAYBOY it gives you social ammunition so you are more well rounded.

By far my favorite piece was the Cop Tease piece, I felt it was well written and a good read. My one regret, this was a place that I thought a great piece of artwork next to the story would have been better than the photo. There were enough photos on the next page.


From: Peggy Wilkins <mozart@lib.uchicago.edu>, 17 Jul 2003
Subject: August issue comments, part 2

Brian Wallace <brian_c_wallace@yahoo.com> asks:

    Brian> I don't understand WHY so many people have this aversion to
    Brian> the Carnie Wilson pictorial.  Everyone is entitled to their
    Brian>  opinion... but I don't understand why it is a "poor choice".
    

I thought it was a poor choice because of the lack of interest for PLAYBOY's intended audience. Before we even ask if men in general, or young men in particular, want to see Carnie Wilson nude, first ask if they would want to see her non-nude in a men's interest magazine. I am not one to second guess men, but my feeling is that the answer to this is more likely than not, no. If PLAYBOY is trying to attract the interest of this audience, I don't think this pictorial helped them to do that very much, no matter how good the pictures were. It did make a lot of press, but how much of that press was positive, or made people sit up and take notice as an indication that PLAYBOY is back and they should check it out? If anything, it goes with a par-for-the-course PLAYBOY that features second tier names with a story to push. Even the story isn't of much interest to most men, who don't tend to understand or sympathize with women's weight struggles, even in extreme cases like this. To stretch this even farther, in the context of PLAYBOY it is like carnival journalism... They certainly didn't intend it that way, but that is how it comes across.

    Brian> Why would someone cancel a subscription because there was
    Brian> an eight-page Carnie Wilson pictorial?  What was that
    Brian> person so angry at?

That person was part of this project, but left it, presumably for personal reasons which he did not share with me. My understanding is that he considered it the straw that broke the camel's back—it was the latest in a long line of disappointments PLAYBOY had brought him and so he felt obligated to speak with his money.

    Brian> Why do you think the pictorial is only of interest to
    Brian> women?  Maybe a male would think that Ms. Wilson is
    Brian> attractive as well.

I do like the pictures, and I know some men liked them as well, from some of the comments I have read. The biggest problem to me is that PLAYBOY chose to feature this pictorial now—when they are trying to prove that they are the new and improved PLAYBOY. This is why I mentioned that PLAYBOY was sending mixed signals by featuring this pictorial. I think the timing was quite bad.

I very much liked Donna's suggestion of featuring Carnie in a career context rather than just glamourized in a corset. Perhaps a different approach like that could have turned this feature around. It looks too formulaic and loses Carnie's individuality, as it is.


September 2003 issue

From: Dan Stiffler <calendar-girls@adelphia.net>, 01 Aug 2003
Subject: The September Issue, with a Happy Face!

I have been probably the most vocal critic of PLAYBOY's celebrity addiction. Thus, it is with great pleasure that I note the September 2003 issue has neither a celebrity on the cover nor a celebrity pictorial. Not that I think PLAYBOY has kicked its habit, but this is a celebrity-clean magazine. And there is much to love about it.

Other than the fact that the cover is still a formula with respect to type design (and, please, somebody kill the florescent colors!), it is a clever concept, one that is both sexy and dynamic. I especially like the "warning" label; many of us have complained in the past about the repetitive use of the word "nude" on the cover and this gets the same idea across in a fresh manner. The rabbit-head apron is also a nice touch.

Of course the cover pictorial is, as have been noted on the PML, a girl-next-door pictorial. What's not to like about this? With Freytag and Wayda behind the cameras, many of these shots have centerfold quality. This is a first-rate layout, with excellent thematic consistency. And to judge again from PML commentary, Lindsay Garren already has a huge fan club—and she is fully clothed! Which only goes to prove that titillating photos have enormous power.

For my money (and I would imagine a lot less money on PLAYBOY's part), a layout like this offers so much more pleasure than the C-list celebrity layouts that PLAYBOY seems to prefer (or is it *has preferred*?). Sarah Kozer has absolutely nothing on any of these girls except TV time and a 500,000 dollar paycheck.

And speaking of girl-next-door titillation, the other pictorial is of the "inaugural Employee of the Month," Jenny Hasse, a PLAYBOY intern who got hearts a-pumping in the June 2003 issue (Sarah Kozer's, as it happens)—with only a small photo. In the great tradition of Janet Pilgrim, PLAYBOY had sense enough to recognize a beauty in the office. Now, if only they would recognize that such beauty is better than celebrity. My god, this girl is a charmer! The photo by George Georgiou on page 73 is a killer and Jenny throws a look on page 74 that is far better than any of Sarah Kozer's. I just love the small insets: the one of Jenny in the archives with the centerfold of Sandra Settani (4/63); the one on the beach of Lake Michigan, reminiscent of Cynthia Maddox (5/62). Yeah, this is the ticket!

A few other comments:

The Gruden interview makes sense in an issue with the NFL preview.

Nicholas Cage did a full interview in 1996. Why a 20Q now? To give him a chance to respond to the Lisa Marie Presley interview of July? The photo of Cage by Dan Winters on page 124 is, however, a winner.

The exposť on the religious right is timely and important. It's also an important balance to the insipid piece on George W. Bush in the Jan 03 issue. The artwork for this article is strong, especially the opening full-page image using the Presidential Prayer Team logo. There is, of course, the now-usual side bar (one with the interview again, too) but this one with its "seven deadly sins" does a nice job pointing out the hypocrisy of the religious right. It should work for magazine flippers.

The artwork by Kent Williams for the fiction, "Tuba City," is excellent. However, it depicts a right-handed pitcher, while the call-out on page 128 says "He's a southpaw."

There is even an Bettie Page by Olivia tie-in to the lead article on SARS!

The opening two-page advertisement is for the Mini Cooper (Mini had a great "centerfold" ad previously in PLAYBOY). And the next two-page spread is for Hugo Boss clothing. These are both important developments.

All in all, this issue is getting very close to the magazine I would like PLAYBOY to be. I am sure that I will continue to have my differences about the details, but the concepts here are enough to make me buy *two* copies at the newsstand—just to show my support!

Let's raise a Starbucks to good ol' PLAYBOY!


October 2003 issue

From: Peggy Wilkins <mozart@lib.uchicago.edu>, 13 Sep 2003
Subject: October 2003 issue

This issue's lead article, Siege at Rainbow Farm, made for interesting reading, but I was (again, as with August's CSC feature) put off by two pictures of corpses. What is it with PLAYBOY printing pictures of dead people recently? I find it quite unseemly. It adds little to the feature and will be a big turnoff for many people. Either that or I am really missing something and violent scenes are nowadays the trendy, in thing. If that's the case, I hope it will pass soon. If I were head honcho there, those pictures would have been axed to be sure.

I had been looking forward to the Dave Attell feature. I watch and enjoy his Insomniac show on television, but I was disappointed here and felt it didn't translate well to the printed page. This isn't the first time that a recent editorial feature has come straight from a television show (August's CSC was clearly based on the popularity of CSI), and so now I've been disappointed twice. The two pictures of Attell are clearly fashioned after Maxim's style, and make PLAYBOY look yet again like a Maxim imitator. I would have rather seen a 20 Questions-style, full page Attell photo to accompany this feature.

I was surprised that the O.J. Simpson Interview introduction didn't mention that he had been interviewed previously in PLAYBOY. Did they forget? Is it irrelevant? A mention would have been an obvious way to promote PLAYBOY's venerable Interview tradition. I also felt that the intro text was too short, and that the Interview could be better appreciated by reading the Playbill paragraph about it which included some interesting comments by interviewer David Sheff. Why weren't those included in the actual writeup? Most people going for the Interview will probably miss the Playbill comments. On a positive note, the sidebar O.J.'s Troubled Times is to me an example of a good, relevant use of a sidebar and enhances the feature.

I'm still disappointed by the short, blurby reviews. If some of PLAYBOY's audience are impatient and can't deal with longer reviews, why not continue the feature on a second (third, ...) page with real reviews instead of blurbs? That way the impatient types could get their review fix and skip the following pages, while those who would appreciate some actual content could honker down with real reviews. Is this too schizophrenic an approach? It just seems a shame to disappoint the people who want real content. I'm one, and my friends who have PLAYBOY subscriptions are others—so we do exist... I think that the content is being [pared down] to cater to a particlar type of person, to the disappointment of others. Can't we have it both ways? This is a problem that ought to have some sort of workable solution.

I was happy to see the Skechers ad in this issue, and I hear Tommy Hilfiger is coming to the November issue with a PLAYBOY tie-in promotion—good news, and a definite step in the right direction.


From: Peggy Wilkins <mozart@lib.uchicago.edu>, 13 Sep 2003
Subject: Sorry, suckers—this is Maxim

I find Maxim entertaining, but I think there is still a need for a magazine with more sophistication. If people want Maxim, they will buy Maxim; why would they go after an imitator? PLAYBOY should have a sense of humor, and should feature that more prominently than in the past, but they don't need to go all frat boy on us. It just makes them look like Maxim imitators. They [should cultivate] their own niche; they haven't found it yet.

For example, in the October issue in the "PLAYBOY TV" feature (page 42), there's a rectangle at the bottom called Spot the Fake: Night Calls Episode Titles where the answer to the quiz (if one can call it that) is:

   "Sorry, sucker. They're all real", say hosts Tiffany and Juli.
    

That sentence positively reeks of Maxim, which is always calling their readers names. I don't find any sophistication at all in being called a sucker, it's funny but in a very juvenile way. [It works for Maxim] because it's what they do—it's original for them.

I just don't see this as being a good style for PLAYBOY. If people are "graduating from Maxim to PLAYBOY" as they are always saying, it's not going to be much of a graduation [if] PLAYBOY [ends up as] little more than an imitator with nudes.

I think they could and should aim higher than the lowest common denominator. That "Sorry suckers" comment was made for one reason and one reason only—because Maxim does it, and they feel Maxim breathing down their neck. It's time to show some spine and put out a good magazine again, not just one that's "doing the best we can do" in today's world, to paraphrase a recent Hef quote. I will never, never be convinced that the only road to go down is the obvious one, the one that Maxim has already paved. Maybe PLAYBOY's editors just don't have enough energy left after all those parties to pave their own road. They don't even seem interested in looking—well, that's what it looks like from this point of view, anyway. They paved their road long ago, and now are happy to let it all go and pass on the torch to someone who has ambitions and goals that are much too short sighted and simple. What a disappointment!


January through April 2004 Issues

From: Peggy Wilkins <mozart@lib.uchicago.edu>, 15 Mar 2004
Subject: Final Words

[In reply to Dan Stiffler's comments]

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

And they continue to miss it. The April issue's "Beauty and the Beat" feature on female DJ's doesn't even mention, much less feature, 50th anniversary Playmate Colleen Shannon. How could they miss this obvious opportunity to capitalize on their own brand and cement the loyalty of all the readers who admired Colleen? The Dear Playboy section has letters about Colleen, but they don't even bother to refer readers to the new pictorial from there. These new editors are in some ways asleep at the wheel as much as the old set.

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

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

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

We have talked about how formulaic the covers have become: slap the celebrity-du-jour in a solid-color-background studio, drape text down both sides, no setting, no idea, that's it. I think that the editorial content of the new PLAYBOY has become similarly formulaic. It's like the editors have decided what topics constitute something interesting, and they keep doing those things again and again and again. This represents a loss of editorial scope: they now have a very narrow idea of what they think is interesting. Apparently if it's not a scandal and not in the news, it's not worth writing about.

I thought the 50th anniversary issue displayed a much better selection of articles; there was some real scope in there, some good ideas, some inspiring ideas. But sadly it's the exception, not the rule. They seriously need to widen their editorial scope. In its editorial content PLAYBOY now focuses on crime, sports, and show business figures, to the exclusion of nearly everything else. (I'm not including fashion and gadgets in this because I don't consider those features to be articles.)

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

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

    Dan> Very discouraging.

Do you suppose Maxim's editors have been listening in on our complaints? They did something very interesting with their February 2004 issue and put out two covers: one with lots of contents type for newsstands, and a second, cleaner one with almost no contents type for subscribers. The issue was very cleverly themed with a space travel motif that appeared both on the cover and throughout the issue; PLAYBOY used to have that kind of thoughtful coherence, back when they cared about such things. Then came the March issue, issue number 75; in the cover picture, the number "75" is the number of a hotel door in the background. This is the kind of creative thought that used to go into PLAYBOY! I am liking Maxim's covers much more than PLAYBOY nowadays.

    Dan> ... What I now see happening in those first ten years
    Dan> is simply not happening anymore: an editorial team with a
    Dan> coherent vision ...

A coherent vision—any coherent vision—would help them a great deal. The vision I see holding sway now has them on a continual chase after what's popular. This may be part of a strategy to grab newsstand sales, but such a policy is quite limiting in the long term. It means there isn't time to develop pieces that are really well thought out and well written, because they are so focused on the moment, what's hot news now; and there is a pressure to get it out before it stops being news. The priority is to grab attention rather than to be really good and high quality. I'd like to see more of a mix of thoughtful writing with the more current stuff; I'm not seeing that now. I'd like to see less of a reliance on the formula. I tire of seeing crime stories and scandals month after month; that needs a rest at this point, to be sure.

More generally, I'd like to see the editorial scope of PLAYBOY widen again. They have a wide reader base, and they just may succeed in narrowing their scope so much that a lot of that wide base may abandon them. There is something to be said for having a more broad appeal.


From:Gretchen G. Edgren <budsms@ix.netcom.com>, 15 Mar 2004
Subject: Final Words

Am I the only one who's distracted by all those graphics (Taxes, Year in Music)? My eyes are jumping around so fast I can't see the words.

I loved the Doctorow piece, with its sidebar of terrorists. Glad to see a serious discussion by a PLAYBOY veteran.


Peggy Wilkins
Last modified: Mon Apr 5 04:12:46 CDT 2004