The Playboy50 group discussed at some length the defining characteristics of PLAYBOY and how they contributed to the magazine's success (see: What Is PLAYBOY). One of the key characteristics identified in that discussion was the strong visual impact of the magazine. This impact is evident in the art, photography, cover design, and most particularly in the centerfold. I speak from my own experience in saying what an impression the enlarged foldout image made on me with its beautiful and thoughtful composition and its clean, crisp quality and vivid colors. Each viewing was an experience I wanted to prolong and repeat; and it is an experience that is unique to PLAYBOY. No other magazine has ever offered such a quality pin-up image, nude, and so beautifully composed and presented. The PLAYBOY centerfold is truly special. I have no doubt that it is a strong factor in the unusual loyalty of PLAYBOY's long term audience.
However, the overall visual impact of the magazine in general and the remarkable viewing experience of the centerfold in particular are diminished by PLAYBOY's ongoing problems with image reproduction. Image reproduction has been problematic in the magazine since the late 1990s when artifacts started appearing in PLAYBOY's nude pictorial features. The centerfold itself has been beautifully produced until the end of 2003, when image quality issues started appearing with the December (Teles Twins) centerfold.Regularly recurring problems currently include:
That these problems do not normally appear in non-nude pictorial pages such as 20 Questions and fashion/lifestyle features suggests that the nude pictorials are handled differently. These problems are now present to some degree in every issue of the magazine, as well as in many of the Special Edition issues (for example, see the cover and many inside pages of the March/April 2004 Lingerie). Several of the annual Playmate Calendar editions have also been affected.
Given the central role the centerfold has had and continues to have in PLAYBOY's brand identity and success, problems with the reproduction in the most recent centerfolds are difficult to understand. For readers like me who place a high value on the viewing experience, this is an issue of much distress and concern; it seems that the audience is more concerned than PLAYBOY's art and production staff, who (outside of Hugh Hefner) don't seem to be able to see any problem with the reproduction quality.
Here is a brief summary of recent centerfolds.
Teles Twins, December 2003: This centerfold has a high (distracting) level of overall graininess.
Colleen Shannon, January 2004: Overall excellent reproduction; slightly less quality than earlier centerfolds made from 8x10 source images (my personal judgment).
Aliya Wolf, February 2004: Significant mottling and uneven color over many areas of the image, especially Aliya's face, hair, fingers and fingernails; problems with colors in the background.
Sandra Hubby, March 2004: Minor problems with the color and texture of Sandra's hands; whites in background appear grainy. A large improvement compared to February.
Krista Kelly, April 2004: Marked image defects: mottling over Krista's face and hair, her hair shows signs of oversharpening, the highlights on Krista's skin (especially her legs) show unevenness, dusty/dirty look to the entire background on the right side of the image (especially pillow sham and bed headboard), pronounced graininess of lamp shade, bad skin tone on her legs, toenails on Krista's left foot (right side of image) look abnormal in this reproduction. The full page image on the back of the centerfold also has marked mottling, especially around Krista's hands and fingers.
I feel that the following comment by PLAYBOY Cyber Club member Kin Orr dated March 28, 2004 is representative of how I and others who care feel about this issue. (The original source for this quote is http://boards.playboy.com//showthreaded.php?Cat=&Board=worldofplayboy&Number=111216&page=1&view=collapsed&sb=5&o=31&vc=1). Its dramatic nature accurately reflects the passion that motivates it.
... The end result is what matters. And that to me is the most troubling thing of all about the situation. How can anyone with any decent eyesight and any appreciation for the beauty of the female form so callously disregard the evidence right before their eyes in the printed magazine? How can anyone with any sense of the history of the gatefold look at the poorly produced, grainy, muddy colored foldout that has appeared in the last few issues and not scream at the top of their lungs? It is truly a travesty and a tragedy to me. The question really is not one of the process so much as the result, and frankly the result is atrocious. It is time to get it fixed, period, whether that means a return to the 8 by 10, higher quality inks and papers, a new photo editor or all of the above. We, as in all of us who love Playboy and its women and history deserve it and should demand it.