Peggy Wilkins
Mon, 27 Jan 2003 22:52:05 -0600

Hello All,

It's been a while, hasn't it?

First of all, I'd like to apologize for being asleep at the wheel for
the past 8 weeks.  I didn't mean to put the Round Table to sleep; and
remember that you all are welcome to contribute, there's no need to
wait for me to push things forward!  But I will now do so...

First of all I would like to mention that I wrote a letter to Hugh
Hefner about this project.  I was very pleased to get a response which
you may all view here:

And that should certainly be encouraging to us all.

And now I'd like to propose a new topic.  What do you think are the
most important challenges now facing Playboy?  I think developing this
topic will lead to some good discussion and conclusions.

Here are my preliminary thoughts on this.

1. Distribution and display of the magazine

Playboy has lost much here in the past decade.  My personal experience
is that it is now quite difficult to find Playboy on newsstands in
order to buy it.  I speak as someone who deliberately looks to buy the
current issue of the magazine, and the special editions, every month.
I live in a big city (Chicago), and I have to go out of my way in
order to buy Playboy.  In my neighborhood at the University of
Chicago, there is nowhere that sells Playboy.  I find this
particularly sad because Playboy began only a few blocks away from
here, in Hugh Hefner's south side apartment.  The U of C is a large
university in a large city, and one would expect such an environment
to be friendly to Playboy; but it is not so.  There are several
prominent bookstores in this area, and not one of them offers Playboy
for sale.  The U of C bookstore has a large display of men's interest
magazines, including Maxim, Stuff, Stun, GQ, Esquire, etc., but not a
copy of Playboy is to be found, and has not been for as long as I have
been here (since 1983).  In the Chicago suburbs, even large bookstores
keep Playboy behind the counter where the cover cannot be seen, and it
is rarely advertised as being available.  You have to go to a sales
clerk and ask for the magazine in order to purchase it; and forget
about browsing the cover or contents.  In general I find the magazine
not visible wherever I go; though there are a few Playboy-friendly
venues, they are the exception rather than the rule.  This must cost
Playboy a great deal in terms of lost newsstand sales.  I would like
to see a concerted effort on their part to improve Playboy's
visibility -- whatever it takes.  Certainly a bit of creativity
combined with deliberate effort could result in an improvement here.
How can Playboy get a new audience when it is so inconvenient to see
and obtain?  It is the invisible magazine.

I know that some of the problem is the reluctance on the part of
retailers to display sexually oriented content.  However, Playboy
rarely has risque covers, and in fact it's similar to most other
magazines in its degree of cover model exposure and content blurbs.
Couldn't they ask for newsstand displays if the issues were simply
wrapped in clear plastic, if they pointed out that covers are no more
exposed than any other mainstream title?  At least buyers would then
have an opportunity to view the cover.  I find it ironic that Playboy
is treated like a porn magazine, and yet it is so different from all
those other magazines that it paved the way for; and those magazines
wouldn't even exist if it weren't for Playboy.

I think Playboy could benefit greatly from a deliberate effort to
improve visibility and distribution; they shouldn't just give in to
the prevailing attitude.

2. Competition.  The market for men's magazines has exploded with the
advent of Maxim and its ilk.  Those other magazines are not only much
more widely available for newsstand sales than Playboy is (as remarked
above), but they are also putting out highly aggressive marketing
campaigns for subscriptions.  I have received multiple solicitations
for magazines such as Maxim and Stuff, and they are offering
subscriptions at $9 per year!  With rates like that, their already
climbing circulations will keep rising.  As a consumer, I know that
the primary determining factor in whether or not I subscribe to a
magazine is price.  If I like the magazine and I feel I am getting a
great deal, I will subscribe; if the great deals continue, I will
renew.  Playboy's rates for renewal are quite high; it's like they're
saying that they don't value continuing readers.  I have noticed
people who say that they let their subscriptions run out because of
the high renewal rate, and they will only resubscribe when the price
is lower.  With such abysmal newsstand displays and such aggressive
competition, Playboy should be promoting subscriptions for all they
are worth; they should be working hard to both increase and keep their
subscriber base.  I would like to see a more aggressive campaign to
increase and retain subscribers.

3. Advertising.  Playboy's ad pages have noticably decreased in recent
years, and the quality of advertiser has also diminished noticably.  I
think this is a bad trend and they should work hard to reverse it.  I
am not seeing the kinds of upscale ads in the magazine that they had
in past years; and I've been seeing much too much lower quality ads.
Certainly a drive to increase quality content and readership could be
combined with an appeal to advertisers.  With 3 million+ subscribers
and even more readers via passing on copies, Playboy offers a great
deal of appropriate exposure for advertisers.  Emphasize Playboy's
quality content to win good advertisers.  It would be well worth the

4. Revitalizing an old brand.  One can become tired of the ages-old
look of the magazine.  Certainly keep the original vision intact, but
make it look fresh and new.  Even the best ideas seem old when they
look the same time after time.  I believe I have mentioned separately
ideas such as updating the look of the Playboy Interview, adding some
new photographers on staff, using Special Editions graphic designers
(who are excellent!) etc.  There is a real tension between retaining a
classic look that carries with it a formidable reputation, and
reinventing it so that it doesn't become tired.  How about some
experimentation here?  Try some new photographers, new layout styles,
etc. and see how they go over.  Make it even better.

5. Playboy after Hefner.  I think that even now, Playboy is seeing
changes because its original visionary and workhorse is spending his
time on other pursuits.  What will happen to the magazine after he is
gone?  I would hate to see it turn into nothing but a profit seeking
marketing engine.  There's nothing wrong with profit, but to me,
profit follows from a sound backing vision; it's the cart, not the
horse.  It's important to have someone guiding the vision and
providing the drive for keeping things on track.

6. Diversification vs. brand dilution.  Playboy has diversified quite
a bit recently with the split of Playboy Video into three distinct
production lines; similarly, its online presence has become
diversified between the more traditional content on the cyber club and
a more web-porn-oriented face with services such as playboynet.  There
is also a noticable divide between level of explicitness in the
magazine vs. online.  Diversification is good in that it can win and
support a larger audience, but it also risks dilution of the brand
that they have worked so hard to define by presenting conflicting
views of what Playboy and its product is.  Will this ultimately work
for or against them?

Those are a few starting ideas.  Would anyone care to elaborate, or
add some new thoughts?  Feel free to tear apart what I have said,