Playboy50 digest, Vol 1 #15 - 1 msg

Brad Hodges
Wed, 29 Jan 2003 18:30:34 -0500

My views on Playboy's challenges:

I see two: Survival and Relevance.

Survival is pretty self-explanatory; there is no guarantee that Playboy will
be around for a sixtieth anniversary. Why would it go under? Peggy mentioned
a few--circulation and ad sales, which of course are interconnected. Ad
sales for magazines are down in general, and now we're in a bad economy,
which doesn't help. Playboy is such a strong brand name, though, that it
would seem unlikely that it would disappear forever. However, the problems
that Penthouse face are illustrative. (I worked for Penthouse for eleven
years. The terms of my severance package prohibit me from speaking
completely freely, but I will dance a little around the subject). Penthouse
lost ad pages because it got raunchier and raunchier, it is also helmed by
an eccentric man with visions of grandiosity (somewhat like Hef) and a lot
of money went down the drain maintaining a hedonistic lifestyle and fanciful
projects (casino, etc.). Other sex magazines, such as Hustler, don't have
the same advertisers, and thus are not an apt comparison. (Larry Flynt
continues to make money hand over fist). Playboy has not gotten particularly
raunchy (views of labia are about the extent of it), I have to imagine that
Playboy is still a good place to advertise for a certain demographic. Is it,
though, still an attractive place to advertise to the young?

That leads me to relevance, because one of Playboy's major obstacles is
competition, particularly from the "lad" books. Why are Maxim, Stuff and FHM
successful, while Playboy is losing readers? Peggy mentions subscription
rates, which is probably a factor. At nine dollars a year, it's almost silly
not to subscribe, even if you only are interested in one or two issues a
year. I think it's more than that, though. I have subscribed to Playboy
since 1978, because I don't want to miss an issue and it's still far cheaper
than buying it on the newsstand. I think Playboy is losing out to Maxim and
the like because the latter skew far younger than Playboy. This attracts
advertisers, which funds coffers, which allow for lower rates.

What can Playboy do? They seem to be addressing the problem. The design of
the magazine is much more Maxim-like, with wild fonts, shorter articles and
features, etc. The new editor is a distinct tip-off that this is the
direction they'll go in. This is off-putting to long-time readers, but I
think we all agree that the Playboy of 1966 is gone forever. It's unlikely
we'll see long essays, fiction by John Updike, or interviews with the likes
of Robert Graves. Instead we get two-page splashes and interviews with David
Spade. It's a matter of survival.

Maxim and Stuff also feature pictorials of burgeoning starlets, which is
highly appealing (and why I subscribe--I usually skim through the magazines
and then remove the pages of pictorials I like). Why would a starlet pose
for Maxim instead of Playboy? Maxim doesn't even pay. Non-nudity, I would
imagine. I think Playboy will have to go into this arena (they've done
non-nude pictorials many times before--Raquel Welch, Donna Mills, etc.) The
centerfold should remain the same, but I wouldn't mind a non-nude pictorial
of the flavor of the month, because the photography is going to far exceed
the hack-work in Maxim.

I do hope, though, that Playboy tries to remain relevant as a journal of
some sophistication, which Maxim lacks entirely. Let's not throw the
intelligent writing out with the bath-water. Okay, so I'm unlikely to see
John Updike's fiction again in the pages of Playboy, but I also don't want
to see "10 ways to get back at your boss."

Brad Hodges