Challenge to PLAYBOY's editors

Peggy Wilkins
Mon, 26 May 2003 22:59:25 -0500

We have had some discussion of the changes that have become evident
since the February PLAYBOY, up through the larger changes in the June
issue.  From viewing these issues and reading interviews with Jim
Kaminsky, it seems that these changes are most evident:

 - more graphics and photographic content
 - new features (Babe of the Month, and others not yet introduced)
 - redesigned front of the book (Playbill, Dear PLAYBOY, PLAYBOY After Hours)
 - more timely reviews (e.g., movie previews, not just reviews)
 - improved scope of reviews (addition of Games, DVD reviews)
 - "must read" editorial content/timely stories
 - multiple inroads/access points to articles and features (side bars, etc.)
 - graduating from C-list to A-list celebrities by deliberate
   editorial decision, and by willingness to accept less nudity (this
   one has not yet become fully evident, but presumably is coming)

Response to these changes here in this forum has been largely
positive, and I think I have made clear where (and why) I have
observed improvement.  These changes are welcome after what I have
come to see as a long period of stagnation in the appearance and
content of PLAYBOY.  However, are we just trading one formula for
another (albeit newer) one?  And are these changes too subtle?  The
following quote from the Media Life article I posted here on May 21
gives me pause to wonder:

  "What I wanted, and what I think we've done, is a gradual process
  where things are changing in each issue. We don't want to churn our

  As of the June issue, which features a redesigned front of the book,
  the makeover is 40 to 50 percent complete, says Kaminsky. Next up is a
  new back-of-the-book service/lifestyle section with coverage of
  fashion, cars and gear.

As I wrote last week, this makes it sound like there is a fairly fixed
template in place for what the new editors want to do.  While this is
a good thing (unplanned changed is often chaotic), it suggests an
inflexibility that may not allow for PLAYBOY to come out as good as it

I would like to suggest that this is too conservative an approach;
PLAYBOY has been stagnant for so long that they have earned the right
to make some more radical changes to make people sit up and take
notice.  They should take maximum advantage of the opportunity at this
landmark 50th anniversary to do this -- this is most certainly a
golden opportunity!

Here are some specific examples of changes I'd like to see to go along
with the newer content, whether sooner or later.

- The magazine is too short; add more pages, make PLAYBOY more
substantial.  Dan mentioned he would like to see expanded reviews
because the current ones are too short.  I fully agree with this, and
I think it is significant that someone I gave a PLAYBOY gift
subscription to independently told me that the reviews (like in many
other magazines) are so short as to be mostly useless.  Putting more
real substance in reviews would be a great service to readers.  Also:
certainly add more pictorial content; sticking to the formulaic two
pictorials plus Playmate for non-holiday issues has been inherited
from the past and is too rigidly observed; any added pictorial content
would be most welcome by readers.

- A good way to accomodate added content such as expanded reviews
would be to make the magazine physically larger.  For instance, why
not make it slightly wider?  This would increase available space for
columns.  A smaller font could also pack more information in the same
amount of space, and the added information would be obvious even just
on casual inspection by flipping through the pages.

- Use a font that would look better in a smaller size; improved
appearance would be a bonus.

- Change the paper the magazine is printed on, perhaps even including
the cover.  This may take some care and experimentation (trials) to
get right.  Dan has suggested he'd like thicker paper for better photo
reproduction, and I'm sure there are many possibilities here --
glossy, non-glossy, a different texture than is currently used, etc.
Give the magazine a different feel while improving the printing

- A further (I think important) comment on a changed size and paper:
this would make people do a double take at the newsstand.  Former
readers would see this obvious evidence that PLAYBOY has changed and
may likely want to pick it up and try it again.  New readers should be
attracted to its look and feel.  A magazine should make people want to
pick it up and look at it, and I think changing the look and feel
could really attract attention.  It may sound superficial, but I think
it has a real effect on whether or not some people will look at the
magazine.  Make them want to pick it up.

- Another factor that is obvious to even the casual newsstand viewer
is the appearance of the cover.  Do away with the formulaic studio
shots that have dominated the cover for so long and try for a fresher
look.  Try some new photographers (perhaps some highly prestigious
ones).  Of course this is easy for me to say; but I think it would be
well worth every bit of creative effort put into it.  Maybe it's past
time for a new perspective (new staff?) in the Art department.

I really think that a significant change in the physical format and
appearance of the magazine will drive home the point that this is a
new, evolved PLAYBOY that is worth taking the time to look at.  It
announces the changes.  Good content in a new package will keep them
coming back for more.  Make it feel good in the hands, and look good
to the eyes.

After these specific suggestions, my challenge to the editors of

  Be bold.  There's no need to handhold your readers as long as you
  respect them.

  Be willing to change and experiment; evolve.  I really miss the old
  days when changes and improvements were happening almost every issue.

  Don't fall into predictable patterns; every month is a new opportunity
  to do better than the last one, and nothing need be set in stone.

Peggy Wilkins