Challenge to PLAYBOY's editors

Peggy Wilkins
Wed, 28 May 2003 23:29:45 -0500

>>>>> "Dan" == Dan Stiffler <> writes:

    Dan> On 5/26/03 Peggy Wilkins <> wrote:
    >> - A good way to accommodate added content such as expanded
    >> reviews would be to make the magazine physically larger.  For
    >> instance, why not make it slightly wider?

    Dan> As a collector, I bellow a resounding NO!  To change the
    Dan> magazine's size (it has, in fact, shrunk slightly over the
    Dan> years) would be to change all the tools of collection: the
    Dan> bags, the boards, the cases.

I am a collector too, and hadn't thought of this; but I would hope
that appropriately sized bags/boards would exist out there,
somewhere...  Aren't there oversized comics, for instance?

    Dan> A number of years ago, Road and Track changed its size and
    Dan> went to a larger format.  I saw no sense in it.

I know that my suggestion may sound like a "gimmick", but actually
that was not my main intention.  I am not talking about a large change
in size, but something more subtle, such as adding about 1/4-1/2" to
the width.  To me, the main point in widening the magazine, combined
with changing the paper, would be to change the look and feel of it.
The point of doing this, to me, is to have the magazine "feel good" in
the hands and "look good" to the eyes.  I am someone who appreciates
how printed materials such as books and magazines look and feel; I
enjoy looking at and holding printed matter.  To me, printed materials
are a bit like artifacts or relics: they have a real physical impact.
I know most people would consider this strange, and to that I say,
there are just people like me who appreciate books as relics.  Even
the smell of a good book can have a positive impact.  I know that some
people understand this, and some do not.

That it would stand out on newsstands as eye-catchingly different is a
side effect.  As I hope I have made clear, this would be a good side
effect: it would make people really notice the magazine has changed.
But again, to me the main point is to change the physical impact of
the magazine, as a reader sees and holds it.  If it reinforces the
perception of an updated, improved editorial presentation, all the

Another side effect of slightly widening the magazine would be the
chance to use a larger area for layout.

To me, all these factors -- look, feel, smaller font, increased layout
area, visual impact on the newsstand, visual and tactile impact of
changed paper -- work together to form an impression of the magazine
that will have a real impact.

    Dan> ...  ESPN magazine, which recently won a
    Dan> National Magazine Award, is an oversized publication, and it
    Dan> does have the advantage of putting lots of stuff on a page
    Dan> (the direction of the current PLAYBOY design), but I find it
    Dan> excessively busy (I seem to remember Peggy's making the same
    Dan> comment about Wired several years ago).

Wired has changed for the better in the intervening years, and in fact
it is one of the magazines currently out there that I really like the
look and feel of: I really want to pick up and look at each issue.
This is the kind of impact I would like PLAYBOY to have.

    Dan>  A change in the size of the magazine would also change the
    Dan> size of the gatefold.

A wider page would make for a slightly longer gatefold; considering
the cropping of the image that must happen in reducing the original
8x10 image to the printed page, this could work out to be an
advantage; it could allow a larger area of the original image to make
it to the printed page.
    Dan> As I understand it, some people in the art department have
    Dan> already been relieved of their jobs.  This last year, the
    Dan> American History Association met in Chicago and decided to
    Dan> have a panel observing the 50th anniversary of PLAYBOY.  A
    Dan> scholar from the University of Houston was invited to
    Dan> present, along with several people from PLAYBOY's art
    Dan> department.  The artists didn't show up because, as the
    Dan> scholar tells it, they were laid off.  So he had to do the
    Dan> panel himself.  Gosh, what great public relations for PLAYBOY
    Dan> (I heard this report at a session of the American Culture
    Dan> Association conference in April, at which the Houston
    Dan> professor expressed little hope for the revival of PLAYBOY).

I hadn't heard about this; what a sad story!

    Dan> To be honest, I have never blamed the art department for the
    Dan> insipid covers that we have had to endure for the last decade
    Dan> or so.  Every once in a while a good one sneaks through and,
    Dan> after all, Tom Staebler trained under Art Paul and has
    Dan> produced on his own stunning covers during his tenure.  I
    Dan> think the talent has always been there in the art department,
    Dan> but the artists seem to be stuck with the formulaic Cosmo
    Dan> covers because of corporate-think.

So where then is the commitment to producing top-rate covers lacking?
After all, the art department must be talking to the corporate and
marketing types who are presumably insisting on (or sneaking in?) the
insipid qualities -- and of course all of this is subject to Hef's
approval.  Doesn't Hef have to approve all that copy type?  Aren't
they all working together as a team?  Is that art department not
standing up and speaking for themselves?  Or do they simply not care?
And who does care, besides Dan and myself?

I have always said that I believe that good covers are not inherently
incompatible with good marketing; and I really do believe that.  It
would be nice if someone could put that into practice.  A change in
cover style could be a really good thing, and I'm not just talking
about resurrecting the covers of the past; there are plenty of
possibilities in today's world, with today's sensibilities.  And so
this is why I suggest some new photographers and designers.

June and July bring us two covers in a row with a stark, blank white
studio background.  Isn't this becoming a bit routine?  Put some color
in there; and why not consider an actual setting?  Maybe even
outdoors?  How many pin-up type pictures have been done in beach
settings, for instance?  Drew Barrymore is on a beach on the current
cover of Vanity Fair; this is much more attractive than a stark white
bare studio shot.  I look at that cover, and I say, wow!  The same can
be said of the current cover of Vogue, which features the lovely Reese
Witherspoon in a natural setting.  There's no need to throw out the
studio permanently, but why not try something different from time to
time?  That difference could have some real visual impact, and could
convince viewers to pick up that issue.

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

    Dan> Respect is the key.  I have a problem with the current
    Dan> attitude that young people don't read anymore and, therefore,
    Dan> the magazine has to hook them into reading with sidebars and
    Dan> catchy graphics.  I have no problem with good design, but I
    Dan> do have a problem designing a magazine for "non-readers."

I see no reason sidebars and graphics can't be relevant, tasteful, and
add positively to the reading experience.  As I have said before, I
think some of the ones in use in recent issues are good in this way,
and others are not.

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

    Dan> I am not sure which "old days" Peggy's talking about here,
    Dan> since she only began reading the magazine in the late 70s.
    Dan> But it is absolutely true that when PLAYBOY was growing a
    Dan> readership they were adding features to the magazine and
    Dan> writers to the stable.
I am specifically talking about the first 15-20 years.  And that is a
very long run to have so much positive growth and development going
on!  There's no reason it still can't be going on today; leave the
stagnation and formulaic templates behind, please!  Or rather, strike
the right balance between regular and new components.  The past decade
has been much too heavy on the routine template side.

    >> 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.

    Dan> Well, there are a few "predictable patterns" that need to be
    Dan> honored.  I better not say any more...

Of course there is quite a difference between a predictable pattern
(aka rote formula) and a worthy tradition.  The worthy traditions
should remain.

Peggy Wilkins