Challenge to Playboy Editors

Peggy Wilkins
Thu, 29 May 2003 01:23:10 -0500

>>>>> "Donna" == Donna Tavoso <> writes:

    >> - The magazine is too short; add more pages, make PLAYBOY more
    >> substantial.

    Donna> Great idea and I'm sure the editors would love to add more
    Donna> content, but to get more content they need more ad pages --
    Donna> to do that the magazine has to show growth at newsstand and
    Donna> show a higher household income.  Just as a point of
    Donna> reference, Playboy has one of the highest ad to edit ratios
    Donna> in publishing.

I don't quite understand this -- if PLAYBOY is the highest circulating
men's magazine, why does it need higher newsstand sales to sell ad
pages?  Isn't it the total circulation that matters more?  I would
think the high circulation could be pushed to the advertisers as a
strong point of sale.  PLAYBOY is in the top 20 magazines in paid
circulation, don't the advertisers want this?

I do understand that higher reader income would help, but doesn't
income level also affect the type of ad that should appear?  For
instance, there are many fashion ads that I would expect to appear in
PLAYBOY directed toward people of moderate income, but I just don't
see them -- for instance, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Benneton, athletic
outfitters, etc.  Such brands sell well to moderate income households,
and their ads are often visually appealing, so why doesn't PLAYBOY
currently carry such ads?

    >> - 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?

    Donna> As Dan pointed out not only would this send long time
    Donna> collectors into a frenzy, it also would be extremely
    Donna> expensive for the magazine to undertake.  If they invested
    Donna> in anything along these lines, it should be in paper
    Donna> quality but with the cost of paper going up, I don't think
    Donna> the magazine could afford that.
I suspected that cost could be a significant dampening factor here,
though if it were really desirable, certainly where there's a will
there's a way.  I suppose even a modest increase in dimension would
work out to be expensive when multiplied by the millions of copies
that are run each month; I wonder if there is some way to offset the
added cost, and if it could work out to be worth it as an investment.
As I explained in more detail earlier tonight, I am personally very
enamoured of the idea of a slight widening of the page combined with a
different (of course high quality) paper.

I am already very happy that PLAYBOY doesn't do what all too many
other magazines do and send the subscriber a copy with the cover (and
sometimes even the contents) printed on a lesser quality paper than is
used for newsstand copies.  With a brief exception occurring for a few
issues in 1994-95, PLAYBOY has consistently given both subscribers and
newsstand buyers the same high quality copy.

    >> - Another factor that is obvious to even the casual newsstand
    >> viewer is the appearance of the cover... try for a fresher
    >> look.  Try some new photographers (perhaps some highly
    >> prestigious ones)... 

    Donna> I would believe this is coming with time -- you can't
    Donna> change everything at once and in every article that I have
    Donna> read Jim Kaminsky has said the his goal is to bring in new
    Donna> photographers, but getting them to do Playboy will take
    Donna> some time and effort.

This is good to hear; and I think there is potentially a significant
payoff from effort expended here.

    Donna> ... It's not corporate think that makes the cover
    Donna> designs the way they are, it's a fact of the culture and
    Donna> what makes an issue sell on the newsstand...  The
    Donna> bottom line is that a great celebrity cover will sell at
    Donna> newstand, no matter how ugly its design.  Maxim's cover are
    Donna> horrible, they sell 800,000 copies at newsstand b/c of who
    Donna> is on them not because of design.

I follow this right up to your last point.  That last point implies
that design is almost irrelevant -- so make the design a good one,
with whoever is going to sell the copies as the focal point.  I will
add that I have no problem with cover copy, either; but I do want it
to look attractive.  I just don't think the current look is
attractive.  The look of the copy can be improved, too.

    Donna>  - I think that the covers
    Donna> will be something that changes overtime and I am hopeful
    Donna> that they can find a way to balance the need for a
    Donna> celebrity with an interesting cover.

Yes, this is what I want to see.

    Donna> I actually thought the April issue cover with Carmen
    Donna> Electra was better than the usual cover.

It definitely was, even the copy was good on that one.  A move in that
direction would be a good move.  (Interestingly, Carmen's cover
previous to that one in 12/2000 was also particularly good.)

    Donna> I think you will constantly be seeing tweaking to the book
    Donna> and the addition of new features.  I heard Jim speak at a
    Donna> breakfast a few weeks ago and he discussed other new
    Donna> features that were going to be added down the road.  When
    Donna> he says that the front is done, I think he is implying that
    Donna> the major design changes are done, but that doesn't mean
    Donna> they won't be refined

Also good to hear.

    Donna> Be bold, take chances, the established readers can take
    Donna> change if you respect them, that's what Peggy wrote, but
    Donna> it's not really true.  Because your definition of respect
    Donna> means honoring "predictable pattern" whether or not they
    Donna> are working just because you like them.  And veering
    Donna> from them is a lack of respect.  It's not.

I really do mean precisely what I said.  I understand why the editors
put Sarah Kozer on the June cover; I also feel I can understand why
Hugh Hefner would approve it.  Were I in his position, with the hard
evidence presented to me and the reasons for supporting the change, I
would have weighed the pro and con and I think I would have come to
the same decision that he did and would have given this a try.  I
would presume that the editors knew in advance, though, that there
would likely be some repercussions to this decision, and they would be
sensitive to reader response on this issue.  Did readers weigh in on
this issue?  (I know I did.)  How much and in what ways?  I am
personally very interested to know, because of course the PMOY
tradition is important and meaningful to me personally.  I wouldn't
call it sacred, but it has meaning for me and for many others.  This
goes beyond my personal concern; I am concerned about the impact this
had on readers' perception of PLAYBOY.  In all the forums I am in,
this was bad PR and did not go over well with a significant proportion
of the longtime readers who are in these forums.  I do understand that
maybe these forums are a very select (and perhaps even small) group.
Did this change have the desired positive impact, and was the negative
impact relatively small?  It will be interesting to see what happens
next year.  But I do want to make it clear that I mean exactly what I
say.  And I still hope to see the PMOY on next year's cover!  But that
is a personal preference.

    Donna> To truly effect
    Donna> change at Playboy, Jim Kaminsky and his team have to be
    Donna> brave and bold enough adopt the mandate that no
    Donna> "predictable pattern" is sacred, that philosophy is what
    Donna> shaped Playboy in its early days and I for one hope that it
    Donna> is one that the editors embrace.  Although, I for one do
    Donna> not envy him the job of trying to do it.

What I hope is that he and his team develop a vision that gives me a
magazine that I will absolutely love and want to read.  From what I've
seen, they're moving in the right direction, but it's still too
marketing oriented, and not fresh or radical enough, for my tastes.
It is a complicated thing to express what I mean by this; and it's not
like I think anyone should try to please me.  But I sure do find it
exciting to think about the possibilities.

Peggy Wilkins