Playboy will no longer publish nude images of women. None of Playboy's efforts to adjust to the way that the net changed the availability of porn were successful, though it fared better than Penthouse, which tried to out-hardcore the Internet and failed.
Despite falling circulation — 800,000 today versus 5.6 million in 1976 — the magazine still has one of the world's most recognizable logos.
Playboy may be a victim of its own success, having led the vanguard to normalize sexualized nudity as part of the regular entertainment experience.
The magazine will re-launch in March without nudity, though it will still feature "PG-13" images of partially dressed women in "provocative poses." It will feature a "sex-positive" woman sex-columnist, and continue to publish investigative stories and fiction (Playboy historically published some of the best short fiction in American literature, and paid better rates than any other magazine on the shelves).
The new magazine is being focused-grouped against employed millennial men, 18-30, and has a strong focus on booze.
The company now makes most of its money from licensing its ubiquitous brand and logo across the world — 40 percent of that business is in China even though the magazine is not available there — for bath products, fragrances, clothing, liquor and jewelry among other merchandise. Nudity in the magazine risks complaints from shoppers, and diminished distribution.
Playboy, which had gone public in 1971, was taken private again in 2011 by Mr. Hefner with Rizvi Traverse Management, an investment firm founded by Suhail Rizvi, a publicity-shy Silicon Valley investor, who has interests in Twitter, Square and Snapchat among others. The firm now owns over 60 percent. Mr. Hefner owns about 30 percent (some shares are held by Playboy management).
The magazine is profitable if money from licensed editions around the world is taken into account, Mr. Flanders said, but the United States edition loses about $3 million a year. He sees it, he said, as a marketing expense. "It is our Fifth Avenue storefront," he said.
He and Mr. Jones feel that the magazine remains relevant, not least because the world has gradually adopted Mr. Hefner's libertarian views on a variety of social issues. Asked whether Mr. Hefner's views on women were the exception to that rule, Mr. Flanders responded that Mr. Hefner had "always celebrated the beauty of the female figure."
"Don't get me wrong," Mr. Jones said of the decision to dispense with nudity, "12-year-old me is very disappointed in current me. But it's the right thing to do."
Playboy to Drop Nudity as Internet Fills Demand [Ravi Somaiya/NYT]