Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Playboy announces a cover-up

For those who missed this item a couple of weeks ago...as reported by Vinay Menon of Torstar News Service, October 14, 2015:

...On Tuesday, in one of the most momentous shifts in magazine history, Playboy turned on the lights and said it was getting dressed. At the age of 62 — which, oddly, makes it a sexagenarian — it is ditching the centrefolds and pictorials and scandalous baggage that were once as pivotal to its brand as twerking is to Miley Cyrus.

The magazine that helped trigger the sexual revolution while becoming a salacious rite of passage for young men was conceding defeat in the carnal trenches.

It was planting a white flag where the sun don't shine.

Or as Scott Flanders, Playboy's chief executive, told the New York Times: "That battle has been fought and won. You're now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it's just passé at this juncture."

But the bigger question, as Flanders asks, is "if you take nudity out, what's left?"

On the face of it, if you will, covering up probably seems like good business. You can almost see a team of new media execs huddling around a boardroom table in a grotto, itemizing the benefits of this "major brand realignment" as founder Hugh Hefner listens half-heartedly in a velvet robe while daydreaming about a threesome he had in Chicago during the summer of love.

"Sir, we'll be able to conquer new markets. We'll face fewer hurdles getting on mobile and tablet. We'll be safe for work. Readers will find us on newsstands next to reputable men's magazines. We won't be stashed behind a plywood concealer on a shelf that requires a stepstool and shame. Circulation will explode. The marketing tie-ins are huge. The possibilities are endless."

Yes, either that or this is the beginning of the end.

The problem for Playboy is not free porn. It is the powerful brand built up over more than a half-century and the equally powerful associations that are unlikely to dissolve just because Miss July is lounging suggestively in a turtleneck.

Whatever is depicted on the inside pages will still be no match for the entrenched subtext conveyed by that seven-letter title on the cover. This is why you never see a dad reading Playboy while waiting for his kids at gymnastics class — and why you never will.

This leads to an inverse problem: alienating customers who do buy the magazine for the pictures. While domestic circulation has dropped to about 800,000 from 5.6 million over the past 40 years, Playboy still has loyalists. When people buy products emblazoned with those bunny ears — and merchandising is now the revenue driver — they are doing so for the opposite reason dad is not thumbing through the magazine in public.

They are proud to be associated with Playboy. They want the world to know.

But by trading skin for more sophisticated lifestyle coverage, as Maxim is also trying to do as a de-sexual revolution rumbles through the men's magazine sector, will Playboy find a new audience filled with coveted millennials? Or is it diluting a brand that is big business in some parts of the world, including China, where the magazine is not even available?

It's hard to see how a future long-form investigation into, say, Senate corruption is going to help move bottles of cologne in Beijing.

The company tested this PG-13 approach in the digital realm this August when it jettisoned nudity from the website. The result, as the Times reported, was that the average reader age dropped from 47 to 30 and traffic spiked to 16 million from about four million unique users.

What's not clear in the context of a nudity-free print edition: how many of those readers are willing to pay for content?

The only place I've ever seen Playboy over the past couple of decades is at my old-school barber. Here, past issues are fanned out on a coffee table like crab claws at a Mandarin. They seem as anachronistic as the pictures of '70s haircuts on the wall...
The Playboy Club chain, which began with the opening of the first such club in Chicago in 1960, went out of business in 1991, and occasional attempts to revive the clubs have been mostly unsuccessful. The latest move by the magazine gives further evidence that the sexual revolution that Hugh Hefner and his magazine helped to create has long since passed them by, leaving Mr. Hefner and his creation as aging and pathetic relics of a bygone, "innocent" era.

No comments:

Post a Comment