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October 13, 2015

Flynt, Holland Comment on Playboy's Move Away From Nudity

LOS ANGELES—When Playboy first hit newsstands, Hugh Hefner had no idea whether the magazine would work. Were there others like him, those who wanted to gaze upon beautiful women, learn how to set up their hi-fis and discuss things like politics and sex in mixed company? That first issue—released in December 1953—featured cocktail recipes and advice columns, but most notably it featured naked pictures of Marilyn Monroe from when she was just plain old Norma Jean. And from the start, Playboy was a success. It pushed the envelope of what America was willing to accept, and set the stage for many competitors and imitators, including Hustler, Penthouse, Maxim and more. But now, after more than 60 years, Playboy’s editorial executives announced the magazine will no longer feature nude photographs on its pages. With a new design that will take effect with the March 2016 issue, the magazine is rebranding itself. It will still feature beautiful women in provocative poses, but they will no longer be fully nude. Executives at the magazine—which boasted 5.6 million subscribers in its heyday (the mid-1970s), compared to just 800,000 now—said the decision was made because the magazine simply can’t compete with the immediate and often free availability of nudity and sex on the internet today. “Playboy has always been a friend of nudity, and nudity has always been a friend of Playboy,” executives said in the announcement about the magazine changes. “But the short answer is, times change.” But not all in the publishing world think the move is a good idea. Larry Flynt, the 72-year-old owner of the Hustler magazine and empire, told CNN that the decision makes no sense business-wise, and will only attribute to the attrition of the magazine. "I think they're losing money and it's a sign of desperation," Flynt said. "There were a lot of advertisers that Playboy could never get because they had nudity. They take the nudity out and they think they're going to get more advertisers. But you take the nudity out, you lose the demographic and you can't get advertisers. So it's a bad business decision." Penthouse Managing Director Kelly Holland echoed Flynt’s sentiments, saying she believes Playboy’s move is “brand suicide.” She said Playboy started in the 1950s, Penthouse entered the publishing market in the 1960s, and Hustler came on the scene in the 1970s. In each case, the magazines attempted to showcase beautiful women in varying degrees of explicit nudity. “For each of the magazines—for more than 60 years, 50 years and 40 years respectively—they have projected a brand image that centered around nude women,” Holland told AVN. “To say that now, nudity is ‘passé’ is unbelievable. Nudity has not been passé for 200,000 years, and it won’t be passé in another 200,000 years. “These are magazines that have centered their identities around how to show naked women, who to show naked and how to convey the image that captures the epitome of the woman you are trying to project,” she continued. “Pictures of nude women is so embedded in the molecular DNA of these magazines. I think the move by Playboy is brand suicide.” The announcement, however, does not come out of the blue. Last fall, Playboy.com did away with scantily clad women in an effort to make the site SFW. Executives said their data shows the average age of readers decreased from 47 to 30, and unique visitors to the site each month rose from 4 million to about 16 million. But it’s not just the omission of nude photographs that will change in the magazine. Editor Cory Jones said Playboy will expand on its coverage of the liquor industry and focus more on investigative journalism. Those will complement the Playboy interviews, which have long been a staple of the magazine, prompting the cliché “I read Playboy for the articles.” With these new changes, it seems Playboy is willing to put that cliché to the test. That, Penthouse’s Holland said, is not something she sees being a big draw for readers. Just as Playboy was one of the “Big 3” in publishing pictures of naked women, she said, there are other publications that center on investigative journalism, and do it well, including Vanity Fair and Mother Jones. “You are trying to enter a market of readers that already has established players,” she said. “But in the end, I guess I am actually thankful. They are exiting my space, so thank you for that, Playboy.”

 
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