Way back in 11th grade, my good friend F.S., who used to be able to procure adult magazines from his local Cumberland Farms, described Playboy magazine as “good, but not good.” Compared with other smut, it was relatively tame, very airbrushed, and a lot more literary (bylines including Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway, Ian Fleming, John Steinbeck, and John Updike). It didn’t quite show, in the words of Ozzie Osbourne (to Howard Stern), “the meat and potatoes.”
But now comes word that Playboy Enterprises will be even less good—at least when it comes to its new iPhone app. Reports the Wall Street Journal:
Playboy sold its Spice channels and other TV and digital properties to Internet porn giant Manwin, and struck partnerships with art and fashion leaders like Dolce & Gabbana to try to reposition its brand as more aspirational. This winter, the company, long barred from Apple’s digital storefronts because of its pornographic associations, will package a nudity-free version of its content together for the launch of its first iPhone app, featuring lifestyle tips, articles from the magazine and, of course, photos of beautiful women.
All this comes in the midst of a reorganization effort under new CEO Scott Flanders.
Mr. Flanders was in the early stages of radically reshaping the company, shrinking its staff by 75%, moving its headquarters from its historic home in Chicago to Los Angeles, outsourcing much of its business, and ushering in what many current and former employees describe as a harsher company culture.
Mr. Flanders has been building on Playboy’s recent strategy of morphing into a licensing company—in the process shedding the seedier aspects of its image.
On the financial side, according to Journal reporter Keach Hagey, “Playboy is both smaller and more profitable. It now has annual revenue of $135 million, down from $240 million in 2009, the year Mr. Flanders came aboard. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization improved to $38.9 million for the year ended September, up from $19.3 million in 2009, the company said, but it fell short of a 2012 profitability target set by its lenders in loan covenants.”
Like other members of the print media, Playboy must deal with the problem of free online content. One remedy: “[A]s the company prepares for its 60th birthday later this year, it has brought in a sexual anthropologist to help it make the content appeal to a generation that grew up with free pornography on the Web.”
A sexual anthropologist? Would that be someone specializing in … homo erectus? C’mon, you knew that was coming!
Photo of Don Adams, Barbi Benton, and Hugh Hefner from Playboy After Dark, 1970, public domain