It's kind of funny to call naked women in a magazine "passé," but that's what Scott Flanders, Playboy Enterprises CEO told the New York Times about the company's decision to quit doing porn spreads in its issues. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture,” Flanders said.
Playboy is going non-nude as of the March 2016 issue.
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It seems strange at first, but when you think about how people today read (and where they get their naked-people pictures), it makes total sense.
Regardless of how you feel about nudity, this is great news for people who like to read. Playboy has always included top-notch writing and journalism and has won plenty of awards for it over the years, but for many, the magazine was difficult to access. I wouldn't have felt comfortable reading a Playboy in public when I was younger, and even now, when I read magazine articles mostly online, it would still be awkward to read Playboy using a public connection. I spend time online at a co-working space, the local library, and small cafes. At none of those locations would I be OK to access what's considered a porn site, even if I were just reading articles from the archives by my favorite authors like Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Isaac Asimov, Joyce Carol Oates and P.G. Wodehouse.
It's for reasons like those that the online version of Playboy went nude-free last year. Once that happened, people were much more easily able to share the magazine's articles on social media, which allowed their content because of the change. The magazine's readership, which had been slipping for years, finally went up — from 4 million uniques/month to more than 16 million. In addition, the average age of their reader dropped from 47 to 30, an age more coveted by marketers.
According to the Playboy site's announcement on the subject: "Tens of millions of readers come to our non-nude website and app every month for, yes, photos of beautiful women, but also for articles and videos from our humor, sex and culture, style, nightlife, entertainment and video game sections. "
Basically, the rest of Playboy's content is good enough that it doesn't need nude women (and the hassles they bring).
So the print magazine is following suit, and the move even has founder Hugh Hefner's blessing.
They might even pick up a few million readers from the ignored 50-ish percent of the population that wasn't ever part of their target audience — straight women who aren't all that interested in their pictorials, but would definitely read some of their articles. (I've been flirting with the idea of subscribing to the magazine's $5/month unlimited plan to access the archive so I could read all the fiction that I've never had a chance to read by the authors I mentioned above.)
"When Hef created Playboy, he set out to champion personal freedom and sexual liberty at a time when America was painfully conservative. See: any popular movie, TV show or song from that era. Nudity played a role in the conversation about our sexual liberties, and over 62 years the country made great strides politically and culturally," the magazine announced. "We like to think we had something to do with that."
Playboy did what it set out to do, and now, with Hefner's mansion high jinks more of a living anachronism than provocative boundary-pushing, it doesn't need to any more. The magazine, which began in 1953 and has continuously published since then, might find that its legacy and future have more to do with great writing than another set of boobs.
Maybe it was always the writing (and editing by greats like Alice K. Turner, memorialized in this smart obit in the Washington Post) that kept the magazine afloat when Internet porn took over. It's the lone survivor, after all of the once-profuse porn available at the newsstand.
Is it possible that great fiction and journalism just may have saved the magazine that porn built?