September 21, 2016
You can now read Playboy in public, and sales are up
by Kait Howard
When Playboy, that classic dirty magazine of your parents’ (and grandparents’) generation, announced their decision to stop publishing photos of nude women last winter, it seemed a very belated concession that the internet has changed things. While Scott Flanders, CEO of Playboy Enterprises, attributed the magazine’s declining circulation and ad revenue to a completely different “political and sexual climate” in 2016, what he left unsaid was that online pornography had made Playboy’s most lurid content basically irrelevant.
Now, after a number of editorial changes, most notably the removal of nude photography, print sales of Playboy are up 28.4 percent, the New York Post’s Keith J. Kelly reports. Single-copy sales are up to just under 50,000 a month since the cleaner version launched in March of last year, Kelly writes, citing data from the Alliance for Audited Media.
The increase is being linked to renewed interest from a younger generation of readers who seem to be more drawn to the readable content (Suzannah Weiss at Bustle reminds us that Playboy also has a history of publishing serious journalism and fiction, from Alex Hayley’s interview with Martin Luther King, Jr. to fiction by Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut), as well as a tamer product they can read in public with less shame, or (fewer?) glares from enlightened anti-misogynists.
And isn’t the shift long overdue? As Nato Thompson reminds us in his sweeping, brilliant book Culture as Weapon: Art and Marketing in the Age of Total Communication (out this January!), porn has been one the primary drivers of online activity since the internet’s inception. Porn sites actually were responsible for many early web innovations, a sign of the way technology was becoming a powerful medium for people to process, enhance, and “augment” their most intimate selves (for better and, often, for worse). The magazine of the Playboy Bunny generation wasn’t going to compete.
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.