Playboy wise to remove nudes from print magazine

By Editorial Board

Hugh Hefner wrote in Playboy’s first issue in 1953, “If you’re a man between the ages of 18 and 80, Playboy is meant for you.” The magazine proved to be a success, boasting more than 7 million readers at its peak in 1972.

More than four decades later, Playboy has struggled to retain younger readers, especially millennials. The men’s entertainment magazine was once revolutionary for embracing sexuality and nudity before the rest of mainstream America. However, with the rise of the Internet, pornography and Snapchat, Playboy’s adult content has lost its shock value. Any male with a smartphone can access scantily-clad women within seconds without paying for a magazine subscription.

In an effort to stay relevant, the print magazine will unveil a redesigned layout in March that no longer features fully nude models, as reported Oct. 12 by The New York Times. 

Like every other print media outlet, the magazine has struggled to adapt to the digital age. In 1975, Playboy enjoyed a circulation of 5.6 million—today, it is approximately 800,000, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. 

Playboy successfully eliminated nudity from its website in August 2014. The average age of visitors dropped from 47 to 30, and traffic to the website quadrupled, according to the same New York Times article. By nixing nude content, Playboy’s articles and columns could be shared on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, all of which prohibit the sharing of explicit content.

It is a wise business move for Playboy to eliminate nudity from its print magazine, but the magazine has yet to prove it can float without the sexualized content it built its reputation on.

Models will still be featured in provocative poses and minimal clothing. Playboy executives remain confident that the magazine can thrive without its famous centerfolds.

“Last year we re-launched as a safe-for-work site and discovered something about our readers and our identity: The Bunny transcends nudity,” Playboy said Oct. 13 in an announcement on their website. “We are, and always have been, “entertainment for men”—with award-winning journalism and fiction to boot. Playboy is a cultural arbiter of beauty, taste, opinion, humor and style.”

The magazine appears optimistic it will retain readership, but it is difficult to imagine a future in which one could sit on the el reading Playboy without receiving disapproving glances.

In the 20th century, Playboy Magazine was known as both a crusading force for liberalized cultural attitudes and paradoxically, an empire built on sexploitation, but it was not the only option for pubescent and curious millennials, who have consumed media primarily in digital formats. For many, pornography has always been readily available and free.

By eliminating not-safe-for-work content from its website, Playboy found success and a medium to stay relevant, even among millennials. The magazine’s recent decision was clearly made in hopes of mimicking that success in its print edition. Without its signature nudity, Playboy needs to make it clear to millennials what will set its print product apart from the many men’s magazines offering award-winning journalism, advice and fiction.