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Playboy Is Bringing Back The Nudity

Playboy March Cover

Less than two years after announcing to much fanfare that it was ending the tradition of featuring nude pictorials on its pages, Playboy announced yesterday that it’s bringing back the nudity:

Playboy is returning to the bare essentials.

A year after the famed but struggling men’s magazine stopped featuring photographs of naked women, it has apparently had a change of heart. From now on, women will shed much of the scanty clothing that had been covering them up.

The next issue, which hits newsstands at the end of the month, will feature women who are topless and almost fully exposed. (Think strategically placed leaf, hand or leg.)

Cooper Hefner, a son of the Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, signaled the change in a Twitter post on Monday: “I’ll be the first to admit that the way in which the magazine portrayed nudity was dated, but removing it entirely was a mistake,” he said in a quotation superimposed over a photograph of himself. “Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn’t a problem. Today we’re taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are.”

Playboy announced in October 2015 that it would stop publishing images of naked women, seeking to attract more advertisers and secure better placement on newsstands. For the past year, women in the magazine were not shown topless, and there was no explicit nudity.

Cooper Hefner, who returned to Playboy last year as its chief creative officer, had been openly critical of the magazine’s decision to ban nudes. In an interview last February with Business Insider, he said in no uncertain terms that he thought the choice did not make sense.

“When you have a company, and the founder is responsible for kick-starting the sexual revolution, and then you pluck out that aspect of the company’s DNA by removing the nudity, it makes a lot of people, including me, sit and say, ‘What the hell is the company doing?'” he said.

As The Washington Post notes, the effort to rebrand the magazine as something other than what it has been from the day Hugh Hefner founded it wasn’t very well received from the start:

Playboy’s first issue without nude photos came out in February 2016, ending a more than six-decade run of glossy centerfolds featuring young women baring it all. The magazine still featured “sexy, seductive pictorials of the world’s most beautiful women, including its iconic Playmates,” as Playboy put it at the time. Generally speaking, the goal was to attract a younger demographic of readers and more mainstream advertisers.

The move was met with a mix of ridicule and confusion.

“Old Playboy was a lifestyle bible,” BuzzFeed culture writer Anne Helen Petersen jabbed. “Current Playboy is a caricature of itself.”

Bringing back nudity may not solve all the magazine’s problems, Samir Husni, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi, told the Associated Press on Monday.

“The people who grew up with Playboy magazine are starting to fade away,” Husni said, “so they will have to figure out what the millennial generation wants in the 21st century if they are going to survive.”

In a post on the Playboy website, Hefner outlined a “new Playboy philosophy,” in which he suggested that the decision to embrace nudity again was partly rooted in the country’s political and cultural climate. He ticked off a list of “collective accomplishments” from the past few years: the election of the first “mixed-race” president (his term), a Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization in some places, the nomination of a woman by a major political party.

“But after so much progress,” Hefner wrote, “our hard-won victories are in peril. Just as the social and political pendulum had swung in liberals’ favor, as history has shown time after time, the pendulum swings back.”

The current climate, Hefner said, is out of step with Playboy’s “tradition of tenaciously advocating for civil liberties and freedom of expression.”

“One thing is clear that both my dad and I understand at its simplest form, and that is what Playboy and the United States strive to represent in their greatest forms: freedom,” Hefner wrote.

The company announced other changes to the magazine as well, including the fact that the “Entertainment For Men” tag that had been on the cover for decades would be dropped as part of a broader effort to market the magazine and the brand beyond people who are drawn to it because of the pictorials. Additionally, from the descriptions that have been released, it appears that the return of nudity to the pages of Playboy doesn’t necessarily mean a return to the way things were prior to February of last year. Rather than the full-frontal nudity that was a part of the magazines in recent decades, these pictorials will at least at first feature topless women who are obviously nude but without the full-front shots that were common in centerfolds until last year. How long that will last is an open question, of course, since it seems apparent that the magazine is willing to admit that it made a mistake in making such a radical change in format. In the end, demand and the expectations of those who still purchase Playboy will likely force them to return to the way things were in the past, especially since it’s apparent that toning down the sexuality didn’t do very much to spare the magazine from the same fate that print magazines of all types are suffering in the wake of the rise of the Internet. Indeed, given the widespread availability of nude images, and more explicit material, that are available for free on the Internet, one wonders if this will do anything at all to stem the tide of what seems like the inevitable continued fading away of print magazines much in the same manner that cable news and online news outlets have hit the print newspaper business.

Whatever the future holds, though, it’s clear that this was an experiment that ended in failure, something I hinted about when the announcement was made back in 2015:

The real question, of course, is whether this move, which is obviously being done as much to draw attention to the magazine as anything else, will be enough to revive a floundering magazine. Even taking into account the fact that Playboy has continued to be source of the kind of writing that distinguished it from other “men’s” magazines from almost its beginning, the competitive pressures of online content will remain and it’s hard to see how this move will do much to boost the magazines sagging circulation numbers, which now stand somewhere near 800,000 copies per year after having reached over 5,000,000 per month at its peak. Just as there are plenty of places out there to find pictures of nude women, there are plenty of places to find quality writing and reporting. So, starting in March we will find out whether it really is true that people only read Playboy for the articles.

Of course the bad news is that, once again, you can’t claim that you’re just reading Playboy for the articles.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Alameda says:

    Playboy will be especially relevant in an age where people do not read.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  2. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Playboy must be pretty irrelevant at this point…I didn’t even know they had stopped showing nudity. Given all the free porn available…of any kink you desire…how do they compete?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  3. Jc says:

    Make Playboy Nude Again. Didn’t even need a hat to make it happen

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  4. Tyrell says:

    I remember back in the school days, guys would gather in the restroom, light a Camel up, and look at the latest Playboy foldouts. Then the math teacher would come busting in: “you deadbeats get your lazy rear ends to class before I flunk all of you !”
    I don’t know of anyone who subscribes to magazines anymore: relics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. CSK says:

    I suggest a Melania Trump retrospective. There’s more than enough to fill an entire issue, including the bondage and discipline stuff the NY Post blasted merrily all over its pages last summer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  6. Tyrell says:

    @CSK: Does anyone actually read the articles ?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Guarneri says:

    I only read it for the articles.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  8. Gustopher says:

    Playboy always had more tasteful and interesting nudes than the rest of the porn industry — I hope they try to go a little retro with it.

    Viva la 70s!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Mr. Bluster says:

    Make Playboy Nude Again.
    Didn’t even need a hat to make it happen

    You Can Leave Your Hat On
    91/2 Weeks
    Thank You Joe Cocker. RIP
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4b04jq7NB1s

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  10. Mr. Bluster says:

    Viva la 70s!

    Cocaine, Sweet Cocaine
    Runnin’ round your heart Runnin’ round your brain

    Thank You Fred Neil RIP
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFddtkrVTgc

    Encore
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXpkgE2HDfU

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  11. Paul Hooson says:

    I’ve been an on and off magazine retailer since the early 80’s, still selling classics on Ebay now, and have watched the market for print magazines really change over the years. Men’s magazines often lack the retail distribution these days, compared to the far better coverage in the 70’s and 80’s. In a large city, it is a good question where you even find a new copy of PLAYBOY or many men’s magazines these days. Even adult DVD stores stock few magazines, and mostly DVDs they can buy wholesale for as little as a $1 each. Some sell remainder magazines(unsold back copies available at reduced prices. Older remainder magazines by PARLIAMENT, BRIARWOOD, MARQUIS, SWEDISH EROTICA, GOURMET were once popular at these stores. The rounded off clipped corner was the sign that it was a remainder copy and not a first line copy).

    PLAYBOY has several problems, the biggest of which is poor retail distribution. PLAYBOY had hoped to sell more copies in China and some Muslim markets without nudity, but the new magazine only seemed like a strange hybrid of MAXIM and some art magazine, and really lost it’s identity. But, PLAYBOY fits in an unique market. It is a serious magazine with serious editorial content and features, with incidental softcore nude features(about 3% of the magazine). Compare this to other men’s magazines which became mostly hardcore picture books with no serious editorial content or features, although the SCORE GROUP magazines are very good at this format, while many magazines like CLUB, GENESIS, CHERI are owned by a small group of publishers these days, and not much different than one another. Almost all men’s magazines are printed in Canada these days, due to costs. But, a $13.99 retail price seems very high when some men’s magazines were only a dollar in 1972.

    PLAYBOY’s editorial content has always been first class, but how to get it back on newsstands and distribution outside of subscriptions is a real problem. All print magazines are suffering now because of high prices, rotten distribution problems, and the Internet. HUSTLER still has some success mixing some hardcore sex content with sometimes serious content and a lot of humor, but also suffers from retail distribution woes. PLAYBOY’S best hopes might be aggressive telemarketing to drive subscription sales at a discount of a couple dollars a copy if enough ads in the magazine can cover the printing costs. But, modern PLAYBOYs are not the behemoths they once were, and a much slimmer magazine.

    In the day of free Internet porn, men’s and adult magazines seem like the odd man out. They are expensive and poorly distributed, compared to nude girls or having sex one keyboard stroke away on the Net. PLAYBOY has tried cable TV subscription services, etc in the past, but might look at posting some free teaser content on XHAMSTER and other sites to spur sales of their paid services. But, the magazine has other problems. PLAYBOY has the distribution problems of all magazines, and most likely wishes to remain softcore in content in a new world in which hardcore content dominates the adult market these days. Maybe PLAYBOY wants to search for some retro market of guys looking for a new 70’s style magazine, but I am not sure being the Mini Cooper of men’s magazines is a winning formula in the modern market these days.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  12. Paul Hooson says:

    @Gustopher: That’s probably the path they will take. But, with distribution problems for this and all men’s magazines, it will be a difficult sell to market. Magazines became too expensive, poorly distributed as well as victims of the Internet. They’re in a tough spot these days.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. Lit3Bolt says:

    @Paul Hooson:

    A way Playboy could gain permanent cultural legitimacy is to become the feminist Men’s Erotica magazine. They need to push back hard against neo-nazis, Red-Pillers, Trumpistas, and KKK types.

    Another way is to not simply do nudes, but do nudes in licensed IPs. I doubt Capcom would weep about their family image of zombie games if Jill Valentine or Clarie Redfield were…ermmm…”sexually compromised.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  14. Mu says:

    This article is useless without pictures.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. James Pearce says:

    Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn’t a problem.

    Glad to see Playboy reacquaint themselves with this notion, and would agree that it was a huge mistake to give in to millennial culture warriors and “mainstream” advertisers. (Like what, Colgate?)

    Still…wouldn’t want to be in the magazine business right now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. Pch101 says:

    Too sleazy to position itself as a peer of The Atlantic, Harper’s, and the rest of the sophisticated press.

    Not sleazy enough to compete with porn.

    It’s obsolete. The business needs to be reinvented.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  17. James Pearce says:

    @Pch101:

    Too sleazy to position itself as a peer of The Atlantic,

    I wish you weren’t ten when Jerry Fallwell died.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. barbintheboonies says:

    I never thought Playboy a sleazy mag. I have read many great articles, and the girls were always portrayed sexy but with taste. It was an art form, that many women who posed for Playboy should never be ashamed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. Pch101 says:

    Playboy undressed the pin-up girl and packaged the result as a sophisticated lifestyle journal so that it could reach an aspirational audience and avoid censorship during a time when pornographers were arrested.

    So ironically, Playboy was a byproduct of a society filled with sexual hangups. Playboy was designed to exploit a loophole in the censorship laws that no longer exists. Now that we have free porn on the internet and no one is going to prison for it, it is obsolete because we don’t need an excuse to look at skin.

    You no longer need to read a list of her supposed turn-ons; now you can see them acted out on your phone. Using Playboy to titillate yourself is akin to relying on a horse for transportation; there is nothing edgy about it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  20. James Pearce says:

    @Pch101:

    Playboy undressed the pin-up girl and packaged the result as a sophisticated lifestyle journal

    The “Playboy=Porn” arguments predate your birth and not even the right wing Christians make it anymore.

    You’re not going to see anything in Playboy you won’t see in a R rated movie.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  21. Pch101 says:

    @James Pearce:

    You need to sue your English teacher for malpractice.

    Porn is better than Playboy if that’s the sort of thing that you want. You no longer need to pretend to read the articles or leave anything to the imagination.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  22. Paul Hooson says:

    @Lit3Bolt: Under Hugh Hefner, the magazine was the standard holder for liberalism and even really helped to propel George McGovern’s 1972 antiwar candidacy. But, we all remember how 1972 worked out. McGovern was swamped in a landslide. – Defeating Trump for re-election takes a coalition, not just the left. But, if PLAYBOY wants to be political it can become a form of modern EVERGREEN magazine, an artsy 60’s and 70’s magazine with leftist politics and nudity features.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. James Pearce says:

    @Pch101:

    You need to sue your English teacher for malpractice.

    Nah, I just need to stop responding to your stupid comments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. Pch101 says:

    @James Pearce:

    Judging from your response, you don’t even understand the comments that you are attempting to critique.

    I’m noting that Playboy’s business model is badly out of date and half-assed by today’s standards, and you want to put a religious spin on it. Not very smart.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  25. The problem is that Playboy is a relic from the magazine era. If you were a Single Male traveling in the 80´s and 90´s Playboy was the perfect companion. There were great articles and beautiful nude women.

    Today, you don’t need Playboy and in some sense you don’t need magazines.

    The fact that most articles are now complete garbage and the naked women are not that interesting does not help.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  26. Just 'nutha ign'int cracker says:

    @James Pearce: In the case of your comment, the subjunctive/conditional is ” hadn’t been” not “weren’t.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  27. James Pearce says:

    @Just ‘nutha ign’int cracker: Yes, and “in a R rated movie” should have been “in an R rated movie.” I guess the secret is out.

    Sometimes, I do not proofread.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0