Supermodel Cindy Crawford, shot by legendary fashion photographer Herb Ritts, on the July 1988 cover of Playboy. (Photo: Playboy)
Starting with its March 2016 issue, Playboy will no longer publish full nudes. For 62 years, the men’s lifestyle publication well known for its nude centerfolds, has played with the trope, “I read Playboy for the articles.” It has published authors like Arthur C. Clarke, Chuck Palahniuk, Haruki Murakami, Ian Fleming, and yes, feminist Margaret Atwood. It was where Jimmy Carter admitted to cheating on his wife, Metallica admitted to being dysfunctional, and John Lennon granted his last interview — which was published when he was murdered. In 1970, it became the first gentleman’s magazine to also be printed in braille — the stories were that good.
As reported by The New York Times, in 2013, Playboy made its website “suitable for work” (SFW) in order to draw attention to its quality content and to separate itself from other men’s magazines like Penthouse. It wanted to be more like GQ, essentially. Due to the abundance of free nudity on the internet, a voyeuristic pleasure that Playboy pioneered, the media organization is forced to pivot: “That battle has been fought and won,” Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive told The New York Times. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.” When the website became SFW, the online reader’s average age dropped from 47 to 30, and web traffic jumped from four million to 16 million readers per month. Print circulation, however, has suffered: In 1975, its circulation was 5.6 million. Now, its circulation is 800,000.
Marilyn Monroe on the cover of the first issue of Playboy, where she appeared as “Sweetheart of the Month” in the centerfold. (Photo: Playboy)
Cory Jones, the chief content officer, told The New York Times that the Playmates of the Month feature will be more “PG-13.” “A little more accessible, a little more intimate,” he explained. The company has not determined whether to keep the centerfold, the most prestigious photo spread in the magazine. (Marilyn Monroe was the first one.) Recently, Playboy has also tried to enter the women’s media market, contracting established feminist writers. The new sex columnist, for example, will be a “sex-positive female” — admittedly, still every man’s fantasy in a different way. Carrie Pitzulo, adjunct professor at the University of West Georgia and author of Bachelors and Bunnies: The Sexual Politics of Playboy, told Columbia Journalism Review that Playboy not only supports reproductive rights, but also supports daycares for working mothers and rape crisis centers.
It is a commonly held notion that Playboy is the most “tasteful” nude magazine on newsstands, given Hugh Hefner’s propensity for not sexually explicit but airbrushed to almost cheesecake nudity, but the infamous magazine, which now makes 40 percent of its money on licensed products sold overseas, can’t sell itself on women’s nudity anymore. In fact, here’s our suggestion: the centerfold just might be the perfect place for more investigative journalism.