When Sex Doesn't Sell, Can Geriatric Playboy Stay Alive?

Photo: Is Playboy dead? Even porn isn?t immune from the recession

It seems that even porn isn't immune from the recession. Playboy, probably the most famous adult magazine, is struggling to stay alive and is about to undertake "radical changes" in what many see as a last-ditch effort to continue publishing.

Options being considered including publishing less often, reducing circulation and raising prices.

"It is clear that this company cannot continue to sustain significant losses in a business that now comprises less than one-quarter of the company's revenue base," Jerome Kern, interim chief executive for Playboy Enterprises said during an analyst conference call Monday.

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So, does that signal the end for the magazine, which first started in 1953?

"The magazine will never fold as long as Hugh Hefner is alive," said Samir Husni, the chair of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi.

And even then, it might not make sense to close the publication. Husni said a money-losing magazine can still help profits at other Playboy ventures, such as online content and video.

In the last three decades, Husni said, Playboy has lost its relevancy and has had to compete with an increasing tide of porn that has made its magazine "look like Sesame Street for kids."

"It lost on the intellectual side for people who actually bought Playboy to read it. And it lost on the other side for people who just bought Playboy to look at the pictures because there were plenty of pictures now everywhere," he said. "As much as you shake the magazine, it doesn't move the same way it moves on the Internet."

Joe Francis, founder of the Girls Gone Wild video empire, said he has tried to purchase Playboy in the past and now doesn't consider the business salvageable.

"Their overhead is astronomical. They have no core business that's attractive," Francis said.

He blames the demise on Hefner, 83, who he said "refuses to change and evolve the brand" because of ego.

Still, Francis acknowledges the groundbreaking role Playboy has had on American and world culture.

Girls Gone Wild

"If Playboy hadn't existed, Girls Gone Wild wouldn't exist because I most certainly saw my first naked woman in a Playboy magazine," he said.

Francis said that while he wouldn't try to buy Playboy today, a friend of his -- who he wouldn't name -- is seriously looking at it.

"There's something to be said for an older guy to own Playboy because it means something for you," he said.

Martha Lindeman, a spokeswoman for Playboy, would not comment about any sale. She also said decisions had yet to be made about specifically how the magazine would be changed.

Playboy has seen better days. On Monday, the company reported a first-quarter loss of $13.7 million. The company's revenue fell 21.5 percent to $61.6 million for the period. Losses would have been worse if the company hadn't been already implementing deep cost-cutting efforts, including closing its New York office and reducing headcount by 25 percent since October.

Stephen Yagielowicz, senior editor of XBIZ, an adult entertainment industry trade publication, said Playboy has a lot of competition from companies that are smaller and more nimble.

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