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

"I think the glory days of that brand -- that was my father's brand -- are done," Yagielowicz said. "Will the bunny live? Yeah, It's a cute logo and you will always see it on jewelry and such. But will you buy the magazine at Barnes and Noble or be able to visit the Web site? That's up in the air now. And it's all kind of sad."

"For so many years, we made money without having to try," he added. "Money just fell out of the sky. Now it's a real business."

David Standish spent 10 years as an editor at Playboy, leaving the magazine in 1978. For decades, he said, the magazine held an important place in American culture and helped shape the national agenda.

"Playboy, when it came along in the 50s, was really a socially useful instrument for people and it was part of the rebellion against the uniformity and boredom of the Eisenhower years," Standish said.

Political Stands

The magazine took strong stands on civil rights, drug laws and the Vietnam War.

"By the time I got there in the late 60s and was there through the 70s, it was a major cultural force in a way that it no longer seems to be," Standish said. "It was a place where the very best writers appeared with great regularity."

Standish, now a professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, said that since then, the magazine's importance has diminished with each passing year.

"As time went by, the role it was playing in the culture was supplanted by many other outlets," he said.

After the magazine's articles lost relevance, all that was left were the pictures. But Playboy faced competition there from the proliferation of pornography through home video and the Internet.

"Hefner was a child of the 40s and his idea of sexy pictures were 40s pinups. He has never really pushed further beyond that," Standish said. "There is much raunchier material available on newsstands -- and has been since the 70s -- and on the Internet is all the pornography you could want."

The magazine lost about 600,000 readers between 2002 and 2008, finishing with an average circulation of 2.5 million in the last six months of the year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. But it is struggling with advertising and the massive costs associated with delivering that many issues.

"Not only is advertising down but the quality of advertising is way down," Standish said. "It reminds me of what happened to Life magazine. It got so expensive for them to physically produce the magazine."

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