It isn’t just new media darlings like Teen Vogue that are going all-digital to expand a popular brand — and finding success.
Iconic print magazine Playboy is said to be considering a move to online in an effort to focus on its legendary brand, expanding licensing and partnerships in the process.
After founder Hugh Hefner died last year at 91, ownership of the company began to shift from Hefner’s family to Rizvi Traverse, a private-equity firm that is also the largest shareholder of Playboy Enterprises. Playboy Enterprises’ CE) Ben Kohn, who is also a managing partner at Rizvi Traverse, is said to be leading the move online.
Playboy made its debut in 1953 and quickly gained a wide audience, despite difficulty breaking into the mainstream. The title reached a peak of 5.6 million subscribers a year in 1975. However, today the magazine has a circulation under 500,000 and publishes only six issues a year.
Recent losses are estimated to total around $7 million annually. Which leaves Kohn in an interesting position.
The company doesn’t necessarily need the print title to maintain its position as a brand, nor does it have its enigmatic figurehead. Struggling to find a place in the modern market, Playboy even decided in 2016 to stop printing nude pictures. They seemed redundant with the wealth available on the internet, but were reinstated in 2017.
As brands struggle to diversify and find new revenue streams, Playboy is one brand that caught on to the trend early. Its brand extensions included Playboy Clubs, The Playboy Channel and the hit reality show "The Girls Next Door," filmed at the Playboy Mansion and featuring Kendra Baskett, a former playmate and girlfriend of Hefner. The show, broadcast on E!, was so popular, it eventually spawned four spinoffs.
While it’s sad to see a print publication die, one wonders if keeping the print version of Playboy is just a nostalgic impulse, rather than a shrewd financial strategy. At a time when print media is more endangered than ever, it's not always a bad idea to build up a brand, rather than hang onto the past.