“Big cuts are in store at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy, which is slashing its rate base a whopping 38 percent as the iconic men’s magazine battles advertising and circulation declines, Mediaweek has learned. Starting with the January 2010 issue, Playboy’s rate base will drop to 1.5 million from 2.6 million. . . .The company has hinted at the possibility of more rate base cuts along with other big changes to the print edition, including an outright sale. And the writing has been on the wall for some time. Like other mass-circ magazines from Reader’s Digest to TV Guide, Playboy has whittled its rate base over the years. In 1971, it stood at 6 million. Playboy missed its 2.6 million-rate base by 146,734 copies, or 5.6 percent, for the first half of 2009, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Its ad pages declined 33 percent to 275 this year through the November issue. . . . With the rate base cut, Playboy will lose its standing as the biggest circulation men’s lifestyle magazine by circulation. Now, the next biggest behind Playboy is Alpha Media’s Maxim, with a rate base of 2.5 million; and Rodale’s Men’s Health, 1.8 million.”
This is sad news, sort of, but hardly tragic. No single cause is to blame. Decades of poor business decisions and a refusal to evolve the editorial product faster than a glacial pace are factors, but there’s no way around the dominating fact that Playboy was once the Saudi Arabia of erotica, and now every man has a derrick in his yard. But there was once a time when Playboy rather daringly articulated the proposition that sex is fun, and those of us who happened to be somewhat confused ex-altar boys, and I’m sure others as well, appreciated the encouragement. Now the magazine seems determined to present sex mostly within a world of glittering debauchery. In some ways, it reflects the path of Hefner himself, that of a man who began his venture interested in and confused by sex, and concludes it as an almost cartoonish king of a silicon-enhanced Xanadu. Whatever–Hefner remade the world into a place that no longer has a place for him in it.