Playboy Magazine - The Rise and the Eventual Fall

Harshit Verma Harshit Verma Shashank Bhatt Shashank Bhatt
Jan 7, 2023 8 min read
Playboy Magazine - The Rise and the Eventual Fall

Any big brand that you see hoarding, was once an idea and nothing else. An idea that was conceived by a single person and then spreads into becoming a multi-million or a billion-dollar business. Examples may include Apple, Google, Microsoft, and the like. This is an article about one such brand which was so famous that it built a cult. Starting from an idea in a person’s brain to a million-dollar lifestyle brand. Although the business saw its share of ups and downs, it survived multiple decades and stood robustly while dying slowly.

The name is Playboy, which is not even an Indian brand, it never operated in India but we know, you know about it. A foreign brand started off with a simple business that eventually turned into a big company that offers lifestyle goals to people. Playboy was everywhere at the beginning of the company, there were magazines, merchandise, and everything that made it sculpted into the culture of the general public. At one time, the company even sold 7 Million copies of an issue, which was a record-breaking number. It felt as if Playboy was just everywhere and in reality, it was.

In this very article, we will go on to explain the rise and the eventual fall of this big company, as the magazine's sales went to just four percent of what it was before. We will discuss what it offered to the public and what it sold in the beginning and how it came about in the future and established itself as a lifestyle brand. Let us read.

Playboy - The Beginning
The Mid Shift
Competition Factor
The Spread of Playboy
The 1986 Dip
Afterwards
Quick Facts

Playboy - The Beginning

The idea of playboy was conceived by a person named Hugh Hefner. Hugh was a copywriter by profession but to do something different was listed on his deep to-do list. It was in the year 1953 when Hugh got this crazy compelling idea of an adult men's magazine which did not exist at that time. He immediately started working on the blueprint and the topics that the magazine could potentially cover. In the same year, he went on to talk to investors about his idea and executed this idea into reality. That hard work bore fruit.

In 1953, Hugh Hefner got successful in accumulating forty-five investors for his idea of a magazine. All of them added to a pool of initial funds that amounted to about 8000 dollars in those times. This was the beginning of something that even these people were unaware of.

Due to a lack of resources, in the beginning, Hugh wrote and published the first version of the magazine from his apartment. Pulling together all the pages of the magazine on his kitchen table. These were the circumstances around how the first ever Playboy magazine was published. It was December of 1953 and this is nothing short of iconic. Let me add one more fun fact, the first ever model to star in an adult magazine was Marilyn Monroe, who was never paid. Interestingly, she didn't even say yes to photographing her for the magazine. Hefner bought those photographs of Marilyn from her past struggling days under a fake name and then published her nudes in the magazine. This was how Monroe starred in the first-ever playboy magazine in the world. This first line of the issue of the magazine, sold over 70000 copies and was widely accepted and welcomed.

The Mid Shift

After the successful issue of the first-ever magazine of Playboy, there was no looking back and Hefner knew it. He knew that this magazine has the potential to grow out of the perception of a magazine with photos of naked women on it. With this thought in mind, Hefner went on to rediscover new and new articles that made the public woo over future issues. For instance, Playboy went on to introduce a section in their magazine known as ‘Playmate of the Month’. This section was updated every month and featured women who were sort of crowned as the hottest women. These women had one thing in common, all of them were not fashion models or actresses. These playmates were regular normal women that could be your secretary, laundry woman, or anyone that was not so distant from your eyes. This re-edition was hugely famous and was accepted and welcomed by many. Thus, playboy sold millions of copies with these efforts of regular sexiness.

By now, one might think that Playboy was solely playing on the premises of a magazine with naked women. That is not completely true. In the later issues, after the beginning and establishing itself, Playboy got on the literary train. They were not just a collection of adult pics but also some exquisite magazines of literary excellence.

Competition Factor

Penthouse came into the market of adult magazines and tried to shift the wind. They did not go far. The primary reason for this was the fact that playboy was able to get the cream of the crowd. It was there first in the line and was able to develop the taste buds of its readers. They were successful in generating the first group of people who would read these issues. So with a good chunk of the crowd that read Playboy magazine, they were able to get more and more customers. This can be capped in by saying that ‘nothing attracts a crowd better than a crowd’. In the case of Playboy, they have already established itself as a lifestyle brand that focuses on adult entertainment.

Another reason for playboy's fame was the fact that there were not many players in the market. ‘Penthouse’ was a good attack but eventually faded out and remained low in the market. There was not some serious threat to the business they were doing. So with minimal competition, Playboy was able to influence culture in its favour.

All these factors led to a boom in the sales of the magazine. Every day was a new day for Hugh Hefner and the team at Playboy. As responsibilities grew, the team grew in numbers too. Subsequently, in 1972, they published the best-selling issue ever. The issue of 1972 was sold 7 million times, which was a massive number.

The Spread of Playboy

After the first issue and then the subsequent issues, it was clear that playboy was something out of this world and was going to be a big venture. This was thought by Hefner just in time. So he knew beforehand that they had to venture out of the magazine. They will continue the magazine but they will also step out into the real world with other businesses. Walking on these footsteps, they ventured to new spaces and began exploring with every caution.

The first notable thing that they did was establish a club. An exclusive club that embodied whatever the company Playboy had established by then. The club was known as just the ‘Playboy club’ and the magazine was also immensely popular. In the very first year, the club welcomed 50000 members which were nothing less of a rage. These Playboy clubs were famous for the ambience they gave and the special bunnies that waited for customers. Bunnies were literally everywhere.

Slowly and steadily the number grew. Playboy went on from just one club to having twenty-three clubs all over the world. The people who joined these clubs were not only playboy fans but they loved the iconic bunnies too. So what do we mean by a bunny? These playboy clubs had unique dresses for women waitresses (the only gender at work) which looked like bunnies. These outfits were bunny outfits and these women were trained to do some waiting tricks that were strongly specific to Playboy magazine fans and the clubs in town.

An excerpt from an interview with a former bunny waitress -

Bobbie Walters: It was an incredible place to be. It was magical.

Kim: That's Bobbie Walters. She worked as a Bunny at the Playboy Club in New York City and, later, in Miami.

Walters: In New York City, there were 100 girls there. There were six different floors. So you could enjoy a show, you could enjoy a gourmet dinner, or you could dance to disco music, or you could just go down into the Playmate bar and have a drink.

Kim: As for what it was like to work as a Bunny...

Walters: The training was one week long. Once we got to the Playboy Club and got on the floor, we learned how to do the Bunny Dip.

(Bunny dip was a waiting trick where the waitress used to almost sit on the table and at the same time serve the drink to the table)

However, this was not the only dip that these bunnies were to face.

The 1986 Dip

In 1986, the last Playboy club was shut down and was sealed forever. This news did not come right to the mouth, there were months of speculation and there were years of the reason behind this shutdown. The reason for these closures was money issues. Like every other business, this business too was eating a lot of money and was not able to produce output that was greater than the input. Surely, Playboy was iconic, the bunnies were iconic and the theme and vision were all working, the clubs just shut down due to a mix of issues.

Around the 1980s there was a rise in gender advocacy. People started realizing that women are not respected and dignified enough and they knew that something had to change. Women were seen as much more than just housewives and chore doing gender, they were respected in every dimension. Soon enough groups and societies of people were formed that were empowering women. This social change along with political change at those times lead to diminishing returns for the playboy franchise. They continued the magazine business and merchandise but renounced the clubs.

This was not all, in fact, the magazine business was also hit. In addition to women's empowerment, there was this slow rise in the video porn industry, which was of course giving out tough competition to the paperback magazine that men wanted to buy.

Apart from the social and political and scientific approach, there was a problem that even playboys did not see. The adult magazine did not ride on the train of the internet. The rage of the internet was not visible from the Playboy headquarters. They did not move fast toward the online fever, which really turned out to be a good big opportunity cost.

Afterwards

As the sales and revenue were sinking for the brand, Playboy tried to move hands furiously. They began to analyze their markets and tried to reorganize. They found out that China was a big market for the merchandise but the authorities had cut down on all the magazine sales of the brand. They also analyzed other markets to find new areas that they could jump into but they found very few areas where they could fit in, with their brand image. But Playboy was sure of some changes.

They made a reality TV debut. Yes, shockingly, Hugh jumped into the catastrophe with this idea. They commenced a TV show which showcased the life of Hugh Hefner with his then-three girlfriends and live-in partners. The show aired in about One hundred and fifty countries and had a good run. The response was satisfactory and thus, they managed to pull up six seasons for the show that showed off their lifestyle.
In the early 2000s playboy finally got a mix with the culture and since then they have been playing it like that. Burning money to keep the brand alive. The merchandise and the magazine is still the prime source of income that keeps the brand afloat. The original magazine lineup still continues up to this day, they are read and loved by fans worldwide.

Quick Facts

  • Donald Trump once starred on the cover of Playboy. He is really proud of that.
  • Hefner died in 2017 and since then, there have been speculations about revenue losses and internal failures.
  • Playboy has a goddamn private jet that anyone who can afford can use.

Conclusion

The brand playboy has seen its share of the highest ups and the steepest falls. Beginning just from an idea in Hugh’s brain world, to being an actual million-dollar machine that still runs afresh. The iconic brand still is able to influence culture and the word playboy is as famous as Rolex now. Albeit the fact that the business is sinking and there are question marks on the profitability of the same, the adult magazine brand continues to give goosebumps to the followers.

FAQs

Who is the CEO of Playboy?

Ben Kohn is the CEO of Playboy.

When was the Playboy Mansion sold?

The Playboy Mansion was sold on August 2016 to Daren Metropoulos.

When did Playboy issue its last print magazine?

Spring 2020 was the last print magazine by Playboy.

Must have tools for startups - Recommended by StartupTalky

Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to StartupTalky.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
You've successfully subscribed to StartupTalky.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.
Success! Your billing info has been updated.
Your billing was not updated.