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#PornFreePlayboy: from cover-girls to covering up

Ranjan Crasta | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 6:03 IST

In an age where no TV drama is complete without gratuitous nudity and #FreeTheNipple campaigns now abound, Playboy, the self-appointed torchbearer of nudity, is covering up.

It's a move no one would've imagined even a few years ago. After all, even if you've never crossed paths with an actual copy of the magazine, pop culture was enough to make the bunny the symbol of all things risque. But even if no one saw it coming earlier, it isn't the most surprising move.

Nude photo shoots were Playboy's USP, but in today's world it just,well, isn't unique anymore. At all. Heck, if you consider the recent uproar when the government suspended a few hundred porn sites, access to porn is practically considered a right by today's generation. It's something Playboy hasn't been able to compete with for a while now.

So, come February 2016, the US edition of Playboy simply won't contain nude women anymore. As the company's CEO Scott Flanders told NYT, nudity is "just passe at this juncture". They refuse to even commit to their iconic centrefold. Most people probably can't comprehend a nudity-free Playboy, but the fact is, Playboy is a lot more than an old school spank bank. While Hugh Hefner is now associated with surrounding himself with women whose parents weren't even born when he founded the magazine, his vision for Playboy was a lot grander than smut.

In the editorial of the magazine's first edition, Hefner wrote, "If you're a man between the ages of 18 and 80, Playboy is meant for you." His goal was to produce a magazine that catered to everything men were interested in. And, despite popular belief, that extends beyond naked women. Most of the time. Sort of.

But, yes, there is more to a man's interests than sex, which the magazine celebrates with quality fiction, long form interviews and even investigative reporting.

Don't believe it?

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 was serialised in the magazine. Nabokov and Vonnegut wrote for it when it was still in its prime. As for interviews, they include everyone short of the Pope himself.

From Jawaharlal Nehru, who did an extensive, almost philosophical (and totally not 'sexy') interview with the magazine in 1963, to Martin Luther King Jr, in what was the longest interview he ever gave the press, Playboy has been anything but frivolous. For men who preferred cinema, Playboy had one of the very few comprehensive interviews Stanley Kubrick ever gave. For those who love science, there was an interview with astrophysicist Neil Tyson Degrasse. And if music was more your taste, the Beatles.

In fact, a US Court even ruled that the US government continue funding a braille version of the magazine as access to the articles in it were considered a fundamental right. And considering there are no pictures in Braille books, yes, there is certainly an audience for their articles. When Playboy says they do other things, they really mean it. And now, they want to focus almost entirely on those 'other things'. As Flanders said in his NYT interview, Playboy intends to cater to an audience closer to that of Vice than that of one-time competitor Hustler. "The difference between us and Vice is that we're going after the guy with a job", he remarked. So is this a big risk?

Evidently not. Playboy has already phased out nudity on their web platform in August last year. Seriously. I was as surprised as you are. In fact, I wasn't even sure I was on the right domain when I did check it out. It's totally safe for work and actually pretty interesting.

Just to show how non-Playboy the website actually is, the website is one of the four below. Try and guess which one:

playboy a

IMAGE A

PLAYBOY 2

IMAGE B

PLAYBOY C

IMAGE C

PLAYBOY D

IMAGE D

If you even had to think about that, you've already proven my point (It's option C, FYI).

And it's worked out great for Playboy. Not only have their unique visitors quadrupled from 4 million to 16 million since the change, the average age of their audience has shifted from 47 to just over 30 - a far more desirable audience for advertisers. The more sanitised site, it turns out, has made it accessible to a larger audience.

The company isn't expecting a serious hit to the bottomline - the US edition is already a loss-making one, and most revenues come from licensing the name and iconic bunny logo. Still, the change is one that will help the magazine remain relevant in an age where popular media sentiment seems to be "anything goes."

And just the shock of a nudity-free Playboy might bring people back for what they claim they read all along: the articles.

First published: 16 October 2015, 1:48 IST
 
Ranjan Crasta @jah_crastafari

The Ranjan (Beardus Horribilis) is a largely land-dwelling herbivorous mammal. Originally from a far more tropical habitat, the Ranjan can now be found wandering the streets of Delhi complaining about the weather, looking for watering holes and foraging for affordable snacks. Mostly human, mostly happy and mostly harmless, the Ranjan is prone to mood swings when deprived of his morning coffee. Having recently migrated to the Catch offices, he now inhabits a shadowy corner and spends his time distracting people and producing video content to distract them further.

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