Playboy Will Stop Using Nude Photos, But the Reason Kind of Sucks

Hefner’s centerfolds can’t compete with online porn.
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Hefner’s centerfolds can’t compete with online porn.
The First Print Issue of Playboy, 1953

The First Print Issue of Playboy, 1953

Playboy magazine has announced that, starting in March 2016, it will no longer publish fully nude images of women in its print version. If you are wondering what that will leave for readers, Playboy will include an “enthusiastically” written sex column, as well as “investigative journalism, in-depth interviews, and fiction.” The Playmate of the month will be “PG-13,” and the centerfold, if there is one, will be at least partially clothed.

The magazine has already made some content safe for viewers to read at work in order to be allowed on social media platforms that prohibit nudity. Playboy’s website was scrubbed of all nude images in August 2014, a move that quadrupled its online traffic.

The magazine’s redesign is all part of an effort to attract a larger, younger audience. Like many magazines of its kind, Playboy readership has been steadily declining. According to the Alliance for Audited Media, Playboy’s circulation has dropped from 5.6 million in 1975 to about 800,000. And although the magazine is still profitable when worldwide sales are included, the U.S. edition loses about $3 million a year.

Although I am happy to see the nude images disappear, the magazine’s move is not necessarily a good sign. Unfortunately, it is not a decline in the demand for porn that is driving Playboy to make some changes but rather the sheer glut of pornography that’s readily available for free on the Internet. It’s hard to quantify just how prevalent pornography is, but porn sites make several appearances in the list of the world’s most popular websites.

In 2012, Sebastian Anthony calculated that “it’s probably not unrealistic to say that porn makes up 30 percent of the total data transferred across the Internet”—and that was three years ago. Magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse have simply lost their ability to shock and intrigue.

In a certain sense, Playboy is a victim of its own success. The magazine, which published its first issue in 1953, helped to popularize nudity in the mainstream media and normalize the use of porn. In the words of Playboy Enterprises’ CEO, Scott Flanders, “The political and sexual climate of 1953, the year Hugh Hefner introduced Playboy to the world, bears almost no resemblance to today. We are more free to express ourselves politically, sexually, and culturally today, and that’s in large part thanks to Hef’s heroic mission to expand those freedoms.”

I can’t say I agree that Hef’s career was in any way heroic, but he certainly helped us get to where we are today. I’m just not sure that’s a good thing.