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The Impact Of Hugh Hefner On The Publishing World

The Impact Of Hugh Hefner On The Publishing World

Hugh Hefner was either a cultural revolutionary or a male chauvinist. That’s a matter of debate.

But less deniable is the “Playboy” founder’s legacy in the print industry, where he sparked and sustained fresh professional standards ━ beyond his famously lascivious content.

The Publishing Legend

NPR called Hefner, who died Wednesday at 91, a “proponent of free speech and a champion of civil rights” unbridled by cultural policing. He pushed the First Amendment to an audacious level and fervently defended his editorial decisions.

He catered to the holistic consumer with an all-in-one product bundling high culture and civic news with sex. Page one had naked women, page two had informative interviews with Malcolm X, Fidel Castro, John Lennon and Steve Jobs. And page three lent perspective with the prose of John Updike and Kurt Vonnegut.

"The joke about Playboy is 'I get it for the articles,’ but in fact the journalism in it was profound,” Michael Hainey, Esquire's executive director, told NPR. “[Hefner] was experimenting always with publishing controversial, cutting-edge stuff."

At the same time, his platform helped launch the careers of notable literary figures, including Joseph Heller and Margaret Atwood.

For What It’s Worth

Despite its contributions to the publishing industry, Playboy’s reach has steadily declined.

In 2016, the 63-year-old magazine posted a mere 800,000 subscribers against its 1975 circulation of 5.6 million. The best-selling issue sold 7.16 million copies in 1972.

Steady readership declines have correlated with revenue dips, from $240 million in 2009 to $135 million in 2013. Playboy also fell 48 percent in pre-inflation stock value during its 40-year stint on the exchange.

In an effort to survive amid poor print trends and the disruption of internet distribution, the company recently rebranded its online content as “safe for work” and removed nudity from its magazine cover, a move that expanded its reach to more digital shelves and newsstands. The new website prompted a quadrupling of traffic and a drop in average visitor age from 47 to 31.

The strategy appeared effective. In 2016, the Playboy brand was valued around $500 million, more than double its 2011 take-private value of $207 million. Conversely, Hefner conceded wealth in his later years and was estimated to have been worth about $50 million at the time of his death, just a quarter of his peak $200 million.

Related Links:

Playboy Coming To Amazon: Hugh Hefner Docu-Series To Debut In 2017

Counterculture For Sale: Jann Wenner Puts Rolling Stone On The Market


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