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Since 2000, the value of Playboy Enterprises Inc. has dropped from around $1 billion to $84 million in 2009

from – There’s no better example than Playboy of how the rise of the internet has led to the fall of print media. Since 2000, the value of Playboy Enterprises Inc. has dropped from around $1 billion to $84 million in 2009.

Despite these devastating losses, the company has hung on in part because Hugh Hefner, 84, refuses to relinquish control to an owner who would bastardize the Playboy brand.

Hefner owns 70 percent of the company’s common stock and must raise $115 million to pay off investors by March 15, 2012. To meet this debt, Hefner has begun selling some of his personal fortune.

In 2009, he sold his English manor next door to the Playboy Mansion for $18 million. Now, Hefner plans to auction off 125 pieces of art from an archive of 5,000 contemporary masterpieces and 20 million photographs.

The auction will include pictures of iconic playmates like Marilyn Monroe and Pamela Anderson, as well as a Dali watercolor of a reclining nude. Some suspect that Hefner may also have to sell the legendary Playboy mansion.

It’s been reported that Hefner put the company up for sale for $300 million. Rumors swirled that Sir Richard Branson considered the offer, but the only public bid was from Penthouse publisher, FriendFinder Networks, who offered $210 million. The deal has floundered, and Hefner has said that he doesn’t intend to sell his stake in PEI to a third party. In the meantime, the company continues to deal with financial problems while attempting to transform itself into a licensing company built around the brand.

I doubt if Playboy, or print media, will ever completely die off, at least in our lifetime. The only question is whether the Hefner family will retain control and what the brand will become. In the last decade virtually every American print company has had to either fold or completely remodel its business structure to survive. Penthouse’s parent company now puts out the magazine only as a novelty while its main source of income comes from dating sites. Larry Flynt was able to save the Hustler brand by franchising a number of strip clubs.

With its debut issue in 1953 featuring Marilyn Monroe, Playboy ignited the sexual revolution and changed the face of the publishing industry. The magazine paired pop art, and what many considered pornography, with high art and critical thought; Playboy has featured almost ever major writer of the last half century including Vladimir Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and Stephen King as well as virtually every female sex symbol. The problem is that Playboy has changed its business strategy very little since its inception. It did start producing soft-core videos, but these have fallen victim to the internet and free adult tube sites.

A creative business strategy is key to surviving in this brave new world of mass media. I personally love Playboy, if only because I grew up lusting after its playmates and now dream of seeing my writing in its pages — as well as being invited to one of the famous mansion parties. To keep my collection of Playboys growing instead of just becoming collector’s items, here’s a short list of business strategies that Playboy might adopt to save the brand.

– Franchise Playboy gentlemen’s clubs: I know Playboy was founded on the premise of depicting tasteful nudes, but there’s no reason they can’t open a string of classy gentlemen’s clubs that are just as sexy and sophisticated as the magazine. Start slow. Open clubs in key locations like Vegas, LA, Miami, and New York. Make these venues offer more than just topless dancers. Provide fancy food, drinks, cigars, and even some authentic relics from the Playboy archives. Offer feature appearances by playmates and cyberclub models. Hell, specialize in renting out conference rooms for private business meetings. Sure, no gentlemen’s club is complete without nudity, but make the club about more than just lap dances.

– Utilize your army of naked women: Every single amateur porn starlet I’ve interviewed has a Playboy bunny tattoo or navel ring, or dreams of appearing in the magazine. I know Playboy generally prefers women who don’t have a past in stripping or x-rated work, unless they’re famous, but these women illustrate a good point. Almost every woman who aspires to make money as a sexy model started out with a dream of being in Playboy. I’m not saying all of these women should be made into honorary Playmates, but the company should find a way to utilize this army of nude models. Newspapers are doing the same thing by providing a space for citizen bloggers to get involved. Have a site dedicated to posting amateur test shoots. Host parties and invite these women to come as special guests, if only to increase the male-to-female ratio.

– Diversify your brand. The print magazine can only be the ambassador of the brand. Playboy is one of the most recognizable and sexy brands in the world. It’s also one of the most underutilized. Instead of just having a Playboy club at the Palms, why not open an entire Playboy casino with a top notch nude pool club? (Hooters even has its own casino). I’m sure a number of investors would jump at the chance to use the Playboy name. What group of bachelors wouldn’t want to stay at a casino with authentic Playboy memorabilia, high-roller rooms that have hosted Playboy shoots and parties, and Playboy quality employees? The brand already has a huge pool of celebrities who could contribute to one of the casino’s burlesque acts, including Holly Madison and her Peep Show. Open smaller, classier bars where the hot bartenders and cocktail waitresses don’t wear those ridiculous bunny outfits. Flood these spots with guest appearances and your army of eager nude models. Launch Playboy dating sites. The possibilities are endless.

– Pass the torch. Sadly, Hugh is an icon, but he’ll soon be gone and the Playboy brand with him if he doesn’t pass the torch soon. Stories of Hefner dating multiple young blondes are starting to get creepy. We need to see more of his two sons, Marston and Cooper, living the Playboy lifestyle. Have them host parties. Send them out on the town with multiple girlfriends. If these boys aren’t up for the job, I’d be glad to try on the smoking jacket for awhile.

– Change. The bottom line is that Playboy can’t keep following its classic playbook. The iconic brand must get back to its roots. It again must be a leader in the modern sexual revolution, and media in general, instead of just a relic of the old guard. If it doesn’t do something, the Playboy Mansion may just become a museum that schoolchildren visit and its magazines will just be collector’s items auctioned off on eBay.


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