Playboy's Next Print Magazine Will Be Its Last for 2020 — Maybe Ever

A view of the atmosphere at Playboy's Pleasure Issue Release Party- Getty- H 2020
Michael Kovac/Getty Images

A new Playboy magazine is being published this week — both on newsstands and as a digital download — and it will be the last one this year. 

In a lengthy letter posted Wednesday on the blog platform Medium by Ben Kohn, CEO of Playboy Enterprises, he details the decision and outlines his plans for the iconic publication moving forward. It remains unclear if the magazine will ever return to newsstands. 

"Playboy is many things to many people. A magazine to many, a lifestyle to many more, an apparel brand, a membership club and even, according to some, 'a corruptor of our youth.' But throughout the past 66 years, one thing has remained constant: our commitment to free expression and breaking taboos, leaning into discomfort, helping audiences express and understand their sexuality, and advocating for the pursuit of pleasure for all," writes Kohn, who worked as a financier before taking on a leadership role at the company and taking it private in 2011. "We will move to a digital-first publishing schedule for all of our content including the Playboy Interview, 20Q, the Playboy Advisor and of course our Playmate pictorials. In 2021, alongside our digital content offerings and new consumer product launches, we will bring back fresh and innovative printed offerings in a variety of new forms — through special editions, partnerships with the most provocative creators, timely collections and much more. Print is how we began and print will always be a part of who we are."

Print magazines have been struggling for years, since the 2008 recession, and Playboy has not been immune to those shifts in audience engagement as many subscribers have moved to digital platforms, but Kohn says the current coronavirus pandemic accelerated Playboy's plans to press pause on the publication of the print product, which he says has only been able to reach a small subset of their audience. "It's no surprise that media consumption habits have been changing for some time — and while the stories we produce and the artwork we showcase is enjoyed by millions of people on digital platforms, our content in its printed form reaches the hands of only a fraction of our fans," he writes. "Last week, as the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic to content production and the supply chain became clearer and clearer, we were forced to accelerate a conversation we’ve been having internally: the question of how to transform our U.S. print product to better suit what consumers want today, and how to utilize our industry-leading content production capabilities to engage in a cultural conversation each and every day, rather than just every three months."

The final note is a nod to changes instituted last year when Playboy moved from publishing six issues a year to becoming a quarterly publication. Furthermore, the brand has struggled to find its identity amid shifts in where consumers seek out adult content. Editors have tested out multiple ways to boost engagement for the magazine, once hailed as a bible of sorts to men under founder Hugh Hefner, who died in 2017, and best known for nude pictorials of Playmates and other notable women (as well as award-winning articles). A few examples: They tested out removing nude photo shoots; then brought nudes back; published content from feminist writers; and expanded with pop-ups. Meanwhile, there are no Hefners left in the building. Cooper Hefner stepped down from his tenure with his father's company in spring 2019 and has since segued to serving in the Air Force as well as on multiple boards including Chapman University.  

Kohn has also supervised expansion of the brand itself into brick-and-mortar locations and licensing deals across the globe. Despite the dip in print, he maintains that Playboy Enterprises is still making a hefty sum each year. "Our audience is massive," he writes. "We drive over $3 billion in annual consumer spend worldwide. We reach hundreds of millions of eyeballs every year, across all genders. This past year, our focus has been on meeting audiences where they are. We gained over 4 million new Instagram followers and saw over 50 percent growth in engagement on our social channels in the past 6 months, grew our digital video subscriptions by almost 30 percent year-over-year and acquired a direct-to-consumer commerce operation that serves almost one million active customers every month."

Though they are done, for now, with a Playboy print magazine, Kohn closes his post by saying that their mission remains unchanged: "Over the past 66 years, we’ve become far more than a magazine. And sometimes you have to let go of the past to make room for the future. So we’re turning our attention to achieving our mission in the most effective and impactful way we can: to help create a culture where all people can pursue pleasure."

Read his full blog post here.

More to come ...