Newsstands soon could be stripped of one of the nation’s most iconic publications: Playboy magazine.
Playboy Enterprises Inc. reportedly is considering killing the print magazine, which was started more than six decades ago by Hugh Hefner, who died in September.
Famous for its racy images of naked women, the magazine launched Hefner’s Beverly Hills-based publishing and entertainment empire. But Hefner’s death has triggered a process that will shift ownership of the company from his family to the largest shareholder, private equity firm Rizvi Traverse, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Ben Kohn, a managing partner at Rizvi who is Playboy Enterprises’ chief executive, wants to shift the company’s emphasis to brand partnerships and licensing deals.
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“We want to focus on what we call the ‘World of Playboy,’ which is so much larger than a small, legacy print publication,” Kohn told the Journal. “We plan to spend 2018 transitioning it from a media business to a brand-management company.”
That shift involves seriously considering ending the print magazine, which began in 1953. U.S. circulation has dropped to less than 500,000 an issue from a peak of 5.6 million in 1975 amid struggles in the broader print magazine industry.
The Journal said Playboy’s print magazine, which now publishes six issues a year, has lost as much as $7 million annually in recent years.
“Historically, we could justify the losses because of the marketing value, but you also have to be forward thinking,” Kohn said. “I’m not sure that print is necessarily the best way to communicate to our consumer.”
John Vlautin, a spokesman for Playboy Enterprises, declined to comment Tuesday. A spokesman for Rizvi Traverse did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In 2016, Playboy stopped publishing fully nude photos of women as part of a redesign of the print magazine that reflected the widespread availability of such imagery online. But last year, naked women were back in Playboy, and Cooper Hefner – the founder’s son and the company’s chief creative officer – said the ban was a mistake.
“Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn’t a problem,” Cooper Hefner wrote on Twitter at the time. “Today we’re taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are.”
Rizvi Traverse helped Hugh Hefner take Playboy private in 2011 and received control of nearly two-thirds of the company. As part of the deal, Rizvi Traverse agreed to keep publishing the magazine for as long as Hefner lived.
The private equity firm now is in talks to acquire the 35 percent stake Hefner left in trust to his heirs, the Journal said, quoting an unnamed person familiar with the matter.
Playboy wants to raise $25 million to $100 million early this year to help buy back the shares and fund future partnership deals, the person told the Journal.