Playboy Magazine falls victim to Covid-19: The end of an era for this iconic brand as it looks toward a digital future

Playboy Magazine falls victim to Covid-19: The end of an era for this iconic brand as it looks toward a digital future
Illustration by Kyle Bolton.

I woke up to such sad news today. My beloved Playboy magazine may well have published its last print issue due to complications from Covid-19. When I shot my cover pictorial in the last Equality issue on October 22, everyone at the mag seemed so upbeat and positive about the future of Playboy and then, in the blink of an eye–everything changed (for everyone).

Here’s an open letter from the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Ben Kohn:

An Open Letter To Our Team And Partners

March 18, 2020

Dear Team and Partners,

I’m writing to share my deepest wishes for the health and safety of our global community at this time. I also want to take this opportunity to provide an update on the strength of our business and some of the steps we are taking to ensure our continued growth in 2020 and into the decade ahead.

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 sixty-six 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.

We are proud to be one of the world’s most recognizable brands–97% of our planet’s population knows what our infamously cheeky, bowtie-wearing Rabbit Head represents. No matter who you speak to, it is a brand that evokes reaction and stimulates conversation. In today’s world, this is immensely powerful. Powerful because in a time when we are divided, conversation is what we need the most. Powerful because it helps burst filter bubbles, cross party lines and engage outside of the silos that increasingly contain us.

Our audience recognizes this power, too. They acknowledge it when they choose to display our logo, wear a Playboy-branded shirt, put on that piece of Rabbit Head jewelry, tear open a Playboy condom or spray that puff of Playboy perfume. They’re inviting you to notice them, to question them, to engage with them and to challenge them. They’re making a personal statement about sex-positivity, free expression and pleasure for all.

We understand our role–and our responsibility–in this interaction. Creating quality, boundary-pushing editorial that advocates for what is right and that leads by example will always be core to our mission. We will never stop seeking to help our audience understand their own sexuality and that of others. Our content, products, partners and experiences are how we drive important conversations, shine a light on inequality, censorship and prejudice, and break down the barriers to pleasure and sexual freedom that so many still face.

Right now, the Playboy brand is more successful than ever before. Our audience is massive. 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% growth in engagement on our social channels in the past 6 months, grew our digital video subscriptions by almost 30% year-over-year and acquired a direct-to-consumer commerce operation that serves almost 1M active customers every month. At The Playhouse events last spring, we transformed our magazine into a multisensory experience that turned our articles into two-way dialogues with our audience, with panels on cannabis advocacy, female sexuality in the arts and the future of masculinity, among other topics. We held our first sessions of The Playboy Interview Live, and most recently, we brought the famed Playboy Advisor column to life in a social-first digital series providing millions of viewers with the sex-ed we wish we’d had.

We are also immensely proud of our revamped quarterly magazine that is inarguably one of the most beautifully designed print offerings on the market today. But 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.

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. With all of this in mind, we have decided that our Spring 2020 Issue, which arrives on U.S. newsstands and as a digital download this week, will be our final printed publication for the year in the U.S. 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.

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.

We look forward to continuing to work together with all of you to keep our business strong and growing.

Stay safe,

Ben Kohn

CEO, Playboy Enterprises, Inc.

Playboy has been my family for the last 40 years and I have no plans to let them go now. Even if it’s only on a digital platform, my Bunny ears will be attuned to its always timely, diverse and informative articles and photos. Keep it up Playboy and I’ll catch you on the digital ride soon!


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