Monday, December 8, 2008

Magazine News: Christie Hefner to Leave Playboy Enterprises

This morning's surprise announcement: Christie Hefner is resigning as chair and CEO of Playboy Enterprises, the multimedia company she has headed for 20 years (and has worked at for even longer).

Why is she resigning? The press release from Playboy Enterprises simply refers to her wanting to do other things in her life after devoting so many years to the company founded by her father, Hugh Hefner. That is certainly her right, and no one need criticize her for that.

Nonetheless, it is happening at a time that is particularly difficult for publishing in general. This past weekend, it was announced that the Chicago Tribune is reportedly considering filing for bankruptcy. And there have been reports that some cities could end up without a single daily paper in the near future, as a result of the drastic cutbacks in the news industry.

Magazines haven't been immune. U.S. News and World Report is becoming a monthly magazine. The owner of Maxim is reportedly in financial trouble. And the stories go on and on, with cutbacks in staff, publishing frequency, ad count, and new launches. Playboy has battled all of those industry trends, but it has another millstone around its neck: Starting in the 1980s with the Meese Commission and collaboration with the religious right, boycotts and threats of boycotts scared away many of the big-pocketbook, mainstream advertisers from Playboy's pages. Has anyone calculated how many millions – tens of millions? – of dollars Playboy has lost as a result of this? Its readership has also fallen, but it is still large enough that it should be attracting several times the ad-page count that it does.

But Playboy, because of its iconic place in American culture and business, gets dissected way too much in the blogosphere and in the pages of other publications. On a personal level, I wish Ms. Hefner well. She's known as being a class act (listen to audio of her speech to The Commonwealth Club of California a few years ago).

Now, how will her successor change things?

UPDATE: MSNBC interviews Christie Hefner about her future plans; click on the video feature to view the interview. She says the company is in a strong position to weather the downturn, and she's looking to do something in the area of public service.

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