Friday, January 9, 2009

Hugh Hefner on Print Magazines' Uniqueness

In an interview on CNN with John Roberts, Playboy founder/editor Hugh Hefner made some interesting comments (and by "interesting," I mean that I agree with him) about the role of print magazines in this supposedly post-print world. He takes the view that yes, some people don't want to read magazines and – more important – you can't force them to do so. Here's an excerpt from the interview:

Roberts: Now in 1953, when you first launched Playboy magazine, you seemed to be the right publication for the right time. I know that you were very heavily influenced by the Kinsey Report, which had come out not too long prior to that. But 55 years later, is Playboy magazine still relevant? And if it is, how do you keep it relevant?

Well, I don't think obviously it will ever play the same kind of role that it played back in the 1950s and '60s. But I do think that a magazine of quality always has a place. Increasingly, obviously fewer people are reading magazines and fewer people are reading newspapers and books, but I think that part of that is a change that Playboy is always, is also embracing. We're very much involved with the Internet. We were the first magazine to use [the] Internet and have our own Web site. So I think that we'll continue to ... publish both the magazine and then publish through electronics.

Roberts: The new Steven Watts biography [of Hefner] is a fascinating, very fascinating look at your entire career, from your roots all the way up until the present. And he says, looking back over it, that "the key to his approach was that he edited Playboy for himself. Aiming it at his own tastes and values." Was that also a key to your success as well that you approached this with such a personal passion?

Hefner: I think so, but I think that is one of the things that makes magazines unique. They do speak with a personal voice. And I think it is one of the things that makes magazines special.

You can read the transcript of the entire interview here, where you'll also find a link to the video.

I made some similar comments in response to some recent statements by Esquire's editor, David Granger. The pool of total print readership may drop (might not, though; might shift to different people, though; for example, recent reports about thriving newspapers in Germany and India), but there's a role for quality magazines that it would be foolish to ignore.

Mr. Hefner has always had a clear-eyed view of magazines, unlike many of his competitors and unlike many of his critics. When Playboy was coming down from the highs of its 1970s circulation spike, he did not panic or overreact; his reaction was reportedly (I believe this was in a tale told by his daughter, Christie Hefner; if I've got that attribution wrong, my apologies) that Playboy's circulation will be whatever it naturally is; if one million people want to buy the magazine, it'll be one million; but there's no reason to pretend that it was supposed to be what the circulation was in the 1970s when it was arguably the most important cultural publication in the country.

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