Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Revitalization of Playboy?

I'm late with today's post because I went to the symphony last night.

Going to an orchestra concert is one of my guilty pleasures, a sort of acoustical yoga. You know the way yoga makes you feel? All relaxed and loose? In ninety minutes, the Symphony always turns me into a warm puddle of relaxation. I came home and tumbled into bed.

My friend M and I have known each other for a long time, and we've had season tickets to the Dallas Symphony for almost twenty years. In 1989, the DSO built an expensive new concert hall, and the cost of a subscription trebled. We didn't want to give up our seats (on the floor, keyboard side on the aisle) so we found half a dozen friends interested in one or two concerts a year, but not an entire subscription. The group of us now share the subscription. It's worked out beautifully, and I look forward to the three concerts M and I attend between October and February each year.

Having said all that, it's time to look at yesterday's publishing news.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had an article on Friday titled "Playboy Archives Go Digital; That Means Its Articles, Too." One line from the article sums up the story: "Today, Playboy, in an attempt to get back in step with the present, is unveiling plans to make its entire text and photo archives available digitally."

Playboy's founder, Hugh Hefner--now 80 years old--is trying to revive the franchise. He's quoted in the article saying, "Something remarkable has happened to the Playboy [Note from MR: I originally typed Playbody; talk about a Freudian slip] brand in the past few years . . . It is hot again. We have a hit TV show; we just opened up the Playboy Club casino in Vegas, and the brand is very hot in clothing . . . It all connects to the future, and the retro-cool phenomenon."

Whatever. In order to capitalize on what he sees as new interest in his creation, Hefner is developing a six-disc DVD compilation of all 636 issues of the magazine, with one disc for each decade of the publication's history. The first two discs will be available in another eight months and each one will retail for $100. The discs are viewed on a computer and are accompanied by a 200-page book.

Hefner hopes the series will become a $600 collector's item and revive interest in his monthly magazine. At the height of its popularity in 1972, Playboy had a circulation of about seven million. Since 1990, however, its circulation has been pretty steady at about three million.

Playboy executives believe that, by exactly duplicating the magazine's 115,880 pages, including ads, they will be protected from any allegations of copyright infringement from the writers and artists who contributed content to Playboy. Apparently their plan is NOT to reimburse their contributors. This remains to be seen.

The president of a trade union for freelance writers is skeptical. He's quoted in the article saying, "Even if this does fall within the Supreme Court's parameters of allowed reproduction, we'd still want to take a look at this whole issue of remuneration for writers if the publisher is taking commercial advantage."

Playboy also plans to build a web-based archive inside the company that its editors can use to find specific stories and articles printed in the last 54 years. The WSJ made no mention of bringing this Internet tool public. Obviously, if they did, they would be moving into another medium, which would invoke the need to pay for digital rights.

Look for the compilation to make its debut around October.

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