• At its peak, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine generated $12 million in revenue, the equivalent of $73 million (R1.1 billion) today.
  • Hefner’s Playboy empire expanded to include the Playboy clubs, an E! reality TV show and sold billions of dollars’ worth of merchandise
  • But today, Playboy is a mere shell of what it once was.
  • Here’s what lead to the rise and fall of Playboy.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za

At its peak, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine generated $12 million in revenue, the equivalent of $73 million (R1.1 billion) today. His empire expanded to the Playboy clubs, an E! reality TV show and sold billions of dollars’ worth of merchandise.  In its heyday the iconic playboy bunny logo could be found anywhere from airplanes to tattoos.

But today, Playboy is a mere shell of what it once was. With Hefner now gone the clubs have closed and magazine sales have shrunk to 4% of what they used to be. 

The magazine started way back in 195. Before it even started, Hefner wanted to call it "Stag Party," but that conflicts with the trademark of an outdoorsy magazine called "Stag". He eventually settled on "Playboy" as a second choice. 

The magazine was launched right out of his kitchen with the first issue costing 50 cents. The edition of 700,000 copies sold out. Primarily thanks to a cover and centre fold feature of Marilyn Monroe, whose photos were controversially bought from a photographer before she was famous, which had been published under a pseudonym. The star was never paid for her Playboy debut.

Regardless the issue was released in December of that year and continued to grow. Playboy went on to be one of the first magazines to publish coloured photographs of nude women. While it was a popular joke that one would only purchase the magazine for its articles, by 1966 it had formed a reputation for literary excellence – featuring some cultural icons like of Frank Sinatra and the Beatles.

Playboy's sales peaked with the November issue of in 1972, which sold 7.1 million copies. A staggering 25% percent of male American college students were reading the magazine every month. It made $12 million that year, $73 million (R1.1 billion) today.

Hefner’s Playboy empire expanded to include the Playboy clubs and became an iconic symbol of wealth and lifestyle.

It wouldn’t last forever. By 1986 the Playboy clubs were closed. Sales of the magazine was also hit stiff competition from the video pornography industry. It saw a decline in sales well into the 1990s.

By 1999 Playboy made the fatal mistake of not moving onto the internet fast enough. To offset its losses Hefner, sold the franchise rights to the playboy logo which kept things afloat, especially in China where the magazine had been banned.

In 2005, he made the move into reality TV, signing onto the E! reality show “The Girls Next Door” which feature him and his then three girlfriends Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson. It ran for six seasons making Playboy a visible symbol of the 2000s.  

By the time Hefner passed away in 2017, the magazine was a fraction of what it had been in its hayday. But while magazine sales have scaled back, in 2018 the Playboy club reopened in New York City. The magazine is rebranding to appeal to a new younger generation. The 2019 summer issue featured not models or actresses but three activists. Women also play a significant role behind the direction of the magazine.

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