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JEFF JACOBY | Decoder

Playboy covers up — and declares victory

Marilyn Monroe was featured on the cover of the first edition of Playboy. The issue included excerpts from works by Arthur Conan Doyle and Boccaccio.
Marilyn Monroe was featured on the cover of the first edition of Playboy. The issue included excerpts from works by Arthur Conan Doyle and Boccaccio. Biblioctopus

The Playmate of the Month is putting her clothes back on, and Playboy is declaring victory.

After 62 years of publishing photos of naked women, Hugh Hefner’s iconic magazine is going PG-13. The furtive thrill Playboy provided to two generations of libidinous boys and men is gone, long since overtaken by the explosion in free online pornography.

“That battle has been fought and won,” says the company’s CEO, Scott Flanders. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”

His parade of nudes made Hefner a rich man and Playboy an internationally renowned brand: At its peak, the magazine sold more than 7 million monthly copies. But that was in the 1970s. Today Playboy’s circulation is only 800,000, and its cultural significance has dwindled to a nullity.

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Ironically, the same Internet that mainstreamed hardcore porn has also led to no-nudity rules at the social media giants, such as Facebook and Instagram, that now drive most website traffic. Not-safe-for-work images fueled Playboy’s rise. Those same images are now blocked from innumerable workplace networks.

From cameras to taxis, from newspapers to hotels, there isn’t an industry that hasn’t been transformed by the digital juggernaut. There are no exceptions to the iron law of the Internet age. “Adapt or Die” really does apply to all — even Playboy.


Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jacoby@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.