Playboy Goes PG (Will No Nudes Be Good News?) And The Village Voice Changes Hands, Again

Two icons of 1950s print media, Playboy magazine and The Village Voice, once a beacon of muckraking investigative news and alternative criticism, announced significant changes Monday.

First, from the land of Hugh Hefner: Pull those puckered issues of Playboy out from under the bed and stash ’em away somewhere safe: They’re collector’s items. Beginning in the spring, Miss March and all the monthly Misses to follow — not to mention the brainy girls of the Daisy Chain, the hottest brokers in the Northwest and every other category manufactured during the past six decades to present naked women — will keep some of the mystery under wraps. Or other garments.

Faced with the ubiquity of Internet porn, TV sitcoms that go where only peep shows used to tread and, to get a little more serious, changing attitudes toward the “Playboy Philosophy,” Hefner’s creation is going PG.

Deadline reported on September 21 that nixing nudity was rumored to be among the changes being made to the magazine by new owners Rizvi Traverse (the former owner of talent agency ICM) and now the magazine has announced it through The New York Times. The change follows a recent decision to remove nude photography from the magazine’s online edition, and that Hefner himself, now 89 and still listed as editor in chief, signed off on the full-frontal change. Circulation has fallen — as it has with all print media — dramatically; in the case of Playboy from 5.6 million in 1975 to about 800,000 today. Hefner’s magazine has been an advocate not only of the swinging-bachelor lifestyle but also a home to literary talent, deep-focus interviews, First Amendment crusades, terrible jokes and Alberto Vargas’ dreamy pinups.

As for the Voice, owner Voice Media Group announced Monday that the paper has been bought by investor Peter Barbey of the Reading Eagle Company, a family-owned business that says it has been publishing newspapers since 1796. The announcement was made jointly with Barbey’s investment company, Black Walnut Holdings. The price wasn’t disclosed.

VM has been trying since January to unload some of its properties in one of the hardest-hit sectors of the print media economy. Papers like the Voice were built on an income stream trio of advertising, subscriptions and newsstand sales. But the Internet has made much of the information available cheaper or for free and advertising, especially personal-service ads that were a mainstay, has shifted to the web as well.

Voice management took the paper to controlled circulation — meaning it is given away free — and laid off its most experienced staff reporters and critics more than a year ago, but there’s been no improvement in profitability. Instead, what’s been left is a weak shadow of a once-essential opposition institution, with a skeleton staff and little presence in the journalistic marketplace.

“We were impressed with VMG’s professionalism and creativity, and we wanted to continue to partner with them on concepts that are beneficial to readers and our clients,” said Barbey in the announcement.

“During a time of great challenges and great opportunities in the industry, we’re thrilled that we’ve found an experienced journalist and operator with such considerable resources to take the reins at the Voice,” Voice Media Group CEO Scott Tobias likewise was quoted as saying in a statement. “We truly love and respect our staff at the Voice, and it’s fulfilling to know they’ll be in good hands.”

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