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Old 07-12-2010, 09:14 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Hefner makes bid to privatize "Playboy"

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Bunny bid: Hefner offers to buy rest of Playboy
By ANDREW VANACORE and ASHLEY HEHER (AP) – 19 minutes ago
CHICAGO — Hugh Hefner wants to buy out the portion of the Playboy empire he doesn't already own in a bet that the iconic brand can still bring in profits even if the ink-on-paper magazine is past its prime.
Hefner, who founded Playboy magazine more than a half-century ago, is apparently not alone in thinking Playboy can keep swinging into the digital age. A few hours after Playboy Enterprises Inc. announced Hefner's offer Monday, the corporate parent of rival Penthouse magazine said it will also make a bid.
But it does not appear that the silk pajama-clad 84-year-old — who owns about 70 percent of the company's voting shares and 28 percent of the nonvoting stock — will budge.
Playboy said Hefner made it clear in his buyout proposal that he is not interested in a sale or merger. The company said Hefner expressed concern that selling Playboy could threaten the brand and its legacy. Hefner has instead proposed joining up with a little-known private equity firm, Rizvi Traverse Management LLC, to take Playboy private.
The offer comes as print advertising is in a tailspin and the company has stretched its brand thin trying to wring profits through leasing its famous bunny ears for everything from cigars to slot machines.
Hefner, who serves as Playboy's editor-in-chief and chief creative officer, is offering $5.50 per share in cash, a nearly 40 percent premium above Friday's closing stock price of $3.94. Shares of the company gained 41 percent Monday. Based on the number of shares outstanding on April 30, Hefner's proposal is worth $122.5 million and values the company at about $185 million.
Playboy, which is headquartered in Chicago, described Hefner's offer letter as a proposal and said there was no guarantee it would get any formal bid from Hefner. But Playboy said Hefner indicated that Rizvi Traverse has been in touch with "major lenders regarding potential financing" and is "highly confident ample financial resources will be available to complete the transaction."
The firm declined further comment, and Hefner did not respond to requests for an interview.
If the deal goes through, Hefner will have a major turnaround effort on his hands.
The racy magazine that Hefner launched in 1953 had its most popular years back in the 1970s. It has struggled to lure readers and advertisers as the Internet supplants print as the top purveyor of adult content. Falling revenue has forced several rounds of layoffs at the company since 2008.
Playboy magazine, which along with its websites generated 44 percent of the company's $240 million in revenue last year, sold 311 ad pages for its U.S. editions last year, down from 765 in 2000, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Its average circulation has fallen by about a million copies over the same period to 2.02 million. That's down from more than 5.6 million in 1975.
These days, most of the company's income is drawn from licensing the Playboy brand for consumer products such as men's underwear, women's lingerie, watches and energy drinks.
Its licensing unit reported income of $21 million last year, followed by $9.9 million from the company's television properties and just $1.6 million from the magazine and its Web site. Factoring in corporate overhead, costs related to layoffs and write-downs on the value of its assets, Playboy reported a net loss of $51.3 million in 2009.
The company's stock price has tumbled since hitting a peak in 1999 of more than $32. It traded between $2.30 and $5.22 over the past year before jumping $1.61 to close at $5.55 on the potential buyout Monday.
Looking ahead, Playboy's strategy of relying on licensing for profits is a risky one, warned Laura Ries, president of the marketing strategy firm Ries & Ries in Atlanta. She said Playboy has lent its brand too freely.
"It's like pouring water into beer," she said. "It really dilutes what it is to be a playboy."
But Ries said going private could be a good move, allowing the company to work on building the brand without the pressure to hit quarterly earnings targets.
Not surprisingly, Marc Bell, the CEO of Penthouse owner FriendFinder, said he is interested in Playboy more for the brand's potential on the Web and mobile gadgets than the iconic printed magazine.
"The real focus is on the digital side," Bell said. Though he said shutting down the print magazine would be a bad idea, he added, "It needs to be run like a 21st century company."
It is not clear what resources privately held FriendFinder has to put behind its bid. FriendFinder, which also runs other adult and dating websites, produces adult videos and licenses adult content, shelved its plans to go public earlier this year, blaming the poor market conditions. Executives had hoped to raise at least $200 million in the transaction.
Bell had acquired Penthouse as part of a 2003 bankruptcy reorganization that also saw the resignation of founder Robert Guccione as the company's CEO. Bell declined to give any specifics on his offer, which he said would come soon.
Bob Guccione Jr., who founded Spin magazine and whose father started Penthouse to compete with Playboy in 1965, said whoever leads the magazine is going to have to update its sensibility.
"It has to be modernized," Guccione said. "It should acknowledge the modern woman, who is more equal, more independent and not just interested in getting married — and by the way far more sexy and interesting."
The Associated Press: Bunny bid: Hefner offers to buy rest of Playboy
Hefner really is a self-made man. With a loan from his mother, he started from scratch and built an empire. I can't blame him for wanting to hang on as his empire fades. But is there anything of the empire worth saving anymore?

In the early days, Playboy was more than just a nudie magazine. Hefner invented men's entertainment. It was more than just pictures of beautiful naked women--there were interviews with powerful political figures, fiction by acclaimed authors, and in depth essays on current events, along with the pieces on fashion, automobiles, and the sundry items of a "man about town." He may have lured readers in with pictures of Marilyn Monroe, but what he was selling was a lifestyle, and he was good at selling it.

Starting in the 90's, though, and especially in the last decade, the Playboy Philosophy began to look quaint and out of date. Sure, there were pieces about the latest high-tech gadgets, and the Playmates went from au natural to bald as a baby's ass, but you could tell that the hand on the wheel was still holding jazz festivals when everyone else was crowd surfing. The times have changed, but Hefner has not. If the magazine feels like a publication that is catering to 20-40 year old men while being overseen by a man old enough to be their grandfather (great-grandfather?), it's because that's the case.

Of course, not all of Playboy's financial troubles are because of the dowdy skipper. Print publications everywhere are feeling the pinch due to content available on the internet. But similar publications--men's magazines like FHM and Maxim--are weathering the storm because they are doing a better job of reaching the demographic, and without a single bared nipple.

Hefner's most valuable asset is the Playboy brand. The bunny logo is one of the most recognizable symbols in the modern, industrialized world. But how many air fresheners, bowling balls, cigarette lighters and Walmart flip-flops does the bunny have to appear on before Hefner has undermined his desire to retain the "integrity" of the brand?

Is there even a Playboy without Hefner? They're practically synonymous--you can't have one without the other. Hefner wants to retain the "top shelf" status of Playboy magazine and the Playboy brand, but the brand is souring in the bottle.
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Old 07-12-2010, 11:46 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Hefner hasn't overseen the production and publication of the Playboy magazine editions (save for his rountine weekly inspection of the photographic prints, and the Playmate spreads) for most of what has been the past two decades, when in 1994, he gave over most of the "overseer" and editor-in-charge rights to his daughter, then instituted those rights officialy several months later.

I'm not sure what the point of that relevant piece of factual history has to do with the brand of the Playboy empire, other than to simply state that nowadays, the title and worldwide name of Hugh Hefner is seen as just the simple creator of Playboy, but he is also the ambassador to a lifestyle of excess sexual simplicity he helped create and bring into the average gentelmen's home.

He also routinely holds charity events and galas, but the guy is just an old retired man in a bathrobe now, sure, with a stamp of success, so I don't think its much of an argument that what he has, or hasn't, done in the past several years with his global brand and publication should rest squarely on his shoulders. I do think it would have been wise of him to relinquish his powers at a more even and gradual pace for his magazine, instead of giving them all up at once, and maintaining the illusion as though he still was the "guiding hand" during and after the Anna Nicole + Pamela years, but with exception of Karen McDougal, and the 50th Anniversary Playmate, I don't think that Hefner ever personally lobbied one way or the other for one girl he saw as really "special", and he probably just had a vote of whether a woman is fine enough to be a playmate of the month, whether she may need more time to mature, or whether it may be best to forget about this candidate.

I think I got quite too specific into the titles and privileges of one Mr. Hefner, but the simply stated notion I had is: I believe he retired his Playboy commissioner hat some 15-odd years ago, and now, sometime bordering too late, and where the hell were you? doe he find it imperative to not let his 5-or-6-plus decades of work just simply get washed away by the dying industry of print, as well as what his publication loosely now falls under the umbrella category of "pornography", and their curent problems of how to genereate the revenue they once benefitted from indulging.
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Old 07-13-2010, 12:41 PM   #3 (permalink)
 
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There's always an iPhone/iPad app I suppose... :P but they'll have to battle Steve Jobs for that ability.
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Old 07-24-2010, 12:26 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Playboy lost its avant garde status back in the mid-70s when they refused to go pink. Ironic that a magazine that brought nudity into the mainstream wanted to remain 'respectable.'

I'll give them credit for valuing quality over profits, though; especially in this day and age. How un-American.
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