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The New Economy
Playboy Nudes Go Bust

It’s the newest example of an old trend: Playboy is ditching nude photos, making it the latest 20th-century corporation forced to radically change its business model in response to 21st-century digital upstarts. The New York Times reports on how the leadership of Hugh Hefner’s magazine decided it could no longer compete for eyeballs with even more raunchy online porn outfits:

As part of a redesign that will be unveiled next March, the print edition of Playboy will still feature women in provocative poses. But they will no longer be fully nude.

Its executives admit that Playboy has been overtaken by the changes it pioneered. “That battle has been fought and won,” said Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”

For a generation of American men, reading Playboy was a cultural rite, an illicit thrill consumed by flashlight. Now every teenage boy has an Internet-connected phone instead. Pornographic magazines, even those as storied as Playboy, have lost their shock value, their commercial value and their cultural relevance.

This is partly a cultural story—as Rich Cromwell saysPlayboy‘s version of erotica, which “used to rely on imagination and a modicum of restraint”, is no longer appealing in the 21st-century sexual landscape, which increasingly values neither. But it’s also an economic one. The wave of creative destruction unleashed by the Internet has left no segment of the economy untouched, including, or perhaps especially, the pornography industry. Legacy products with strong brands are often no match for their digital competitors, which cater even more precisely to their clients’ demands at lower costs. Whether it’s taxi cabs facing Uber or Playboy facing digital pornography, it may not be possible for the companies that offer 20th-century products to keep up in the current environment without making making radical changes to their business model.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Simplistic analysis. See, e.g., http://thefederalist.com/2015/10/13/sexytime-playboys-new-policy-of-no-nudes-is-bad-news/. Imagination will outshine porn any day of the week. I suspect, not having seen an issue for decades, that Playboy lost sight of this.

  • wigwag

    It’s called disintermediation. The middleman standing between women who were willing to pose nude and the men who were willing to pay to view nude women was Playboy and publishing companies like it. Now that the middleman has been wiped out, pornography is free. The women who make a living posing nude still get paid as much or even more than ever before but the men who want to watch pay next to nothing. The only loser in the transaction is Playboy; they’re simply no longer relevant. Via Meadia is right; what happened to Playboy is no different than what happened to travel agents, full cost stock brokers, taxi fleet owners, music labels and now, book publishers. Costs come out of the system and the two sides to the bargain, the purveyor and the consumer, reap the benefit. Aint capitalism grand?

    But its not just pornography that’s been revolutionized by the disruptive change wrought by disintermediation, its the entire sex business. The business of prostitution has been disrupted by disintermediation as well. There was a time not very long ago that pimps served to broker transactions between prostitutes and Johns. Guess what, nobody needs pimps any more; Craig’s List and its internet cousins have practically put pimps out of business. Prostitutes do as well or better than ever and apparently there is little to no price inflation to drive up prices for Johns; everybody makes out except for the pimps. See,

    https://spywriter.wordpress.com/2011/03/20/what-do-pimps-and-literary-agents-have-in-common/

    and

    http://www.wired.com/2011/01/ff_sextrade/

    It may sound crazy, but the next step in the inexorable process is the disintermediation of the prostitute herself. How can a John experience the sexual experience that he seeks without an actual prostitute? Technology is on the verge of providing an answer. A new technology called transcranial magnetic stimulation is being developed to help rehabilitate stroke victims, treat eating disorders and ameliorate numerous neurological disorders. It works by magnetically stimulating specific regions of the brain using a relatively small but powerful magnet. A sister technology called transcranial electric stimulation is more invasive (a small electrode needs to be implanted in the brain) but even more impactful. It won’t be long before this technology will be modified to simulate an orgasm which is indistinguishable from the type of orgasm that a John experiences while using the services of a prostitute. See,

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcranial_magnetic_stimulation

    and

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcranial_direct-current_stimulation

    If you’ve seen the Woody Alan movie, “Sleeper” you may remember the fictional “orgasmatron.” Believe it or not, its not so fictional anymore. If all of this seems to weird to fathom, just remember how incredible the prospect of self-driving cars would have seemed a mere decade ago.

    Disintermediation is changing the world; it is far and away the most powerful force impacting our economy. Societies that take advantage of what it has to offer will prosper; societies that fight it will wither. If Professor Mead is right and the Anglophile world is in fact more nimbi and open to change than other societies, then disintermediation will, in the end make us dramatically more prosperous than we are now.

    It’s not just middlemen in the sex trades who need to worry. Electrical utilities are toast, in the next twenty years or so, not only will the electric grid be an anachronism but base power generation will be as well. It won’t be long before it is cheap, easy and efficient for every homeowner in America to generate his own electricity using natural gas and eventually solar energy. Electric companies know this is coming and they’re panicking as well they should. Verizon, AT&T, T Mobile; they’re all on the chopping block as well. Technological advances will insure that they’re no longer needed for voice or data transmission.

    Higher education and medicine are the two fields most ripe for dramatic cost reductions made possible by disintermediation; but there’s a problem; for it to happen, the government needs to get out of the way.

    • Andrew Allison

      Our government is not only bad at getting out of the way, but insists on getting, equally badly, in the way.

    • Anthony

      Disintermediation had been a consistent topic at Via Meadia when WRM blogged a few years past. Now, your voice appears to be only one illuminating impact of technological change (creative destruction of disintermediation) consistently at TAI. One thing remains certain WigWag and that is the challenge faces us – forces of technological innovation. What you cite is the ever increasing number of platforms facilitating access to an expanding range of services and activities – implying huge advantage technology offers and impending change perhaps.

      Regarding your reference to government, see: http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/creative-destruction-economic-policy-by-mohamed-a-el-erian-2015-10

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