Playboy's Struggles Brought into Sharp Focus with 3-D Glasses

Last Updated May 14, 2010 12:56 PM EDT

Hope Dworaczyk nude in PlayboyDespite Playboy's claim that its 3-D June centerfold will "jump out" at the reader when she hits the newsstands today, the only thing that's fully dimensional about this recent ploy to attract readers is its smell -- it reeks like the desperation of a pimpled, damp-handed teenage boy. Worse, it's probably too little, too late.

It's no secret that Playboy's revenues and circulation have been in free-fall. Back in the days when dads stashed the mag under the mattress (c. 1971), Playboy commanded a cool 6 million rate base. That number declined to less than 2.6 million in 2009, while ad pages declined 33 percent.

So Playboy Enterprises' (PLA) new CEO Scott Flanders made good on a promise of making big changes at the flagship magazine, and slashed its rate base by 38 percent while cutting costs across the company's other segments. (It's not clear if any cuts were made to the Playboy mansion, which has been a money pit for the past decade -- take 2004's net book value of $1.6 million against operating expenses, depreciation, and taxes of $3 million).

Despite Flanders' efforts, the results were less than stellar. The company's revenues were down 30 percent and while domestic magazine revenues in the first quarter of 2010 declined 48 percent to $7.1 million. The lone bright spot was the company's entertainment group which only posted an 8 percent decline.

While budget cuts are admirable for a company known for its excess, the move to 3-D its iconic centerfold seems quaint at best. Even founder Hugh Hefner admitted this "innovative" idea has been in the works for the last half-century but he couldn't see it through because of the high production cost of the glasses.

Enter a sponsorship from HBO. Now readers get a pair of those paper-framed, red and blue glasses get splashed with the logo for HBO's vampire series True Blood (the show's third season is set to premier on June 13) to view a buxom Hope Dworaczyk (the 51st Playmate of the Year) offering a -- glass! Throw in an accompanying 3-D True Blood ad and a series-themed FAQ with vampire-inspired stats and facts --et voila! -- a campaign as titillating as flute of Cristalle. With the bubbles gone out.

Hefner's lame attempt at creating this latest "magazine event" is not only uninspired, it's as mystifying as his last: the "expose" of everyone's favorite blue beehive-wearer Marge Simpson. Especially when considering how far porn has come from Hefner's early days. Kids as young as ten are sexting, and those not so inclined to interact with a live partner can download all the Internet porn they want -- for free. For "true" virtual interactivity, Pink Visual is working hard to leverage augmented reality technology for porn so users can sidle up to a virtual babe with their mobile phone.

Perhaps Hef's betting on the zeal of collectors, but even that plan is as flimsy as Ms. Dworaczyk's panties. The only ones who stand to make money off a Playboy special edition are the collectors -- when they turn around and sell it on eBay.

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