There is a joke amongst the lads that everyone reads Playboy for its content. The reality, of course, is anything but. The US-based skin magazine is known for its raunchy, yet, classy nude centre spreads, which along with some great editorial and visual content makes it the best read men’s magazine in the world.
But with its US sales shrinking and off-shore ones expanding, Playboy is eyeing the lucrative South East and South Asian markets to make a foray.
India,with its exploding magazine industry, is especially titillating. It has nearly 200 million magazine readers and is the second-largest newspaper market in the world, behind China, with 79 million copies sold daily.
The print advertising market is $1.5 billion a year and growing. As per industry sources, Playboy has been in active talks with various leading publishers looking for some kind of a joint venture.
However, Playboy’s expansion into Asia has not been smooth. Its launch in Indonesia last year did not exactly go as planned; what with widespread boycotts, empty advertising pages in the second issue and an indecency charge on the editor. In the Philippines - a country that is dominated by Catholics - church groups are seeking redress in the Immorality, Pornography and Obscenity Act to curtail the publication.
Surprising that they went ahead with their original look and feel into a Muslim nation like Indonesia! Especially since their chief executive, Christie Hefner, had indicated launching Playboy with its usual fare except for its name and its nudes, on her trip to India a couple of years back.
It has not hit the shelves yet, top or otherwise, possibly working on editorial mix that looks beyond just skin show. But would fully-clothed bunnies featuring in a magazine that is not called ‘Playboy’ create any differentiation in a market that already has Maxim and FHM and will soon see Stuff??
Probably not. But then this could be a well-thought of strategy for Playboy to clean up its act and attract readers for its superior editorial content as well as the right dose of titillation that Indian culture and laws will allow.
Looking at the success of FHM in attracting main-line deep-pocketed advertisers like HP, Samsung and Omega, Playboy too may attract marketers who may not want to place their product against a nude “it” girl.
“It will compete with all men’s lifestyle magazines. And being a well-known brand, the curiosity value of the magazine will be such that it will also attract women readers. In that sense the opportunity for the magazine is pretty huge,” says Lakshmi Narasimhan, CEO, Infomedia India.
And when the time is right and sex becomes acceptable, it can always dig into its war-chest and introduce its much-vaunted and much-desired centre spreads even in India.
What the experts say:
Nishant Padhiar, Editor - Stuff India
“Citing the current trends in the publication industry and the increasing tolerance of the magazine-buying population, it seems like a good time to launch Playboy, but only with its inherent strengths intact. However, the risquй factor will have to be diluted; the whole centre fold culture doesn’t exist in India and the Playboy TG has been fed images of blondes and brunettes gracing the international editions. Keeping that format alive in India would not be sustainable with Indian models. The diluted version then, won’t be too different than what FHM or Maxim has to offer.”
Khushroo Bhadha, publisher, Next Gen Publishing
“India is ready for any product. But Playboy will have to ensure that it suits the Indian palate. Playboy has its own charm and it will have to be worked on editorially as well as pictorially. The right balance will have to be stroked to ensure the readers pick it up. Also, zeroing in on the target reader is very important. It will be a difficult proposition for Playboy to have subscribers. However, if too diluted, it may lose the essence of the original version which can be rejected by the readers. If too strong, it can be rejected by society. It is a thin fine line which the publishers will have to walk. ”
Laxmi Narasimhan, CEO, Infomedia India
“As with most things Indian, I think there are contradictions here. Sexual liberalism and nudity have been a part of ancient Indian art and literature but on the other hand recently a renowned painter had to leave the country when he tried to use it in his art. Hence, the more pertinent question is whether the “classic” Playboy will be allowed to be published in India or not. The current laws and political forces will not let the magazine be published in its existing form. Having said that, India being a very exciting and attractive market, an Indian edition would make business sense.”
N Radhakrishnan, publisher and editor, Man’s World
“The main issue Playboy will face in India will be to create ‘differentiation’. As full frontal nudity is still some time away in India, which is what most people buy Playboy for, there will be no ‘standing out’ for the title vis-а-vis its competitors such as Maxim and FHM. The lad magazines that are already in the market are pushing the envelope and providing the same kind of content anyway. So Playboy will end up in the same segment. Whether or not the advertiser will place his product next to Playboy’s content will depend on whether the advertiser would be comfortable taking the magazine home.”
Vinod Mehta, editor-in-chief, Outlook Group
“While the Indian audience is ready for a classy publication like Playboy, it is the US-based title that will find it difficult to attract Indian models and actresses to pose for the magazine. While there are reports of them signing Mallika Sherawat to pose for Playboy International, it remains to be seen how much will she drop? Despite their deep-pockets that have lured Olympic stalwarts to become Playboy bunnies, the magazine will not be able to get high class girls from India to go nude, because of the taboo attached to it. This was a problem we faced even at Debonair!”