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'Playboy' Announces Decision To Stop Publishing Nude Photos

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Playboy bunny is one of the world's most recognizable brand icons, right up there with the Nike swoosh and Apple's logo. But in order for the bunny to survive, Playboy has announced it's getting rid of its magazine's most recognizable offering - the nude pictures. Charlie Warzel is a technology and culture writer for BuzzFeed. He's here to talk about Playboy's decision. Welcome to the program.

CHARLIE WARZEL: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Charlie, to start, what has Playboy said about why they've made this move?

WARZEL: Playboy has said that essentially it's time for it to grow up and to move on, and they want to kind of censor themselves. And that's an interesting way to grow up.

CORNISH: And you said it's censoring itself, but it also has to deal with big social media companies, right, that do some censoring?

WARZEL: Absolutely. Facebook and Instagram have probably the strictest policies towards this, which is pretty much, with very few exceptions, no nudity of any kind at all. Places like Twitter allow for risque content, but to be able to court people on Facebook, which is easily the, you know, most effective distribution method for content online and just a way to get in front of so many eyes, that is huge.

CORNISH: Circulation for the magazine has been dropping since the 1970s. I guess it's - you know, it was up around five-and-a-half million and now it's down around 800,000. That's for the magazine. Do you think this is about Playboy trying to win people back or is their goal just to stem the bleeding?

WARZEL: I think it's definitely about trying to win people back. I think this is one step in sort of a re-evolution. Playboy is initially sort of thought of as sort of ushering in a bit of a sexual revolution with the, you know, formerly puritanical media. And it took a lot of credit for that in its announcement of this decision. And I think, you know, what it's trying to do now is to include more people and try to be a part of that revolution in a time when, you know, just posting nude pictures isn't scandalous anymore. Now it's about trying to inject yourself into the cultural conversation and really court new audiences that way.

CORNISH: Now, we're coming to you 'cause you write for BuzzFeed about the intersection between technology and culture. And so you've actually written about, you know, just how much explicit material is available online in terms of images and videos. Where does Playboy rank in all this?

WARZEL: It is - it's not even comparable. One example - in 2012, the adult video site YouPorn pulled down a hundred million page views a day. And if you break that down, that's about 4,000 page views per second. So Playboy is not even close to on the same stage.

CORNISH: And Playboy's chief content officer, Cory Jones, said don't get me wrong. The 12-year-old me is very disappointed in the current me, but it's the right thing to do. And someone else at Playboy I guess said that it was passe to have nudes. What does that tell us about Playboy's place in the popular culture?

WARZEL: Playboy seems to sort of exist in this middle ground, this ill-defined place where, you know, you have a lot of the adult entertainment, which is very sort of hard core and caters to the fringes and is not mainstream at all. And then you have, you know, the other side of Playboy's enterprise, which is this culture and lifestyle section. You know, it came up in the '50s as what the cultured, sophisticated, suave man might read - a real sort of Esquire-like lifestyle publication. And then, you now, as it's evolved, it's kind of become a character of itself. So I think it's trying to get back to its roots as, you know, as a culture publication.

CORNISH: Charlie Warzel - he's a technology and culture writer for BuzzFeed. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

WARZEL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.