What Sort of Fan Reads Playboy? Franchising “The original men’s magazine”

Derek Johnson’s Media Franchising

Derek Johnson’s Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries looks to a variety of case studies in order to analyze the complexities of media franchising, tracing the relationship between creativity and business savvy. Franchises, whatever their trademark may consist of, are ultimately guided by licensing agreements and regulated collaboration. In order to navigate between the desires of independent producers in a realm of consolidated ownership, Johnson identifies a need for “synergy” on the path to success. He dissects the X-Men franchise in order to delineate the stages of the institutionalization of media franchising throughout the late 20th century. Johnson then turns to Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica to support is study of “world sharing” practices, examining the relationship between artistry and the power that structures it. Johnson builds on this idea by turning to the transnational marketplace, specifically in regards to the Transformers franchise. Though Johnson’s work traverses an extensive and varied list of examples and case studies, he maintains cohesion in his focus on dissecting the notions of “creative license” and “collaboration” in the world of media franchising (hence the subtitle). Creative license refers to the rights (i.e., copyright legislation) given to the effort to maintain the integrity of the artistic side of franchise development. Collaboration focuses more so on the institutional aspect of media franchises, in terms of licensing agreements, transnational marketing, etc.

Young Hugh Hefner

The Playboy franchise, from its onset, exhibited the synergy called for by Johnson. The American “lifestyle” magazine was designed with men in mind, featuring journalist articles, fictional pieces, and photographs of nude women. Playboy was first released in 1953. Hugh Hefner, the magazine’s primary creator, found such success in the publication that he eventually upsized his business ambitions by going public with Playboy Enterprises, Inc in the 1970s. Despite the company’s sometimes sleazy reputation, Playboy succeeded in making a name for itself through clever business practices, not just by including photographs of naked woman. Since the aim was to create a brand image not constrained to that of a pornographic magazine, Playboy featured the work of many writers including Vladimir Nabokov, John Irving, and Kurt Vonnegut and interviews with the likes of Jimmy Carter, John Lenon and Yoko Ono. Hefner sought to bridge eroticism and fine art. Whether he accomplished this is up for debate, but his creative and business choices reflect this brand narrative.

The Playboy logo

Hefner was able to raise the Playboy bunny logo to the point of being easily recognizable by not only most Americans, but by many people worldwide. Since finding a widespread market, Playboy Enterprises has expanded into a variety of divisions categorized into the Publishing Group, the Entertainment Group, the Licensing Group, and the (questionable) College Division*. The Publishing Group primarily focuses on the magazine itself and related products. The Licensing Group handles issues revolving around the Playboy trademark being used on apparel, collectables, etc. The most extensive sector, the Entertainment Group, handles the ever-expanding network of media products in the current Playboy catalogue. This division of labor helps delineate the synergy and organization required to run such a large and successful franchise.

Promotional image for The Girls Next Door

Though Playboy is not always thought of as a form of “artistry”, yet, I believe it the idea of artistic integrity is actually quite an important aspect of Hugh Hefner’s legacy. From the onset, Hefner approached the magazine with a bigger idea. It was not simply a magazine, but a “lifestyle” magazine. It was meant to bigger than simply a publication, but connote a specific style of living. He maintains continuity of this image in his choice of company expansion. The Girls Next Door is a reality series created by Playboy Enterprises in collaboration with E! and Kevin Burns. The series played on the almost mythic status of Hugh Hefner’s notorious Playboy Mansion and his relationship with the playmates that reside there. Featuring Hefner himself, the Girls Next Door follows his girlfriends Holly, Bridget, and Kendra, and then later twins Kristina and Karissa. The show ran six seasons and a number of spin-offs. The girls and Hefner even made appearance in the 2008 film The House Bunny. Playboy Enterprises’ Entertainment Group not only handles these collaborative ventures within the United States, but also those that cross country borders. Playboy has over thirty international editions and even more in the way of online content. (On a side note, it was also the first gentleman’s magazine to be printed in braille. No, there was not a tactile version of the pictures.) Like many creative concepts that become highly lucrative franchises, Playboy’s brand narrative has shifted as times change. Playboy is not longer simply a gentleman’s magazine. The Girls Next Door drew in a largely female audience and the bunny logo is popular within an incredibly varied number of demographics.

*The College Division is in charge of “Playboy on Campus”

Reference:

Johnson, Derek. Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries. NYU Press, 2013. Print. Postmillennial Pop.

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