Playboy chief executive Scott Flanders told CNN the possible sale “arose out of the interest in the sale of the mansion,” and is being handled by the Los Angeles-based investment firm Moelis & Company.
“Previously we engaged them in the fall to grow the media business and to separately list the mansion,” Flanders said. “And as part of that they had inquiries as to whether the company could be sold. And several well funded entities have expressed interest.”
No such entities were named. But the Wall Street Journal thought the company, founded by Hefner in 1953 and taken private in 2011, could be worth more than $500 million. There’s not just the mansion and the magazine — whittled down to 800,000 subscribers from 5.6 million in 1975. There’s also the brand.
“The Playboy bunny is one of the most recognizable brand logos in the world, and the robe-wearing, pipe-smoking Hefner is a strong brand himself,” Forbes wrote in 2013. “Long after … Hefner passes, his image will have marketability. It’s crass, but it sells.”
Playboy’s alleged crassness, however, may be on the wane after it dispensed with nude photography — said by some to be an anachronism in the age of free Internet pornography. The first non-nude cover, for March 2016, was designed to look like a Snapchat message. Meanwhile, the company got rid of nudity on its website in 2014, and says the average age of the site’s users has actually gone down.
“The upside of having nude photography in the magazine is negligible and the downside is that it brings a kind of stigma to the brand that they don’t need,” Thomas Ordahl, a chief strategy officer at consulting firm Landor, told AdWeek last year. “Playboy’s decision is a no-brainer from that standpoint.”
The company also got rid of its joke list.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard of dad jokes?” the magazine’s chief content officer Cory Jones said last month. “These were almost grandpa jokes, a little bit.”
What Hugh Hefner would do as Playboy’s tenant rather than its landlord is not yet known. The company’s “chief creative officer” who signed off on the non-nude move, he turns 90 next month — though, for the record, he is married to a woman in her 20s. Hefner’s 63-year-old daughter Christie Hefner stepped down from her position as Playboy CEO in 2009; it was said Hefner was grooming his 24-year-old son Cooper Hefner to take over, but Cooper is on the outs with the company.
“I’ve taken a massive step back with Playboy just due to the fact that I, at this point in time, do not agree with the decisions and the direction that the company is actually going in,” he said last month. A former board observer and brand ambassador, the millennial Hefner said he was “essentially asked to no longer participate in the board meetings.” He disagreed with the decision to cover up, saying nudity was part of the “company’s DNA.”
Larry Flynt, Hustler’s 73-year-old founder, expressed skepticism about the change, saying the elder Hefner has “lost his mind.”
“You can’t keep rearranging the chairs on the Titanic,” he said. “It’s going down.”