The news that Playboy is dumping DVD production for online offerings is being taken as a sign that physical media is dead, but the truth is more complicated (and a bit filthier).
In a filing with the SEC last week, Playboy revealed that it is planning to dump the production of its bunny-laden soft core DVDs and concentrate on producing content for online viewing instead. "We will continue to deliver more of our content digitally, using our assets across multiple distribution platforms and adding more a la carte offerings," CEO Christie Hefner (yep, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner's daughter) wrote in a memo to employees. "Given the declines in the DVD market, we will exit that business in phases over a few months to concentrate on selling that content online."
Of course, some of those employees probably weren't that excited at the news that rabbit-eared lovelies would continue to proliferate online, given that Playboy is also planning to sack at least 50 of them.
But staffing issues aside, much of the online commentary for this story has taken this event as yet more evidence that the market for physical media such as DVDs is dying rapidly, and that we'll soon consume all our entertainment online.
The adult industry is frequently seen as a leader when it comes to Internet trends, having experimented with ecommerce and live video chats when most people could barely construct an HTML page. Resistance to new hi-def DVD formats, evident both in consumer inertia and the refusal of prominent suppliers like Apple to go nuts for Blu-ray drives, is often seen as further proof that the future of entertainment is one where streaming will happen to everyone, not just participants in Playboy wet T-shirt competitions.
That may well be the case in the long term, but the fact is that Playboy had problems that would have occurred no matter what the trends were in porn consumption. The simple truth is this: in an era where a simple Google search can get you instant access to any fetish you want, from getting it on with soft toys to completely unexpected use for vegetables and any amount of bodily fluids, the softcore material that Playboy specialises in looks pretty lame. If you're going to bother surfing and paying for porn, why settle for something that's not much more revealing than the average lingerie catalogue? That worldview apparently affects the print magazine too, which has less than half the circulation it enjoyed in its 1950s and 1960s heyday.
Playboy's business approach may also need tweaking. Its subscription adult site is still its main online vehicle, but many in the adult industry have argued that consumers prefer a pay-per-view model. Dumping DVDs might help to cut costs, but making the Playboy brand relevant in the uber-filth era will take a lot more work.