May 15, 2010

Playboy's 3D centerfold and other dubious magazine gimmicks - The Week

Battery-powered covers? Holographic windmills? Playboy isn't the only publication trying to inflate readership with marketing tricks

Playboy's June centerfold: Almost real-life!

Playboy's June centerfold: Almost real-life! Photo: Getty

With its June issue, Playboy thinks it's concocted an idiot-proof way to boost its sagging sales: A 3-D version of Playmate of the Year, Hope Dworaczyk. (Yes, special glasses are required.) "Today's print environment," says Playboy editorial director Jimmy Jellinek, requires that you "create newsstand events." (Watch an AP report about Playboy's "3D centerfold" gimmick.) But the 57-year-old magazine, which has lost over half its circulation since 2006, is not the only publication that's tried to pop out at the newsstands as digital media has overshadowed print. Here's a look at four of the more desperate cover stunts in recent history:

Esquire's E-ink experiment
October 2008
Harnessing the same technology used in the Amazon Kindle e-reader, Esquire created the first-ever e-ink magazine cover for its 75th anniversary issue. Powered by a special mini-battery (that died after 90 days), the flashy cover blinkily declared, "The 21st Century begins now." While Esquire editor David Granger said he hoped the issue would be put "in the Smithsonian," the cover faced a barrage of bad reviews. Particularly damning: Esquire's "little experiment," said Anya Kamenetz in Fast Company, had a carbon footprint 16 percent greater than a typical print publication.

Rolling Stone
's historic 3-D cover
May 2006
For its 1,000th issue and 40th Anniversary, Rolling Stone created a holographic, 3-D cover, allegedly the first in magazine history. Though the cover, a collage image of 100 cultural figures the editors judged "most influential" since its 1967 launch, reportedly cost nearly $1 million, the investment apparently paid off. The issue sold out at many newstands, reported Jack Shafer in Slate. "Nobody in magazine publishing will say no to anniversary issues until readers do," Shafer said at the time, and "I don't think that day has arrived."

Popular Science
's boggling "augmented reality" cover
July, 2009
For its "Future of Energy" issue, Popular Science embedded an "augmented reality" module on its cover. The idea was that a reader would hold the cover upright in front of his computer's webcam, triggering the computer's monitor to display a "3-D" image of spinning windmill blades. "The investment was significant," said PopSci Media group publisher Gregg Hano. But "we felt the technology would be well-received by our readers. It is certainly something that we plan to utilize again." They haven't used it since.

Playboy's daring Marge Simpson expose
November, 2009
Playboy attracted a swarm of media attention when it showcased a "nude" Marge Simpson — the first cartoon character to land the coveted spot. Playboy CEO Scott Flanders (no relation to Ned) said the cover would help the publication reach a younger audience. "We thought it would be hip, cool and unusual," he told the Chicago Sun-Times. But "objectifying" the blue, beehived mother of three struck Gawker as "creepily fanboyish." Still, fortunes may be looking up for Playboy: After cutting its frequency, the magazine is back to publishing 12 issues a year, reports Folio.

Playboy's 3D centerfold and other dubious magazine gimmicks - The Week

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