He swings. He misses.
Hef's current blip of fame hasn't altered this grim reality. Hard-core porn still owns the more onanistic segment of Playboy's old market. Magazines such as Maxim, which publish shorter, crasser articles, are attracting the boys who once snuck a peek at Dad's Playboy. While porn and publishing are banking record profits, Playboy Enterprises lost $5 million last year and another $6 million in the first quarter of this year.
Playboy still outsells other men's mags, claims the top spots on video sales charts, and runs a busy Internet site, but its staid, Vaseline-on-the-lens style has no obvious future. The girl next door is still cute, but it's no great thrill to see her naked. Playboy occupies an awkward no man's land: It's blue enough that you don't want your mom or girlfriend to see it, but it's not raunchy enough to qualify as porn. Hef, seeking some kind of entree, desperately promotes Playboy as the Cadillac of skin mags: "We're a class act with a history, a heritage, a continuity of accomplishment. Entire generations have grown up with Playboy." But Hef and Playboy have not grown up. That's why Hef is no more than a diverting museum piece, and why his company is floundering.
David Plotz is the Editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank and Good Book. He appears on Slate's Political Gabfest.