Playboy 'exploring $686m sale'

NEW YORK • Playboy Enterprises is exploring a sale, media reports said, as the publisher of the iconic men's magazine tries to transform itself into a licensing company.

The company, which was founded by Mr Hugh Hefner in 1953, could fetch more than US$500 million (S$686 million), the Wall Street Journal reported, quoting unnamed sources.

The move comes soon after the magazine publisher ditched nude photos and launched a revamp for the digital age, reflecting how much the company's business had changed since pornography became available to anyone with an Internet connection.

A company spokesman said it had retained Moelis & Co to examine a sale or other strategic options.

Playboy, whose first issue came out when Dwight Eisenhower was president and featured Marilyn Monroe on its cover, has divested assets including its cable network, and outsourced magazine printing to focus on licensing its brand.

The magazine was taken private in a 2011 buyout led by Mr Hefner but has struggled in recent years as readers desert print magazines.

The same year, the company started transforming itself into a brand-management company, licensing the rights to use the Playboy bunny logo on a variety of merchandise, from cologne to jewellery.

Now it makes most of its money from licensing for bath products, fragrances, clothing, liquor and jewellery, among other things. About 40 per cent of that business comes from China, though the magazine is not available there, according to New York Times.

It has tried to attract more advertising dollars and subscribers after it recently dropped nudity from its pages. Circulation, meanwhile, has fallen from three million copies in 2000 to little more than 800,000 last year.

A US$500 million valuation would be well over double the US$207 million for which Mr Hefner and a private equity partner bought the formerly listed group five years ago, according to Reuters.

Forbes, which has its own powerful brand in the business world, sold for US$475 million - roughly three times estimated sales - in 2014. Time Inc, the more diverse publisher of Sports Illustrated and People, has an enterprise value of US$2.2 billion, just 70 per cent of its US$3.1 billion of annual sales.

To turn Playboy revenue around, the magazine would have to buck the trend in the industry, which is expected to lose US$4 billion in ad sales over the next four years, according to ZenithOptimedia.

In 2014, Standard & Poor's said the publisher was "vulnerable" because of "sporadic operating shortfalls", competition in brand licensing and a worsening outlook for print media.

In January, the company said it was selling the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, the home of Mr Hefner and venue for wild parties with celebrities and centrefolds, for US$200 million.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2016, with the headline 'Playboy 'exploring $686m sale''. Print Edition | Subscribe