Several people were walking around Hugh Hefner's Playboy estate in Los Angeles this past November trying to pronounce a Hebrew phrase – shfanfanat Playboy ("Playboy bunny"). They'd just learned it and were having fun rolling it around their tongues.
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The Israelis who taught Hefner and his staff the new term weren’t just in L.A. for a language lesson, they were there to do business and get tips on editing and producing the first Israeli edition of the famed adult magazine.
The man behind the plan to publish Playboy in Israel is Daniel Pomerantz, 37, an American Jew who immigrated to Israel last year. After a career as a lawyer in the United States, he decided that his place was in Israel. At the same time, he thought it'd be a great idea to bring Playboy on aliyah with him to satisfy the curiosity of Israeli men. He and several other U.S. businessmen bought the rights to distribute an Israeli edition and are investing a million dollars in the launch, which is a few months away.
“We went to Hefner’s estate with the Israeli team to learn from the Playboy experts,” Pomerantz told TheMarker. “Hefner was very excited that there was a word [for bunny] in Hebrew – it proved that there is a cultural link between the Playboy brand and Israeli culture."
Playboy magazine, founded by Hefner in 1953 and known first for its photo spreads of nude women and second for its high-quality written content, is one of the best-known brands in the world. Although circulation in the United States has dropped and the company has had its share of crises, it is still a huge entertainment corporation that includes significant online activity, erotic television stations (which operate in Israel under a separate franchise) and magazines in some 30 countries. Playboy has never appeared in Hebrew although a local edition of its competitor, Penthouse, appeared in Israel between 1989 and 1993.
The leading men’s magazine in Israel is Blazer, published by the Yedioth Ahronoth Group, which, alongside articles and columns, includes more than a few revealing photos. Playboy plans to enter the same niche, but to be more daring.
How daring, exactly? The editors won't say.
“I don’t want to get into all these details, because we want the public to be somewhat surprised,” says Pomerantz. “But I can promise you that we won’t disappoint the readers. The magazine will be very sexy, but it’s not about sex. It will be inspiring and broadcast quality and beauty.”
Reading Playboy for the articles
The interview with Pomerantz takes place in the lobby of the Brown Hotel in Tel Aviv, which is no coincidence. A huge Playboy poster from the 1970s covers one of the walls in the lobby and boasts a spread about the "Girls of Israel." So the Playboy folks feel right at home. Despite the poster, passersby look somewhat shocked by pile of Playboy magazines spread out on the table.
It’s unclear whether Israelis in 2013 will consider a magazine with nude photos acceptable, either because they are conservative or because they object to the use of women as sex objects, a charge leveled at the magazine since its inception. Circulation potential is not the only issue; there's concern that large advertisers may be reluctant to jump on board.
But the Playboy team feels there is an audience waiting and they're working hard to win the hearts of Israeli men. The team already includes an editor-in-chief, a deputy editor, a designer, a vice president of marketing and a business development manager, while Pomerantz serves as CEO.
All the Playboy-Israel execs know the old joke about people who “read Playboy for the articles,” but they are taking the magazine’s content very seriously.
“The magazine will be a mix of local and international content,” says editor-in-chief Neta Jakobovitz-Keidar, previously a writer for Onlife. “The first part of the magazine will combine all the leisure areas that appeal to men, like gadgets, styling and food, whatever interests the Israeli man and will give him a taste of the good life.
“The second part will include our feature, investigative and color pieces on such topics as culture, society and sports. There will also be a whole section dealing with politics, economics, opinion pieces and criticism,” she continues. “American Playboy is now reprinting pieces from its 50 years of interviews with presidents, intellectuals, actors, and Nobel Prize winners – and we’ll publish them.”
A significant portion of the content will be articles that have appeared in editions of Playboy elsewhere in the world, but the magazine is also recruiting Israeli writers and columnists. Jakobovitz-Keidar isn’t concerned about how an Israeli reader will respond to foreign content.
“We’re creating a varied mix. We choose every translated article the way you’d choose pearls, and we’ll match them to the Israeli audience,” she says. “We believe that this is actually our strong point – to bring material from outside and not just deal with the local morass. Playboy has more than 30 editions all over the world, and we have a content-sharing agreement.”
An opportunity to see Israel's "nicer" side
Aside from the articles and columns, of course, the Israeli edition will likely cause a public storm by filling the magazine with blue-and-white nude photos. The women featured in the traditional centerfold – a nude photo across the magazine’s center spread – will be Israeli, the editors say. The magazine has already made contact with Israel’s leading modeling agencies and has uploaded a website on the Playboy domain inviting Israeli women to be photographed.
The covers will feature famous Israeli women, and negotiations with several local celebrities have already begun. Jakobovitz-Keidar refuses to say who will be on the first cover. “Appearing in this magazine will be an opportunity for local models and photographers to get international exposure, because [other Playboy editions] will also be taking content from us,” she notes.
Like every good Jewish boy, Pomerantz believes that the magazine will improve Israel’s international image. “For me this is an opportunity to show the world the nice side of Israel, the culture here,” he says.
The man poised to become the Israeli Hugh Hefner is young, smiling and enthusiastic, with ulpan-level Hebrew. He grew up in Chicago, studied law and opened a small law office. Playboy’s headquarters was in Chicago at the time, and that’s how he became friends with some of Playboy’s attorneys.
Over the past two years he started to make regular visits to Israel and always enjoyed himself.
“I saw that this is a modern, fun and trendy country,” he says. “I loved Israel, I loved being here. That’s why I kept coming back to visit, and I always felt at home.
“One day a friend asked me if I missed Chicago when I’m here. I suddenly realized that actually, I missed Israel when I was there, and that’s how I understood that Israel is my home and that I had to make aliyah. After a few months, I was here.”
Pomerantz was surprised to learn that there was no local edition of the magazine he knew from back home.
“I went to my friends at Playboy and I told them that there was no such magazine in Israel. They referred me to their international department to talk to them, and then they made me an offer to bring out the magazine in Hebrew,” Pomerantz says. Although he had no previous journalism experience, he decided to go for it.
‘88% of young men read magazines’
Pomerantz is familiar with the global journalism numbers. Conventional wisdom is that print is dying, if not already dead, even if it includes arousing content.The pornography industry in particular has long been a mainstay of the Internet, with some estimates saying it constitutes nearly 40% of online content. All this doesn’t scare the excited entrepreneur.
“We’ve done surveys in Israel and discovered that 88% of our target audience, men aged 25-35, read magazines; 93% of them recognize the Playboy brand, and 3% of them even buy the American edition,” he says. “If magazine reading is still so popular, then print isn’t really dead. Besides that, we will be working on all the platforms in Israel; we will also be very active on the Internet and social media, so our audience will be able to connect with us any way they choose.”
Like other print media, the monthly magazine Blazer, Playboy’s direct competition for young men’s attention, has seen a drop in circulation over the years. According to its publisher TGI, during the second half of 2007 Blazer had the most exposure of any monthly magazine, reaching 5.4% of the audience. By the first half of 2012, it was still the leader, but had dropped to a market share of 3.3%, even though it has the backing of the strong Yedioth group and is promoted on the group’s Ynet news site.
Playboy’s newest publisher plans to go it alone for now, without hooking up with any existing media group, which will only make penetrating the Israeli market more difficult. Pomerantz plans to do his marketing primarily via the Internet.
Is Pomerantz, who is single, worried that a potential girlfriend might be turned off by his line of work? He answers with a smile, “I hope there won’t be any problems. If she has a problem with it, she won’t go out with me. Neta is married and her husband is very supportive, and our team has a lot of men and women that are very supportive of this project.”