Mexico Boom in Male Magazines Sparks Playboy Return
Sep 11, 9:53 am ET
By Chris Aspin
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - In the 1990s Playboy magazine flopped south of the border, because publishers could not find statuesque, sexy and famous Mexican women willing to pose naked, and mailmen kept stealing subscribers' copies.
But a recent boom in sales of magazines for men in Mexico has forced Hugh Hefner's empire -- currently with 18 international editions spanning from Brazil to Bulgaria -- to hunt sales again in Mexico, where once-stifling ethics are loosening somewhat.
A new publisher and editor are pinning half their hopes on a strategy of discovering the stunning and curvaceous but unknown "girl from next door" to pose naked for $5,000 for centerfolds as a way for her to launch a career.
Playboy Mexico Editor Manuel Martinez says believes he can sell 80,000 copies per month within one year. In a second phase, the publishers plan to sell the magazine in other Latin American nations.
"It is not just a question of money but also of a career opportunity," says Martinez. "It is a good step forward for those women who want to start a career in the entertainment industry or in modeling."
But it is uncertain if hoards of Mexican women, many under heavy guilt pressures from an often puritanical Catholic Church and shackled by insecure, macho Mexican men, will be willing to bare all to advance their careers.
"I'd never pose nude, not even if my modeling career was coming to an end," says model Ana Cristina Andrade, 28. "My boyfriend would not put up with it and I'd always think I was going down the road of prostitution."
The other half of the sales strategy is win over well-known Mexican, Spanish and other Latin celebrities to appear in Playboy Mexico -- nude or with little clothing.
Without naming names, Martinez and his publisher Luis Sayrols have held talks with a number of celebrities ahead of the Oct. 14 launch date when first editions will hit the streets.
But whether the likes of Spanish actress Penelope Cruz, Mexican diva Thalia or Colombian TV presenter Sophia Vergara will follow in the Playboy footsteps of Cindy Crawford, Raquel Welch and Sophia Loren remains to be seen.
Martinez is sure the combination of attracting celebrities and discovering new talent will sell 50,000 copies per month in first editions, rising to 80,000 within one year.
Hefner withdrew the Playboy Mexico license from the previous publishers in 1997. They had struggled to sell the magazine in the mid-1990s, with Mexico going through an economic meltdown after a currency devaluation.
Martinez says the old Playboy Mexico failed because its content and design were old-fashioned, and it was aimed at a lower-class audience who did not read the articles.
This time, the magazine is going for the 25-45-year-old male who is interested in reading about fashion, technology and cars -- as well as ogling the nudes.
"The guy we are going for is the good guy who we hope will buy the magazine with no preconceptions and have it in his office or at home without any fuss," Martinez says.
Mexican men, with more purchasing power than in the crisis-ridden mid-1990s, are buying more leisure reading material -- provoking the boom in this publishing genre, including a flood of imported titles.
Maxim, a men's magazine launched in Britain in the mid 1990s and now with a Latin American version, reportedly sells 90,000 copies a month in Mexico. Martinez says Maxim is not a direct competitor because it does not publish nudes, only scantily clad celebrities.
"There will always be the daring part in Playboy of publishing nudes ... in other magazines you do not find this, there is only a suggestiveness," Martinez says.
Inside six months, Playboy Mexico hopes to extend sales to other Latin American nations. Publishers Consorcio Sayrols hold the Playboy license for the entire region, except Brazil, from Chicago-based Playboy Enterprises Inc.
Beyond Latin America, a third phase of expansion might cover U.S. cities full of Latin immigrants, including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
Old distribution problems, such as late deliveries or no deliveries at all thanks to light-fingered postal workers, will not reoccur because Consorcio Sayrols runs its own distribution network.
"A strategy has been developed and presented to Playboy so this does not happen, so that deliveries are not late, so that subscriptions are not opened and stolen," Martinez says.
Hefner will not attend a Oct. 8 launch party of Playboy Mexico so as not to attract attention away from the Playmates and the magazine, Martinez says.
Casting for "girls from next door," which starts Tuesday, has drawn a "good response," Martinez says. Plans are to select finalists to attend the launch party when four Playmates will be chosen to be centerfolds for the editions in 2003.