It was also one of the titans of magazine publishing, a genuine classic which got so many things right that it was able to continue for decade after decade, unchanged in its fundamentals. In this respect it was like the New Yorker and the National Geographic, which are also among the very few magazines I could be bothered to read. Playboy was solid, beautifully designed and it always worked. Like a vintage Rolls Royce.
When I heard that Playboy was planning to drop its nude photographs, I didn't think that was a bad thing. I figured the main difference it would make is that I could now leave the magazine lying prominently around amongst my current reading matter without receiving a scolding from my more feminist friends.
Indeed, I was rather looking forward to the new Playboy, and when I saw the first issue (March 2016), with its attractive matte cover, I eagerly bought it in a spirit of cheerful curiosity and optimism.
What I was expecting was the same old Playboy, minus nudity. What I hadn't realised was that the magazine had been completely redesigned and reconceived (or perhaps I should say misconceived).
There are good things about the magazine. The main articles are strong – an interview with Rachel Maddow; fiction by Don Winslow. And the cover is in some ways reassuringly traditional, featuring a scantily clad, fresh faced young woman, Sarah McDaniel. She's been photographed by Theo Wenner, but is posed so she appears to be taking a selfie. This, along with the Snapchat style strapline on the cover — "heyyy ;)" — is so achingly, and meretriciously, trying to be down with the kids that it made me think irresistibly of Poochie in The Simpsons.
But that's the least of the problems here. To my mind, you could get rid of the nudes, but there were certain essential aspects of Playboy you couldn't dispense with. For example, the Playboy Advisor. This feature has doled out anonymous and authoritative advice for decades. Not just about sex and relationships, like every other magazine, men's or women's, but on any topic the reader was concerned about. Food, drink, hi-fi, cars, fashion, travel, etiquette, social mores... its remit was unlimited and the genuinely expert advice it offered was spot on; and each issue featured a dozen questions, with pithy, witty, well informed and valuable answers, making for fascinating reading.
Well, it's been replaced by a non-anonymous high profile writer, the aptly named Rachel Rabbit White, who is not an expert in anything. She responds to a single question per issue. About sex. In other words, a traditional agony aunt in a feature which is now just like every other magazine, men's or women's.
Other regular features have got the axe, like Raw Data (riveting statistics, cheekily presented). And there's also no letters page, presumably so as to smooth the transition — and not provide a forum for the tens of thousands of angry, hurt and betrayed readers who are going to rail against the destruction of their beloved mag.
But worst of all, the cartoons are all gone. Presumably they're too old fashioned — plus it's true that they don't work with the new layout. My solution to this would be to scrap the new layout. The cartoons were an essential part of the Playboy mix, and key to its popularity and longevity.
The bitter irony here is that Playboy has adopted its new look specifically in an attempt to capture the market share of magazines like Maxim. And one of the things Maxim got right when it launched, and which allowed it to become established and successful, was the inclusion of cartoons.
God knows what is going to happen to all those great cartoonists, including Gahan Wilson, Harley Schwadron, Sidney Harris and P.C. Vey, who are now pretty much out of work. The New Yorker still uses cartoons, but Playboy was always the best paying market. So a whole generation of talented artists are out of business and will no longer be able to pay their bills.
Never mind. On the evidence of this first new issue, Playboy soon will be out of business, too. They have traded in a vintage Rolls Royce for a Prius Hybrid.
(Image credits: (Most of these links also feature interesting articles about the end of the traditional Playboy.) The March 2016 cover is from the Mirror website. The iconic October 1971, a groundbreaking image featuring African American model Darine Stern is from 680 News. The ever amusing College Issue, October 2015, is from BBC News. The rabbit head is from Miss Open. The December 2015 cover, one of the last of the old school Playboy, sniff, is from Pixhost via DL-Home. The December 1953 cover — the very first — is from USA Today. Poignantly, Marilyn now seems to be waving goodbye to Playboy.)