Banned under communism, Playboy magazine became a legend among Russians. Artyom Troitsky, rock critic turned editor-in-chief, tells how the new Russian Playboy is shaping upby Artyom Troitsky / December 20, 1995 / Leave a comment
In the bad old days Playboy magazine-along with the CIA, Hollywood and rock ‘n roll-was a cherished target of Soviet propaganda. It was depicted as the ultimate embodiment of western decadence-which is why it became by far the most desirable printed item in the Soviet Union, the definitive forbidden fruit on paper, much juicier than any political samizdat. Twenty five years ago, thanks to my “golden youth” connections, I was among the lucky few who had not only heard or read about Playboy, but had actually seen a copy. I enjoyed every bit of it.
In November 1994, when Derk Sauer, publishing supremo of Independent Media, suggested that I become the editor-in-chief of a new, Russian Playboy, these fond memories and the chance to work inside the legend led me to accept at once. Shortly afterwards I found myself with a small staff and a deadline.
Independent Media is unusual among the few big magazine publishing groups in Russia. It started out as neither a nomenclatura-privatised old communist venture, nor as a money-laundering mafia enterprise. In fact, there is no Russian money in it: it was a Dutch investment group which launched the company’s first publishing project, the Moscow Times, in 1992. Following the success of this daily English-language newspaper, Independent Media joined with Hearst publishing to launch the Russian edition of Cosmopolitan a year later. It was a phenomenal success: the print run rose from 60,000 copies for the first issue to nearly half a million in 1995. The story of the Cosmo triumph reached the US, where Playboy Enterprises had been looking for a Russian partner. Despite several offers made by assorted Russians, it chose Independent Media.
Unlike in the US, Playboy in Russia wasn’t a pioneer in the men’s magazine market. The first was Andrey (still struggling, with about one issue a year and a tiny print-run); then came Penthouse. Luckily for us, they had gone into business with some dodgy partners. Despite initial interest in the project this quickly drove the magazine downmarket-and into bankruptcy in 1995. Penthouse was poor quality and slobbishly sexist, it did not attract advertisers and cost too much for the average working-class punter, let alone a masturbating school kid. What this type of client?le can afford, and buy in frightening quantities, is a publication called SPID-Info (Aids-Info). It was launched in the early 1990s as an anti-Aids news bulletin, but…