Nudity and real estate

Playboy this week announced they will no longer feature nude photos of women in their print magazine.

Think about that for a second.

A publication that essentially created and defined a category for 62 years is shedding its once defining feature. They aren’t shutting down. They are making a strategic decision to shift their focus to match the world in which they now operate.

They are in a sense refining their own story. And from what I can tell, this move will likely save them.

There are lots of fascinating details about Playboy’s history and shift to no nudity both online and in print. But given that this blog is about real estate, I can’t help but think about the parallels between nude photos and real estate listings.

In talking about Playboy’s shift, CEO Scott Flanders told the NY Times, “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”


I think it’s safe to say that today we are also now one click away from every real estate listing imaginable for free. But is it “passé at this juncture”? I know many who would debate me on that.

We’ve talked here before about the radical notion of a real estate brokerage website that doesn’t have IDX. There are many pros and cons to this picture.

Pros = no IDX means no design hamstrings, which could mean much more creative user experiences and designs.

Cons = brokers list and sell homes so it would be weird not to display as many of them as possible.

The list could go on and on. And let me be clear: I’m not advocating that brokers cut listings from their websites.

What the Playboy news got me thinking about, though, is what’s left when you remove IDX, or even listings altogether, from a brokerage website. That was what Playboy had to think about in the run up to its decision.

What’s left when you take out the nude photos of women? Lucky for them, the publication has a lot of value for a lot of readers beyond the lusty centerfolds.

Young men would often say they read Playboy “for the articles”. Turns out they weren’t kidding. And plenty of women also enjoy the longform investigative journalism and new fiction. (As proof, Playboy execs said that after they got rid of nudity on their website last year, their web traffic jumped from 4 million unique visitors per month to 16 million!)

In a world of endless listicles, sourceless opinion pieces and general yellow journalism, Playboy articles stand out for their thoughtful interviews and in-depth research. Not only that, but Playboy discovered long ago that they could define “sexy” in ways competitors were not.

What is that underlying value for real estate brokerages?

A brokerage is not a portal. They do more than simply advertise homes and agents. But take an afternoon and study a couple dozen brokerage websites and you’d struggle to find what that underlying value is.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t there. But brokers for the most part have done a bad job at conveying their difference and value because they’ve been too focused on the stuff – listings – that seems to be everywhere now.

Brokerage websites rarely have any headline copy beyond “Find the home of your dreams” or “Search all homes for sale in XYZ”.

And they rarely have any content beyond what they license from national neighborhood data providers – which happens to be the same content everyone else licenses.

To me, Playboy’s big announcement this week was a great reminder that sometimes the very thing that defined you for years can easily be made common by others.

If you’re going to win, it certainly helps to have a multi-pronged value proposition that can still stand if one leg is taken out.

Plenty of brokers have this. But now is the time to better articulate and prove it.