Monday, September 24, 2007

Five Questions with Bondi Digital and the Playboy Archive

The first DVD archive of all the 1950's issues of Playboy magazine will be released at bookstores and retail outlets by Bondi Digital Publishing on November 2nd. (It is now available for presale at Long considered an icon of 20th century publishing the eventual full set of DVDs will cover every Playboy issue since the title launched in 1953. Bondi Digital Publishing has undertaken the task of truthfully representing each page of the magazine so that buyers of the set will be able to see the magazine as it was originally published.

The first set of Bondi Digital Publishing's Cover to Cover Series covers the launch of the magazine in 1953 with the now unforgettable Marilyn Monroe featured as Playboy's first centerfold, up through the beginning of 1960.

Included with the box set is a 200 page 'behind the scenes' companion book covering the highlights of Playboy's humble launch by 27-year-old Hugh Hefner and the rise of the magazine during the conservative 50s. The box set also includes a complete reprint of the famous first issue featuring Marilyn Monroe.

David Anthony is co-founder of Bondi Digital Publishing and I recently sat down with him and asked him my five questions.

  1. You also did a similar project for The New Yorker. Tell us how these three projects came about.

    There was a fellow who worked at the New Yorker named Andy Pillsbury, who I had known for years, long before he was with The New Yorker. I had shown him some interactive magazine viewing technology that I was working on in the late 90s. So fast forward 5 or 6 years, and he is now at the New Yorker and he and Ed Klaris, their general counsel, are talking about doing a complete digital archive of all 80 years of the New Yorker. He looks me up and contacts me, and in the meantime I had started a DVD design and production company with Murat Aktar – which was actually great background for what the New Yorker had in mind. At the DVD company, we had been thinking about and designing all these DVD interfaces, including things like the Rolling Stones Four Flicks box set, so when it came to thinking through how people might like to experience half a million pages of a magazine, I think we brought a very unique perspective to the project. It was, of course, on one hand a huge technical challenge, but in a very real sense I believe the greatest challenge of these kinds of projects is trying to help people make sense of the vastness of the media, while at the same time making sure that the digital experience is fast, intuitive and hopefully fun and useful, all at the same time.

    Coming off of the New Yorker project, we thought, hey this is kind of cool. I wonder what other magazines might like to have complete digital archives? Right off the bat we were thinking about Rolling Stone and Playboy. They are both very innovative magazines, and both had a rich and long history – and they had these visionary founders who were still at the helm. Besides, we are both long time readers of the publications. So it made a lot of sense to talk with them – and low and behold both loved the idea and we were able to work out deals with them.

  2. Were the projects similar? What have you learned from one project to another?

    From a publishing perspective, the big difference with the Rolling Stone, Playboy and The New Yorker, is that beginning with Rolling Stone Cover To Cover: The First Forty Years and Playboy Cover To Cover: The 50s, we launched Bondi’s publishing arm and are bringing these out under ourselves. While Bondi developed the software platform for the Complete New Yorker, it was published and distributed by The New Yorker and Random House.

    All three magazines are very different, so a big challenge that we have in any of these projects is to first analyze each magazine’s format and create a schema for its database that makes sense of all the idiosyncrasies of each magazine’s particular formatting characteristics.

    As far as the software platform goes, the Bondi Reader, which is what we are calling it now, has continued to evolve quite a bit. We now support full text search, using a very powerful indexing engine. This is a great step forward and has sped up our searches to the point where the local experience compares favorably to online searches. Also we are adding the ability to import and exchange reading lists, which will allow two people who own the same archive to share what they find very easily.

  3. There is a lot of interest in the Playboy products because the magazine is such an icon for our times. Tell us about the conception for the product – breaking the titles into decades – and the thinking behind the design.

    Each decade of Playboy has a unique tone and feel, and by publishing the magazine’s archives decade by decade, Bondi is able to offer distinctive features for each digital archive collection. Playboy Cover-to-Cover: The 50s will not only include all of the magazine’s issues on DVD, but it will also include Playboy 50s – Under the Covers, a 1950s-focused companion book that is absolutely chock full of never-before-published photos and letters from Hef’s personal library and archive. As well we have created a page-for-page reissue of the very first Playboy from 1953 with its iconic Marilyn Monroe cover.

  4. What most excites you about the products? (Rolling Stone, NYer, Playboy)?

    I guess it is seeing all these amazing stories, photos and ads come back to life – in their original context. I for instance did not know that Annie Leibovitz had taken that great cover shot of John Lennon curled up with Yoko but a few hours before he was taken from us. That is a hugely important fact in helping to understand the impact and importance of that cover. But that was 1980 and I was only 13 years old – so I never experienced the magazine itself. I, like I imagine a lot of people, have only ever experienced that shot as a stand-alone photo. We have seen that cover reprinted over the years, but without seeing it in the context that it was originally published you might never understand its true significance. And that is extremely exciting to me – that we might be playing a part in not only preserving these magazines legacies, but also allowing for people to understand these very real cultural events in a full and clear way.

    Not having been alive in the 1950s it was also a real eye-opener to see the Playboy issues from the 50s. From the first issue, the voice and outlook are clear. But at the same time you begin to see the role that Playboy played in both women’s rights and also civil rights. In the 50s women didn’t work out of the house, let alone have a sense that they should be allowed to own their sexuality. And as I found from working on the project, the publishing of Playboy was a bit of a watershed moment in the turning of society’s views on women’s rights, and then also civil rights. So all of that is exciting to us. And then to see that Hefner from the beginning courted writers like Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac and Steinbeck – well you get the point. Turns out there is a reason for all the jokes about the articles.

  5. What is next for Bondi? Are you looking at any other implementations you can tell us about?

    At the moment we are concentrating on finishing up the software production for both the Playboy Cover to Cover and Rolling Stone Cover to Cover products. Then we focus on deals with several other magazines. As excited as we are about the success of the Complete New Yorker and the release of our Cover to Cover series, I don’t think that the general public really understands what a searchable digital archive of a magazine is yet. And so it is important that this not be a category of one or two products. Our focus for the time being is working with other magazine publishers to develop similar Cover To Cover products. We are just about ready to announce Playboy Cover To Cover, The 60s, which will bring our Cover to Cover series to three. By the holiday 2008 season, we hope to have six - eight Cover To Cover titles in the line.

Bondi PR is being handled by Catherine Lewis at The Rosen Group:

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