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“It’s like pouring water into beer,” she said. “It really dilutes what it is to be a playboy.”

But Ries said going private could be a good move, allowing the company to work on building the brand without the pressure to hit quarterly earnings targets.

Not surprisingly, Marc Bell, the CEO of Penthouse owner FriendFinder, said he is interested in Playboy more for the brand’s potential on the Web and mobile gadgets than the iconic printed magazine.

“The real focus is on the digital side,” Bell said. Though he said shutting down the print magazine would be a bad idea, he added, “It needs to be run like a 21st century company.”

It is not clear what resources privately held FriendFinder has to put behind its bid. FriendFinder, which also runs other adult and dating websites, produces adult videos and licenses adult content, shelved its plans to go public earlier this year, blaming the poor market conditions. Executives had hoped to raise at least $200 million in the transaction.

Bell had acquired Penthouse as part of a 2003 bankruptcy reorganization that also saw the resignation of founder Robert Guccione as the company’s CEO. Bell declined to give any specifics on his offer, which he said would come soon.

Bob Guccione Jr., who founded Spin magazine and whose father started Penthouse to compete with Playboy in 1965, said whoever leads the magazine is going to have to update its sensibility.

“It has to be modernized,” Guccione said. “It should acknowledge the modern woman, who is more equal, more independent and not just interested in getting married _ and by the way far more sexy and interesting.”


Andrew Vanacore reported from New York. AP Marketing Writer Emily Fredrix contributed to this report.