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Playboy to launch digital magazine

For the same price as the print edition, readers will gain some new interactive features--such as "Smart Zoom."

Playboy plans to launch a digital version of its magazine next month, allowing readers to download over the Web the same content that's in the print version.

Readers will be able to subscribe to the online version starting with the October issue. They will also be able to purchase single copies of the digital magazine.

The company expects the digital magazine to appeal to a growing number of readers accustomed to consuming media online, particularly men between the ages of 18 and 34.

"There is a new generation of readers emerging, and advertising dollars are following--so expanding our online offerings makes sense," said Playboy spokeswoman Lauren Melone via e-mail.

Appealing to Internet advertisers, whose clout is growing, is also part of the equation. The company plans to incorporate ad-sponsored links in its new online product.

The digital version may also help Playboy keep a cap on distribution costs while adding new readers, the company said.

Playboy has hired Zinio Systems, a San Francisco start-up, to help launch and operate its online edition. Zinio offers digital versions of more than 300 other magazine titles, including BusinessWeek, Saveur, U.S. News and World Report, and Woman's Day. It began selling special issues of Playboy earlier this year. The company says it has more than 2 million paying subscribers from across the globe.

To view the digital version of Playboy, readers will have to download Zinio Reader, which is free. The software, which is compatible with both PCs and Macintosh machines, allows customers to navigate content via hyperlinks and text search, send copies to friends via e-mail, archive content, and zoom in on text and images. It's easy to imagine the last feature appealing to Playboy readers.

The company envisions adding other interactive features later. "Since a digitized version allows for interactive live content using rich media, you will probably see this feature incorporated into our editorial features in the future," Melone added.

Zinio and its publishing partners sell subscriptions to many titles at major discounts, but Playboy said its digital version will cost the same as the paper version.

The digital edition of Playboy is only the latest tech foray by the company. It sells adult-themed ring tones, images and games for mobile phones. The company also distributes free porn for iPods that have photo storage capabilities. More recently, Playboy launched a video game that lets players assume the identity of founder Hugh Hefner and throw virtual parties at his mansion.