The iconic brand has hired Moelis & Co, the investment bank, as an adviser on the sale, which could bring in more than $500 million, a source said.
A spokesman told The Times that Playboy was “engaged in a process to gauge interest from additional investment partners to help us continue to expand our media, entertainment and licensing businesses . . . This process could eventually lead to a sale of the company.”
Playboy, which burst on to the publishing scene in the 1950s with an irresistible combination of fine writing, star interviews and naked women, helped to redraw social boundaries and jump-start the sexual revolution. At its peak in 1972, the magazine sold 7.2 million copies and helped to spawn an empire founded on a unique brand of louche sophistication that includes nightclubs, digital publishing, brand licensing and the Playboy mansion, home of its creator Hugh Hefner.
However, magazine sales have been sliding for decades and are down to 800,000 a month, while the rest of the brand has been struggling to maintain its relevance in an era where nudity has lost much of its shock value.
The mansion in Los Angeles was put on the market in January with a $200 million price tag and an unusual condition that Mr Hefner, 89, be allowed to remain there for the rest of his life.
Playboy was founded by Mr Hefner in 1953. Its first magazine featured Marilyn Monroe on the cover and was put together from the kitchen table of his apartment in Chicago. It was soon a huge success and the Playboy bunny became one of the recognisable brand logos in the world.
As Mr Hefner took a back seat and the Playboy star began to fade, the company appointed Scott Flanders as its top executive in 2009 to take over from Mr Hefner’s daughter, Christie. In 2011, Mr Hefner took the company private with Rizvi Traverse Management, a private equity firm. Last year Mr Flanders declared that Playboy’s famous centrefold and pin-sharp pictures of nude women had become passé and would be dropped. The first non-nude cover, for this month, was designed to look like a Snapchat message.
The company got rid of nudity on its website in August 2014, with remarkable results. The average reader age fell from 47 to just above 30 and internet traffic rose from four million unique visitors per month to 16 million, executives said.