A few weeks ago, I received a FedEx packet from Rouze.com, as a thank you for a (rather scorching) story that I had written about the portal site that caters to men. Instead of the usual press kits and glossy head shots, though, this package was stuffed with more, ahem, manly fare. There were Rouze.com condoms, Rouze.com bottle openers, posters of seductive nymphets in Rouze.com T-shirts (and nothing else) and -- my personal favorite -- a Rouze.com pen whose featured girl in a bathing suit is reduced to skinny dipping when you flip the ballpoint upside down.
Rouze.com launched five months ago, and since then the site has made no bones about its utter lack of highbrow ambitions; it features weekly nude pictorials of barely legal vixens, profiles of out-of-work football stars and stories on "female pedophiles and angry virgins." Not exactly intellectual fare, but apparently its beer, babes and ball mentality has caused quite a stir -- and on Tuesday the fledgling company was acquired by the granddaddy of the Net's manly men sites: Playboy.com.
According to Allen Blankenship, the jovial CEO of Rouze.com, the site was inspired by the growing popularity of "lad" magazines like Maxim and Loaded. Besides producing what he describes as "decidedly male, fun and tongue-in-cheek" content for the Web, Rouze.com has made a practice of hauling its models out to public events so that men can, as he puts it, "find out that these are articulate, multifaceted and very beautiful women."
Rouze.com is, essentially, a more crass version of the Playboy empire of silk pajamas and sultry Bunnies. Blankenship is, naturally, thrilled that the lifestyle he's been advocating is being endorsed by the comparatively glamorous Playboy, the biggest men's brand around. As Blankenship explains, "Rouze.com isn't selling a myth of manhood -- we don't have an icon, a Hugh Hefner. But a lot of the mantras Hef has preached and professed are in line with what we are doing."
It also makes sense that Playboy would pick up Rouze.com (for an undisclosed sum) as part of its expanding Internet agenda. In preparation for spinning its Web business off as a public company, Playboy announced Tuesday that it had hired a new CEO for Playboy.com: ironically enough, a Disney executive named Kevin Mayer (until recently, the executive vice president and general manager of Disney's Go Network).
Unlike Rouze.com, Playboy doesn't give away the store -- while Rouze.com's pictorials of naked sexpots are free for the taking (and, not surprisingly, comprise most of Rouze.com's traffic) Playboy.com requires visitors to pay for a "cyber club" membership in order to get the good stuff. So the Rouze.com models are going to have to put their clothes back on -- the new Rouze.com will feature "near-nude" models, in keeping with Playboy's desire to hide the golden goose behind that subscription wall.
Will Rouze.com continue to be as popular once the freebies are taken away? Is this the end of nudie pens? Blankenship seems unconcerned. He sighs happily, "It's a unity of vision and like-minded individuals" -- or, perhaps, like-breasted?