The big question media insiders were asking late last week after Lindsay Lohan's Playboy photoshoot was leaked online was whether or not the company's major investment in the actress -- a rumored $1 million -- was worth it.
Lohan's racy photos hit the Web on Friday, a whole week before they were set the debut on the "Ellen DeGeneres Show." Sources told TMZ that Playboy was seriously concerned about how the magazine will sell on newsstands now that the Lohan pics are available online for free.
Playboy wouldn't comment specifically on the issue of sales, but sent a statement regarding the leaked photos.
"Someone took photos of Lindsay's pictorial in an advanced copy of the January/February issue. They posted the photos online without permission," Playboy rep Abigail O'Donnell said in an email Friday.
Hefner himself took to Twitter Friday after the leaked photos got out and announced the magazine would release Lohan's issue online at i.Playboy.com earlier than expected.
"Because of the interest & the Internet leak, we're releasing the Lindsay Lohan issue early," Hefner tweeted, adding the issue would be a Collector's Edition. "Lindsay Lohan was the top search name on the Internet yesterday. Her issue goes on sale late next week. Hot. Hot. Hot."
The much-anticipated Lohan issue was expected to be a big money-maker for the magazine, which saw its rate base -- the circulation numbers guaranteed to advertisers -- fall from 2.6 million to 1.5 million in 2010. But with the entire spread leaked early, some media and pop culture experts say sales of the print edition could be hurt.
"Anyone with Internet has already seen [Lohan's photos] and let's face it: If you like porn, you have the Internet," said Cooper Lawrence, author of Cult of Celebrity. "They're nothing special -- no full-frontal, very airbrushed; it's a big yawn. If they were hot then pictures sales would still be high, but since they only disappoint I expect it to be one of the lowest sales the magazine has had. Her star is burning out and this is us watching her on the way down."
Other magazine insiders disagree, saying the leak could pique interest in the spread without cannibalizing newsstand sales.
"The entire spread and photos were going to end up online anyway, whether it was a week early or the day the issue hits newsstands," In Touch Weekly Senior Editor Dorothy Cascerceri told The Huffington Post. "This generally happens with almost all magazine photos and stories."
Cascerceri also added that while the leak made the highly publicized photos available earlier than expected, it also made them available to people who might have never seen them at all.
"There are two categories of people -- those who will generally read articles and look at photos online and people who will actually go out and purchase a magazine because they want to get their hands on it," she said. "A leak doesn't generally sway people to change their buying habits, but a leak does attract many people who may not have been interested or may not have had Lindsay's Playboy spread on their radar. Now they do."
And some spin doctors think the initial leak could have been an inside job.
"I would tend to believe this was a clever marketing move by a person close to Playboy," Hollywood publicist Michael Sands told The Huffington Post. "In a bad economy and when you pay a celebrity close to a million dollars, you have to create a buzz and leak the photos to create sales."
However, according to Fox News, the entire Playboy issue was available via a file-sharing website based in Russia. An anonymous individual, who claims the hacked Lohan issue was not his first time distributing Playboy images, made the images available for purchases via a different Web site based out of the Ukraine.
"When I've done it before, Playboy sent a email to take down the links, and I do," the individual, who asked to remain anonymous, told Fox News.
According to Playboy, the issue featuring Lohan is available now on i.Playboy.com and hard copies of the January/February issue should be available around Dec. 16.
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