What the Newspaper Industry Can Learn From the Adult Entertainment Industry

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We wanted to put Sewell Chan in the boa, but we didn't think you would recognize him. See? Photo: Getty (Friedman and boa) , iStockphoto ( naked dude)

Who knew the adult entertainment industry and the newspaper business were so much alike? A recent story in the L.A. Times takes a look at the struggling porn industry, which, like the newspaper industry, has been deeply affected by both the downturn and the changing technological landscape. DVD sales of porn have ground nearly to a halt, pay-per-view is down by nearly 50 percent, and websites behind pay walls are suffering as more and more amateur pornographers offer their work on the Internet for no cost. "We always said that once the Internet took off, we'd be OK," the co-chairman of adult-industry giant Vivid Entertainment observed. "It never crossed our minds that we'd be competing with people who just give it away for free."

Meanwhile, there are no new jobs in the industry, and experienced porn stars who once commanded high fees have been reduced to working for discount rates, filming sex acts they had previously refused to do, or taking on freelance projects just to make ends meet. Take Savannah Stern, the star of films such as Lethal Facesitting and Beyond the Call Of Booty 3, who recently spent seven hours at a party wearing nothing but a pink boa for a mere $300. "I wish I would have never gotten into it," Stern said of the industry, echoing the sentiments of youngish journalists whose careers began when journalism was still flush and have now found themselves blogging.

"When you get used to a certain lifestyle, it's really hard to cut back and realize this may not be forever."

But unlike the media business, the adult entertainment industry is not consumed with hand-wringing and what-does-it-all-mean editorializing. Purveyors of porn, having assessed the situation, are moving on and adjusting themselves to the new reality.

Not only are they optimistic about mobile technology as a growth area, "since they let consumers watch porn anywhere and in relative privacy," they are looking at other ways to make money off of their biggest assets: their established stars. According to the L.A. Times:

Adult performers with big followings probably will continue to prosper, since they often work under a guaranteed contract and have loyal fans who buy all their work. Business managers for Belladonna and Tera Patrick, two of the industry's biggest stars, said their clients were using their celebrity to make money in other ways, like dancing in exotic clubs and licensing their name to sex toys and lingerie. "The economy has forced us to look in other directions such as tangible goods," said Evan Seinfeld, who manages Patrick.

It seems to us that this is something newspapers like the New York Times ought to try doing: focusing on their talent. They should work harder at establishing their talent as brands — not the editorialists, like they did with Times Select; you can get opinion anywhere — but the people whose work has actual value: the reporters. Like a good talent manager, the Times could nurture and advise these reporters, guide their careers, and manage all of their creative output. They wouldn't just publish their stories, they'd also publish their books, book them on speaking engagements, broker their movie deals — and offer them lucrative contracts in exchange. The Times already has the best talent, and it's possible people will pay for it. Just like they're willing to pay for the best porn.

Tough times in the porn industry [LAT]