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6/3/2007
09:25 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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How Is Porn Like The Mainstream Press?

What do purveyors of dirty pictures have in common with journalists? Answer: They're both getting screwed by the Internet. The New York Times turned up the apparent fact that the two professions are bedfellows of a sort, in its weekend story "For Pornographers, Internet's Virtues Turn To Vices."

What do purveyors of dirty pictures have in common with journalists? Answer: They're both getting screwed by the Internet. The New York Times turned up the apparent fact that the two professions are bedfellows of a sort, in its weekend story "For Pornographers, Internet's Virtues Turn To Vices."The common thread is that the traditional porn business, like newspapers and magazines, is getting killed by the Internet's race to the bottom. (I'm talking costs, not quality; we'll get to that later.) As the Times story explained it: ". . . the online availability of free or low-cost photos and videos has begun to take a fierce toll on sales of X-rated DVDs."

Welcome to my world (the low costs, not the X ratings). Reporters and editors have been getting squeezed, at a pace that's accelerated since the recovery from the post-9/11 tech crash. Every week, it seems, there are new notices of layoffs in the news business. Just off the top of my head, recently announced cuts include 100 newsroom jobs at the San Francisco Chronicle, 57 jobs at the L.A. Times and the sale of Chicago's Tribune Corp.

At fault is the same effect the Times cites as operative in the porn industry: The abundant availability of free content online.

Now here's where it gets funny. (True, you have to be a reporter, editor, or media executive to get the joke.) The Times reports that the old-line X-meisters aren't going down without a fight, and that they think they've come up with a way to head off their lower cost competition:

"The more traditional pornographic film companies are not giving up, of course. They say they have an answer to the new competition: quality."

Let's set aside for now the very intriguing question of just what exactly would constitute better quality in this venue. The Times innocently implies it has something to do with better lighting or more interesting backdrops; I'm skeptical.

So is better quality the bulwark which traditional media can use to stave off the Internet? Sadly, I have to tell the pornographers that us news guys (and gals) have been there, done that. It doesn't work.

Indeed, it must be as scary to the porn people to see how easily they can be replaced as it has been to traditional journalists. In both cases--amateurs in porn and bloggers in online news--the bar to entry is so low as to be non-existent. Possibly the bar to success is equally low.

Remember, though, it's not that customers don't want quality; they do. It's that, once they become acclimated to getting stuff for free, they can't be persuaded to pay for it. Even the music industry is having a tough time with this one, despite the fact that they're pointing a metaphorical loaded gun (the thread of lawsuits) at their customers.

Further, it should be noted that generating quality content isn't hard. What's difficult is finding the money to pay for it. The porn producers are no doubt finding out what newspaper and magazine publishers have been grappling with for several years now. So far, online revenues don't have a one-to-one correspondence with the traditional revenue streams they're replacing.

In the news business, this means that online ads still don't generate as much money in toto as print ones used to. Add to this the fact that Google and Craigslist have siphoned off a lot of ad dollars, and you've got today's crisis situation.

Where do we go from here? I don't claim to speak for anybody else in the news business, but I think I'm on safe ground in saying that we don't have the foggiest idea. Currently, we seem to be grappling with two major schools of thought.

One way to go is the Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine.com approach. I call his line of thinking, "we are the world" journalism. It basically says, buck up, citizens are the new journalists, and embrace the conversation. How to pay for it? Jarvis doesn't say, though his underlying message is that he should be hired to consult on whatever it is that you do.

Or one could put one's lot in with Rupert Murdoch, and his apparent plan to save The Wall Street Journal by possibly destroying it.

For now, neither way appeals to me. Until I have a better answer, my plan is simply to type faster.

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