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Economy Exposes Adult Entertainment Industry To Downturn

6 November 2008 No Comment

By Karen Weise

Even for S&M fans, the pain of the current economy can be too much.

At last weekend’s Exotic Erotic Expo and Ball, a tradeshow and party billed as a “Celebration of Flesh, Fetish, and Fantasy,” small adult entertainment businesses said they are facing bleak balance sheets, with declines in customer spending and decreased access to credit for their own businesses.

Sitting behind a display of vacuum pumps for penis enlargement and erectile dysfunction, Dr. Joel Kaplan bemoaned the downturn his business has faced this past year. Kaplan said his regular market of bodybuilders and jocks have cut back purchases by 40 to 50 percent.

“They are just lookey loos,” he said, gesturing to the costumed guests at the Expo. “Nobody seems to have any money.” Kaplan said in his 12 years in business, the economy had never previously effected his sales.

Nationally, consumer confidence dropped in October to the lowest point since the private Conference Board started tracking the data in 1967. Economists at Global Insight said real consumer spending has likely reached the lowest level since 1980.

Attendance at the Ball and Expo was down by more than 50 percent this year. Press releases said a combined 28,000 attended last year and predicted 30,000 would shell out $69 for the Ball and $20 for the Expo this year. However this year’s preliminary attendance estimates showed an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people went to the Ball and 3,500 people attended the Expo, according to Christopher Buttner, publicist for the event.

Walking through the Expo in a sea-foam green corset, Atlanta-based Mylie Moore said the day rates for porn actresses like herself are down on average $120 per day, and that’s for those luckily enough to get work at all. When she was last in the Bay Area early this summer, she said she made $20,000 in a month and a half during 21 different shoots. Last weekend, she had already spent two weeks in the Bay Area without one gig.

While contracting credit markets have halted consumer spending, shrinking business lines of credit have not differentiated between G- and X-rated companies. Lashieka Wright, owner of Silky Seductions Lingerie, said she worked for years to improve her credit rating to receive a small business loan. She said she finally upped her score just as banks cut back on lines of credit.

To pay for a space at the Exotic Erotic Expo, Wright said had to dip into savings. She used to sell her satin negligees at house parties, but now she said she must do more aggressive marketing. “They were buying, but now they don’t,” she said.

While self-employed and small business owners said they felt the economic pressure, larger companies said business was still brisk. With more than 40 adult boutiques and bookstores in California and Hawaii, Adult MegaStores had the largest booth space at the Expo. Chris “Ziggy” Lovato usually works at their Livermore store, Not Too Naughty, and manned a table at the Expo. He said store sales remain strong.

His store’s wall of handcuffs is full on Tuesdays and needs to be restocked by each Friday. “People that come to buy porn aren’t ashamed at throwing down money,” he said.

While bondage paraphernalia salesman Sam Hen said the most expensive items were the first to stop selling, contributing to a decrease in sales by 50 to 60 percent, Lovato said he has not seen a drop in pricey products.

Premium condom company MaxPro has also not seen its market erode. Mike Guido, director of marketing and product development for MaxPro Condoms, said sales are trending “in the upward direction” since launching last year. MaxPro enjoys the support of parent company of IBI Synergy, which in turn is part of Malaysia-based NRS Global Partners, a leading supplier in the latex dipped products industry.

Adult MegaStore’s Lovato said he believes adult purchasing behavior is less about the economy and more about people thinking porn shops are socially acceptable.

“If I had my way, I’d talk them into getting the Bentley, as opposed to the Honda Civic,” he said.

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