In hard times, the business of selling sex continues to struggle, part 1
Last week, Playboy Enterprises announced more layoffs, looking to save some $3 million a year and planning a shift from media company to licenser of the Playboy brand. The company has been on the market for some time, but so far it has failed to sell. According to Crain’s ChicagoBusiness.com, “Playboy Chief Executive Scott Flanders said in a statement the company is ‘aggressively looking’ for ways to streamline the organization.” In other words, the brand is a sinking ship.
Of course, Playboy is but one sector of the sex industry that has found itself floundering since the onset of the recession. I’ve written elsewhere on the struggles the adult movie industry has faced in the wake of federal obscenity indictments, online content pirating, and the economic downturn, not to mention more recent attempts by an AIDS advocacy organization to enforce a state regulation that requires condom use on all adult film sets.
The girl in the swing is Ryan Hunter, a pretty, 24-year-old aspiring actress who looks like a young Sandra Bullock, whose career she would like to emulate. Last year, she moved to Los Angeles from Las Vegas, where she was a student and a cocktail waitress. Now, as [adult film director] Jim [Powers] dotes on her, she giggles and smiles, leans back in the swing, and tosses her shoulder-length brown hair highlighted with blond streaks. She lets her mouth fall open, and her gratuitously glossed lips part. She runs a hand along her long, lithe body, which bears no signs of surgical intervention, and is, like the body of nearly every other performer in this business, deeply tan. When asked why she got into porn, she shrugs and responds simply: “For money.”
Previously, sex has continued to sell aggressively even in challenging times. Immediately after 9/11, the adult industry saw little change in profits as content continued to sell well. When times are hard, sex businesses often prosper as Americans looking for escapist pleasures and distractions from their woes turn to porn, flock to strip clubs, and seek out prostitutes. But this time around, not so much.
Curious how the strip club sector was faring, I asked “Bubbles,” a 16-year veteran of the scene who tweets under the Twitter handle StripperTweets from behind the red curtain at the clubs where she dances, how the business of dancing naked has changed since the economy tanked. She painted a picture of an industry in which strippers are turning to prostitution to make ends meet, in which depressed men yearn for human touch, and in which competition is, as she puts it, “separating the women from the girls.”
Well, here are some of the things I’ve seen happen in the past 18 months: clubs closing down. Clubs cutting back the number of dancers on shift. House fees and dance cuts getting higher. Dancers becoming cam girls. Dancers becoming escorts. I’ve actually seen a PHENOMENAL number of dancers turn to escorting. Not so much doing extra shit in the clubs, but wholesale quitting dancing and escorting as a fulltime gig. Dancers becoming sugar babies. Customers being depressed about layoffs. And in the midst of all this, entire states in the depressed Midwest (Ohio, Missouri) have enacted stricter rules that are guaranteed to reduce business and raise the level of service/”dirtyness” in the clubs, which is what always happens when you decide to turn a topless lapdance into a prostitution charge.
Yeah, spending is down. The difference in tips is crazy. I still make more doing this than I would, say, teaching or working in whatever fields I’m qualified for with my NSFW resume and English B.A., but I have had weeks where I look at my numbers and sigh.
Also, 90% of strip club owners are total fucking morons who only made money because they managed to get a liquor license and a pole. They don’t give a shit about providing good customer service or having a clue about marketing. They don’t train their staff at all. They don’t take care of their regulars. The 10% of clubs with competent ownership and management are going to survive; the rest of the industry: Bye!
I’m so bummed now thinking about having five-figure months on 2008. Good times! Anyhow, I’m just glad I have some sales training courtesy of Strip and Grow Rich … Seriously, this is separating the women from the girls.
As for the men, she says:
I have seen more depressed guys, yeah, and the average age of our customers seems to be dropping, maybe because a 24-year-old is fine with blowing $500/hr on the VIP room whereas a 44-yr-old with a family will think twice about spending that now. Fewer credit cards are being run overall.
But, I have to say this, it’s probably a good thing we’re around as a source of relaxation and human touch and interaction for the guys who come here to relax. I have definitely seen an increase in the really sincere thanks from guys who don’t really take time for themselves.
Monday: A courtesan reveals how the recession has effected her business.