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Magazine Review: Scarlet


A reader had alerted me to the existence of the British magazine Scarlet some time ago, but because it is not sold in the US, I didn’t feel I had enough information to form an opinion on it (content available online is limited). The concept behind “The Magazine That Turns Women On” is a sex-positive, pro-woman magazine tame enough to be sold in the drugstore, but naughty enough to transcend Cosmo’s “50 secrets to driving your man wild”.


I recently spent a few days in London, and my first purchase upon arrival was Scarlet. I paged through it at a coffeeshop, and I’m pleased to say we’ve got ourselves a winner. My initial skepticism that the magazine would be condescending, self-congratulatory, tasteless, or narrow-minded was unfounded.


Increasing people’s comfort with sex—particular female sexuality—is key in producing an open, accepting society. Magazines like Scarlet which discuss graphic sexual details the same way one might describe a trip to the grocery store is a huge step towards increasing comfort levels.


In addition to a delightful section entitled “Cliterature” (oh, how I never get enough of sexual puns!), the magazine includes several short features about the sexual adventures of its staff writers. Most features are accompanied by photos of these women, and it’s both surprising and heartening to see how average they look. They are exactly the average, pasty, size 12, thirtysomething women with stringy hair you would imagine actually write for a women’s magazine (Hollywood movie casting notwithstanding).

One feature describes the writer’s vacation to a Swinger’s colony:


“Meanwhile, I sucked Greg off so hard that I thought my vocal chords might rip. Eventually I turned around and let him fuck me from behind while a row of guys lined up in front of me, all waiting to be sucked off.”


What an icebreaker—don’t you just wish all soccer moms were exposed to this type of writing regularly? We might not be having this Sarah Palin problem if they did…


Other things I like about Scarlet:


  • The erotic stories in the Cliterature section all make an effort to eroticize condom usage, so points for that.
  • The magazine is sprinkled with ads and reviews for sex toys, which is convenient for women (who, by the by, comprise the vase majority of the sex toy market)
  • The advertisements are amazing. Gorgeous lingerie and corsets abound; it’s highly motivating, and let me say that it’s never a bad thing for a woman to invest in gorgeous lingerie.
  • Readers are not treated as one-dimensional sex fiends, as indicated by features on non-sex-related topics like interesting historical figures, music, and well-designed office supplies (ok, so maybe that’s a bit sexual).


In sum, I highly recommend this magazine to readers on their next layover in London. You can get it at the airport (!).

The Economy's Impact on Prostitution

Call girl

Slate posted an interesting article exploring the economics of the informal economy of high-end prostitution.

I’ve often wondered exactly how prostitution is impacted by economic downturn. Logically, one would think that consumers would cut back on all forms of disposable income. But prostitution (especially high-end prostitution) fills an emotional need for many consumers, most of whom work in the corporate world, and this need is heightened during tense times of uncertainty.

According to the Slate article, prostitutes actually experience an increase in activity for about 6-8 months after the beginning of an economic downturn. Then the money runs out, and prostitutes either find ways of being more affordable to their clients (they sometimes lower prices or allow delayed payment for regular customers), or they ride out the slump with the rest of Wall Street.

Interestingly, some diversify their “portfolio” of clients (bankers, lawyers, tech guys, etc) so they aren’t so beholden to the cycles of a single industry. Others have started revolving-credit associations, involving a pool of cash that participants pay into, and from which members can withdraw during tough times. The article mentions one woman who started insuring call girls against risk, charging a premium of 5% of monthly income, and paying out up to $1,000/month for up to five months out of a year.

Pimps, strip club owners, and the like have been offering such services for quite some time, but with this assistance comes obligation, leaving many women feeling trapped. Developing informal networks of their own helps women maintain their independence.

Ultimately, the women often just have to wait it out, along with their clients. As one prostitute notes, these are Wall St guys—they will always find a way to make money, and will always come back as long as a woman makes them happy.

Is Porn in Peril?

When discussing the economics of the porn industry, a common question I am asked is how the Internet has impacted the ‘traditional’ industry. To the casual consumer or observer, it appears that one of the largest segments of the industry, the movie/DVD segment, is on the serious decline.

While it is certainly true that the Internet poses a significant threat to production studios and distributors, the threat is not fatal. It simply requires adjustment and reaction.

And the industry is doing it all wrong.

As a recent Financial Times article points out, the adult film industry has been responding to the Internet’s proffering of free, low-quality content by lowering production values and prices to compete directly. This, in turn, lowers profit margins. Another tactic is to prosecute known pirating channels like YouPorn and PornoTube. As we have seen in the film and music industry, this can have some impact, but at a great cost and questionable staying-power.

An alternate, more effective approach for movie producers is to differentiate the product from the junk freely available online.

A nugget of sheer brilliance:

"For years the industry has created very mediocre product and it has sold well because the consumer had no choice - it was all that was available. Now, the consumer has a choice and can get the mediocre content for free or for a very low price. We have to give consumers something they are willing to pay for."

This bit of wisdom comes from Ali Joone, founder of Digital Playground. Digital Playground is the company behind “Pirates,” the best-selling adult DVD of all time (released in 2006—right smack in the middle of the Internet Age). The movie was filmed in high-definition and included intricate costumes, special effects, and plot.

I would add to this the idea that brand differentiation can go a long way towards incentivising a viewer to pay for content. The more attached a consumer is to a specific woman, the less likely he is to be satisfied with grainy, amateur online porn.

This differentiation benefits female performers greatly. While actresses must contend with fervent competition and the brief lifespan of most careers, they also stand to make quite a bit of money—and if they play their cards correctly, extend their careers indefinitely.

Steven Hirsch, Vivid's chief executive, confirms my point. He says top stars can earn anything from $150,000 to $500,000 a year. Real entrepreneurs like Jenna Jameson have been able to earn more by producing their own movies.

Even actresses who are uninterested in running their own business can do quite well, if they are able to develop a distinct image. They command higher payments for movies, but earn several times this amount touring strip clubs as feature performers.

All said and done, the Internet certainly provides a challenge for the industry. But savvy producers and performers recognize this as an opportunity to innovate and rise above the fray with quality content. In the end, both the producer and consumer win.