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Obscene Profits: Entrepreneurs of Pornography in the Cyber Age

   by Frederick S. Lane

    01 April, 2001


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Editorial description(s):

From Library Journal
Lane, an attorney and the publisher of the Journal of Electronic Discovery and Internet Litigation, provides a timely case study of the business and economics of pornography. What makes this an interesting study is that with the advent of VCRs and the Internet, barriers to pornography's market entry were effectively bulldozed. While still not mainstream, pornography is now fairly widely accepted, with some 60,000 adult sites currently available. (Sex does sell, to the point that pornography has a greater market share of the entertainment industry than sporting events and live music performances together.) As a result, the industry is experiencing classic and not-so-classic shakeouts. The book is written in such a way that parallels can be made to other Internet enterprises. Recommended for general and business collections.ASteven Silkunas, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Philadelphia
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The Industry Standard
Frederick Lane begins his book by flashing back to a 1997 Wall Street Journal article titled "Lessons for the Mainstream." The story profiled entrepreneur and former stripper Danni Ashe, who runs a popular X-rated Web site called Danni's Hard Drive.

What, Lane wonders, would lead the starched-collar newspaper to treat a big-boobs Web site as a straight - even congratulatory - business story? The answer, he decides, is revenues: Ashe told the Journal she was raking in $2 million a year with her site. Money changes everything.

That opening to Obscene Profits promises a businesslike look at the kings and queens of Web porn - how they got rich and, by implication, how you can, too. The book doesn't deliver.

Instead it provides 200 pages of porn history, with a 100-word primer on the basics of online pornography tacked on at the end.

Which isn't to say that some of this isn't entertaining stuff. Who knew that one of the earliest attempts at magazine pornography was 1931's covert Sunshine & Health, "the official organ of the American Sunbathing Association"? Or that in the late 1930s there were underground comics called Tijuana bibles, which depicted the sexual adventures of cartoon characters?

Unfortunately, not all the information in Obscene Profits is similarly interesting. Like bad sex, some of it is just plain boring, as well as peripheral to online porn, the supposed topic at hand. For instance, there are pages of discussion detailing the phone-sex industry, with such mind-numbing selections as "the disadvantages of using a home phone to run a phone-sex business."

The real letdown is the book's skimpy treatment of online pornography's recent past. Lane does a thorough job of documenting the rise of Web porn, from humble bulletin boards with centerfolds scanned from Playboy to early mom-and-pop sites. But on the subject of the Web's most impressive entrepreneurs, Lane basically regurgitates oft-reported personal histories.

There's Ashe and her homespun movie satires like Bra Wars. There's Seth Warshavsky, the young CEO of Seattle's Internet Entertainment Group, who made his name by posting naughty nude pics of Laura Schlessinger and the home video of a Tommy Lee-Pamela Anderson sex romp. There's Ron Levy of CyberErotica, who virtually invented the system of pegging banner-ad fees to the number of click-throughs. Where are the interviews with these entrepreneurs, the juicy details that might provide real insight to the biz? Other than quotes from the affable Ashe, Lane includes little about the Web's most successful sites that wasn't plucked from other sources - specifically U.S. News & World Report and USA Today.

Lane relies heavily on the mainstream press for his numbers - of porn sites online, subscribers and revenues. This is a bit disappointing, especially in view of the book's opening statement: that if the mainstream press is paying attention to online porn, there must be fortunes to be made there, and here's the inside dope.

All that aside, the book does provide a decent overview of the online porn scene, which is especially useful for people who would rather not troll the Web to find out for themselves. It's a good read, if only for the purpose of cultural literacy.

Those hoping to break into the biz, however, will likely come away disappointed. If you want new information on the competition - if you want to know whether it's still possible to compete in the crowded online pornography business - that's a question Obscene Profits fails to answer.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Lane, a lawyer and computer consultant, offers a fascinating and informative look at the business of pornography and the boost it has gotten from technology. Telephones, VCRs, computers, and, especially, the Internet have increased privacy and reduced the potential for public embarrassment and prosecution from existing pornography laws. Web sites featuring sexual material are the only ones consistently making money, generating more than a billion dollars in revenue annually. Lane looks back on the history of pornography for fun and profit, from early fetishes found in archaeological digs to Ben Franklin's little-known contributions to current video games that titillate with sex and violence. He examines legislative efforts and court rulings to control and restrict trafficking in pornography. But the economic opportunities in pornography, Lane concludes, invite entrepreneurs to become the electronic equivalents of Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt. Vanessa Bush --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description
Sex sells. Already a ten-billion dollar business-and growing-most sex businesses require relatively low start-up costs and minimal equipment. No wonder retired porn stars, homemakers, college students, and entrepreneurs of every stripe are eager to jump on the smut band wagon. Following the money trail, or in this case, the telecom routes, the author reveals how some big phone companies are cashing in too. Obscene Profits offers a startling and entertaining new look at this very old business, and shows why pornography, in all of its variations, (videos, magazines, phone-sex, spy cameras, etc.), is one of the most profitable and popular new careers to come out of the electronic age.

Reader review(s):

Must Read for those who want to grow rich in a growing niche, April 5, 2000
This is an excellent book, written with a lawyer's research habits and a computer scientist's discipline. For anyone interested in the most profitable industry segment of the new economy, this is required reading material. It is interesting, entertaining, and informative. Pick it up, but know the following. Money doesn't mean power. It means freedom.

The First Half of This Book is a Liberal Education, May 1, 2000
Don't let the (literally) clueless title turn you off. This is an impressive tour de force. The first half is a concise, entertaining, and enormously informative history of technology and its effects on our social customs and ways of looking at the world. Lane's grasp of mountains of material and his ability to concisely summarize it are awesome. Since I am in a related field, I intended to skim it, but was drawn into reading every word. The second half is more specialized, but is only tangentially devoted to "obscene profits" (that awful title looks like a publicists's handiwork). It poignantly conveys the ways the new technology reveals for the first time that men's obsession with pornography is of epidemic proportions.

A most thorough and entertaining read, February 21, 2000
Frederick Lane approaches the history of pornography with the eye of a scholar and the ear of a storyteller. Obscene Profits is both informative and entertaining -- no small feat considering its subject. From stag films to, Lane introduces the players and the controversies, backed by an informed look at the political, social and cultural happenings at the time. The result is an impressive debut that, above all, manages to "follow the money" while maintaining a lively perspective on one of the most contentious subjects in American society.

Porn to be Lane, January 12, 2002
From Lane's perspective on pornography, he should have surfed more porn and read fewer Time Magazines. Although he provides a very useful and entertaining history of porn in America, he lacks a real "insider's" experience. This could have come with more actual interviews with porn business pornographers other than over-publicised Danni Ashe.

This is not to say the book is bad. We all know the state of porn - or atleast you would if you're interested in reading this book. For what I required, Lane's book was almost perfect. He organized time, theme and place well, offered may other online sources and had a good chronology of events. If you're writing a TV pop documentary on the porn industry, it's a great resource. Lane's book ain't too heavy -but it's a good source for ideas.

Factual and Fun Reading, May 2, 2001
I used this book as a reference for a graduate level sociology class, and it was invaluable. The information was rich and accurate. I really enjoyed the writer's perspective.

Now we know, May 10, 2000
Ever since I was a little boy, I was interested in pornography. Now as I have grown older, it is amazing to find out how this industry, has grown to be a major influence in todays economy. Obscence Profits clearly illustrates the changes in the Porn industry and how many people have profitted from its growth. Even for people who are disguted by pornograpghy will be interested in this books portrial of the industries success.

A great outside view, September 4, 2001
A well-written review from a professsional outsider perspective. I work in this industry in a management roll and was impressed with Fred's take on things. I later met Fred and have since become friends with him. He's very serious about his work and brings a fresh perspective to a misunderstood industry.

A great read.

Exopa Terra - This is a Great Review of Porn and Cash, June 10, 2000
There is money in sex, lots of it, and this book is helpful to anyone who would like to understand more about this booming industry.

Good, but not complete, February 24, 2002
Well, here's the scoop. I met Fred twice at Conventions. The first time was immediately after he closed the hardcover version of the book. The second, while he was reseraching for the paperback update. Now, I don't know how to say this without being arrogant, but Fred missed it. You see, I am the Inventor of the Virtual Sex Machine, the worlds first interactive sexual simulation system for use with a computer. When fred was doing his research for each of the books, he missed us the first time, despite the fact that we are very public ( and have been since early 1996. Had he done even a cursury search, he would have found us. We have been covered by all the major news sources (ABC, NBC, MSNBC, Playboy, Hustler, Gear, and others.)He talks of Entrpreneurs in the Cyberage, not just the adult industry. We are most definately Front and center and were not included. I could have MAYBE understood not being included in the original Hardcover as just missing us. But we met with him twice since then, and there is NO excuse for not even a mention in the update. I bought both books expecting to see something and was very disspointed. As far as I know, we are the ONLY adult company that has Patents pending on new technologies in this industry. A search of any of the normal research areas would have turned this up. We supplied him with full coverage and contact information regarding the product, and he interviewed us twice. You may say it's sour grapes for not being included, but the fact is, we are a company in this industry with the newest and most advanced technology, and it should have been included. Maybe he'll get it right in the next book. To Fred: I'm sorry Fred, but you have really dissapointed me with your research abilities. Despite that, I still have to reccomend the book, because it is well done for the coverage that it does deal with. I just think Fred doesn't quite "get it" beyond a pure dry research approach. The book is a slow read, and is very much technical. Written more like a textbook. (With some of the best and exciting parts missing)

Indispensible primer on adult entertainment industry, May 5, 2001
Obscene Profits is the first book to pick up when researching about or doing business with the adult entertainment industry. Mr. Lane seems to have an insider's point of view coupled with an academician's intellect...which makes for engaging reading. For those fascinated by the biggest moneymaking sector on the Internet, this is a must-read.

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