Sunday, February 22, 1998
Web porn could rid porn shops

BY CHARLES BREWER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Larry Flynt's an anachronism.

The publisher of Hustler magazine built a fortune printing smutty magazines and fighting court battles over free speech. Now, he's trying to bring dirty bookstores back to Cincinnati.

But he's missing an important trend: Porn has moved to the Internet.

This is certainly no secret. Every Web-surfin' mother's son knows that finding pornography on the Internet is as easy as finding a pothole in February.

The reason there's so much porn on the Internet is not because computer users are a bunch of perverts. The reason is, as Mr. Flynt knows, porn sells.

Porn Web sites aren't giving away their pictures. They might post a few on the home page as teasers, but to enter the site, you must relinquish a credit card number.

These smut sites might call themselves "clubs" or claim that requiring cash to look at their wares keeps out the kids, but they are just digital versions of the X-rated stores and peep shows that squat in run-down strip malls at the edge of many American cities.

Porn: Internet cash cow

Porn is becoming big business - some say the biggest business - on the Web. The Eroscan Index, a site that wants to become the Yahoo! of adult sites, reportedly has more than 30,000 sites indexed, with a backlog of thousands more.

There's even an Adult Chamber of Commerce, which represents the business interests of the purveyors of porn. (The chamber promotes Internet filtering software as a way to give a sheen of respectability to Internet smut merchants.)

The porn business has been leading the way in electronic commerce, and some Internet analysts say porn is the top business on the Internet - although no one has any real numbers to support that statement.

The other reason that porn is such big business on the Internet is apparently because the folks who buy this stuff would rather download it in the privacy of their home, rather than be seen skulking into a dirty bookstore.

This trend was documented in late 1995 by a study done at Carnegie Mellon University (http://trfn.pgh.pa.us/guest/mrtext.html).

At the time, most digital porn was marketed on computer bulletin boards and was beginning to migrate to the Web. But the conclusions are still compelling.

According to the study:

  • "Consumers enjoy considerable privacy on computer networks and can easily avoid the potential embarrassment of walking into an 'adult' store to acquire pornography."

  • "Consumers have the ability to download only those images that they find ... arousing. Previously, a consumer had to purchase an entire magazine or video in order to gain access to a few desired depictions."

  • "Discrete storage of pornographic images on a computer enables consumers to conceal them from family members, friends, and associates."

  • "Fear of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases has helped pornographers to successfully market 'modem sex' ... as 'safe' ... alternatives to the dangers of 'real' sex."

  • "New and highly advanced computer technologies are quickly being absorbed into the mainstream, permitting an ever-expanding audience to gain access to digitized pornography."

The study also predicted the concern that the rise of digital pornography would give to schools and families and noted that Internet pornography covers a wider gamut of subject matter than traditional printed material.

A different debate

The debate over Internet porn isn't community standards vs. free speech. It's community standards vs. a free market.

If there is anything good to be said about the movement of porn peddlers to the Internet, it is that perhaps this will mark the beginning of the end for the seedy "adult business" areas that attract crime, drugs and prostitution.

Maybe market forces, not our City Council or law enforcement agencies, will send Larry Flynt packing.

Then perhaps we can figure out how to get the digital porn peddlers off the main streets of the information superhighway.

Send e-mail to Charles Brewer at CBrewer@enquirer.com.

BREWER ARCHIVE