New media porn is a core subject

Pornography, perhaps more than any other business, has benefited from the opportunities presented by emerging technologies and media fragmentation. Yet the recent fortunes of Penthouse magazine might lead one to believe the UK porn market is in decline. Penthouse is struggling to boost its circulation and so hold on to its franchise in the UK. Meanwhile, a number of major retailers – notably WH Smith – have decreased the range of porn titles they stock. However, the impression that this reflects a general downturn in the UK porn business is a false one.

In fact, Penthouse’s US founder Bob Guccione is keen to take back the UK licence; he has already announced plans to bring a rival US version of the magazine to the UK. The reason? The UK porn market remains a highly lucrative one. For far from declining, porn publishing has expanded and fragmented. There are now many more “specialist” titles. And in book publishing, porn has gone mainstream with the arrival of soft-porn ranges such as Black Lace and Liaison – a “his n’ hers” brand due to be launched next month.

Other emerging forms of porn stimulated by “new media” such as video-quality images on floppy disk are becoming the norm. While video remains at the industry’s core, CD-ROM, CD-i and now the Internet offer new avenues for purveyors of porn to pursue. Harder to track, and even harder to prosecute, the development of new media porn looks inevitable as its commercial potential becomes realised more fully.

Meanwhile, porn channels on cable and satellite continue to broadcast, despite European Commission restrictions. Only last month, Daily Sport owner David Sullivan announced plans to launch a sports and porn channel in the UK this spring. The Independent Television Commission had little choice but to licence it as Sullivan assured them he would observe existing guidelines. This, and Britain’s divergent view on just how such channels should be controlled under EC law, has prompted the Government to renew its demands for tighter pan-European legislation. What effect this will have remains to be seen. But it highlights a further issue: How can new media porn be monitored and who will regulate it? Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Never has that old adage seemed so apposite.

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