A Year Without Porn (No, Not Like That!) Part 1

First the personal:

Here’s a reveal: I grew up in the magazine distribution business. My Dad was the general manager of a small magazine, book and newspaper distribution company. I could tell you that I was intimately involved in the comings and goings of the company but that would not be true and if I were in Connecticut (which is not far from my ancestral home), I’d be in trouble . But as I’m in Illinois, I could have told that whopper and I would have gotten away with it.

But my Dad was more engaged than most fathers from that time, and he enjoyed regaling us with stories of his work-a-day life and we loved hearing them.  And, during spring breaks when his company did inventory, I did have the opportunity to work in the warehouse and that’s when I first had my introduction to the world of printed porn magazines.

The company had brought me and the owners son in to help with inventory . Most of the work in the first few days involved going up into a very dirty and cobweb filled loft and tossing down old inventory that the tie line employees for some reason had tossed up there. When that task was finished, we moved on to a large stack of periodicals that were waiting for their covers to be stripped. Back in the day, many magazine wholesalers still did not have “affidavit” privileges,  and UPC scanners were just coming into their own.

At some point during the day, the stack revealed some “adult themed” magazines. We were teenage boys , so, of course, this was the most intriguing reading material we had ever seen. We stopped what we were doing, flipped open the magazines, and wondered who on earth would want to destroy such beautiful print creations by ripping the covers off of them?

My Dad’s office overlooked the warehouse floor – the better for him to oversee what he was supposed to manage. He came down onto the shop floor a lot too and I do remember seeing him out on the floor checking in on the daily activities. As an aside, he always wore a suit and tie to work, but because he was out on the floor so much, my Dad’s suits and ties often took a beating.

My Dad’s office also had an old fashioned microphone. So the manager could flick a button and announce a break, or call someone into his office, or stop the tie line. In this case, after we had been reading for what for us, was not nearly enough time, we heard the intercom buzz, click, and then my dad’s voice sternly announcing:

“Joseph and Everett, stop reading and start stripping.”

He meant magazines, of course.

In our world, porn magazines are called either “adult magazines” which makes sense, or “sophisticates” which doesn’t make a lot of sense if you know anything about porn. In this case, the name does make sense if you realize they mean “sophisticated taste.”

Once upon a time, back when TV Guide was the best selling magazine, adult titles were huge profit centers for retailers, magazine wholesalers, national magazine distributors, and, obviously, the publishers themselves.

Do you know that you could once upon a time buy Penthouse Magazine in  national drugstore, supermarket and convenience chains?

Well, don’t blame the internet for their absence. The decline started during the Reagan Administration and former Attorney General Edwin Meese. Back in the early 1980’s Ed Meese published the infamous “Meese Commission” report which said that porn was going to be the end of civilization (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meese_Report). I thought then, and still do now, that this was the Reagan’s sop to the Religious Right. Back before DVD’s, the Internet, and even the ubiquity of VHS cassettes, porn was not the huge industry it is now. Major corporations, like Marriott, for example, didn’t know how much money they could make off of “sophisticate” themed entertainment.

Attorney General Ed Meese (Source: Tru-TV.com)

So away went all of the chain authorizations that the major adult magazines had and the long slide towards marginalization began for adult magazines.

So what you talkin’ about Willis? Why the discussion of porn?

Two things really:

The first is simple. This month marks the first year in about twelve or more where I have not had an adult oriented publisher as a client. There were times in the past where a few months would go by, but in this case, an entire year has gone by.

And that’s significant because:

Well, I told you this part was personal. Part 2 will be all business(y) and all.

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7 Replies to “A Year Without Porn (No, Not Like That!) Part 1”

  1. “Porn” as you put it, or ” Men’s Sophisticates” as I started to call it in the early seventies, made us ALL a lot of money (it was called profits then) starting in 1968 through well into the Eighties when there was a pronounced downturn in the category, until MAXIM came to us from the UK. Penthouse broke into high cover prices, selling at its peak around 4.4 million copies per month on the Newsstand with about a 70% sale as did the other magazines in the category sharing that efficiency,and we were all running hot until Mr. Meese got the floor in Congress. My name was in his preamble, quoted out of context at least twice, but we were able to live off pornesque capital until the category ran out of outlets in both the loss of gutsy retailers and 7-11’s management’s wives holding down the ownership run by the Thompson Brother’s who were working with Jerry’s (Jerry Lewis’s MD telethons) Kids. If the category were still strong today, we would be doing little to play it down. No need to revert back to such glory days of Newsstand distribution.

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