LAS VEGAS – Free Speech Coalition held its annual AEE membership meeting Thursday night, and the mood – at least among board members – was cautiously upbeat, and saw the roll-out of a novel campaign to get consumers of adult goods involved in the fight to keep their interest legal.
The evening's agenda began, however, with a "State of the Industry" panel, where 'Net guru Tim Valenti reported, not surprisingly, that "things are pretty good" in the video-on-demand/digital distribution market, with more and more content providers learning how to buy, edit and post content, both their own and material bought or contracted for from others.
FSC president Jim Everett, claiming that "the novelty industry is healthy; it's increased sales by 14% recently," punctuated his point by handing out dildos, vibrators and other sex toys, compliments of Topco Sales (and board member Lynn Swanson), to the approximately 40 attendees at the meeting.
On the other hand, Everett reported, "It's more difficult to sell things that make a little noise and vibrate." He was referring to the increased number of anti-adult zoning ordinances being passed countrywide, as well as the occasional busts of novelty retailers in the eight states where selling "obscene devices" is still a crime.
"Pay attention to all the different laws" governing adult commerce, Everett warned. "The future holds more legal issues for the industry."
However, he reported, the home party industry is doing well, and he spoke of seeing, at one manufacturer's plant, a 35-foot high hill of novelty shipments ready to be sent to party-throwers around the country.
Retailer Sid Grief remarked, "A lot of retailers tell me their business is down 20% this year; others tell me it's up," and proceeded to opine that the discrepancy may be due in large part to simple cleanliness of the store and its surrounding landscape, as well as the courtesy and helpfulness shown to customers by the staffs.
Grief noted that, what with the economy verging on (if not already in) a recession, adult retailers looking for top-notch employees will find many of them currently in the job market, having been downsized by their previous employers.
Grief, who owns the AAA Novelties chain of retail stores, advised retailers to computerize their inventory tracking and ordering, and said that he frequently surveys younger customers to find out which starlets and companies are hot, and orders accordingly.
Noting that, "We are a very vulnerable industry," Grief suggested that one thing that would be helpful to the industry is a scientifically-bulletproof secondary effects study of adult stores that offer only take-home products.
Attorney Reed Lee gave the report on the "year in adult legal issues," comparing the current relatively calm legal picture with last year's report, where the industry faced several obscenity prosecutions, increased FBI 2257 inspections, and the prospect of a .XXX top level domain. All of that, he said, simply meant that, "The lesson of a struggle is, it never ends."
By contrast, he reported this year of the successful lobbying of ICANN to prevent the .XXX formation, and the excellent decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down the entire 2257 law – and he even saw the positive side of the government's recent petition for an en banc rehearing of the appeal, noting that whenever the government tries to defend 2257, it often contradicts some of its previous legal positions on the subject, and almost invariably provides ammunition for the industry to fight the law in future legal battles.
"Ultimately, at bottom, history is on our side," he stated.
Executive director Diane Duke, now in her second year with the organization, was likewise upbeat, giving more details on FSC's accomplishments in 2007, including the .XXX battle, the three amicus briefs FSC had contributed in legal cases, FSC's successful lobbying in California against the Calderon "sin tax" bill, the economic study FSC had commissioned in challenging the proposed revisions to the 2257 regulations, the contract with the Lockton Group to provide access to health, business interruption and property and casualty insurance for FSC members, and the recent lobbying efforts by herself and some board members in the nation's capital.
Duke also introduced FSC's newest board members, including long-time sex-positive activist and journalist Theresa "Darklady" Reed, former AVN Online publisher and now XBiz editor Tom Hymes, attorney Eric Bernstein, and Chicago-based retailer and author Steve Toushin, as well as the reelection of current board members retailer Nellie Symm-Gruender, Wicked Pictures VP Joy King and adult nightclub consultant Jim Everett. She also gave honor to those leaving the board this term: Sid Grief, ASACP's Joan Irvine, producer/salesman Greg "Spanky" Shearer and YNOT Network's Connor Young.
Duke then discussed FSC's role in fighting content piracy, noting the organization's partnership with Sureflix, which brought FSC together with GAPA, an anti-piracy group that's had several successes in shutting down websites that had profited from pirated material. FSC and GAPA will jointly sponsor a series of roundtable discussions on piracy at various adult gatherings and conventions, which should culminate in a plan of action next fall.
Duke then introduced Sureflix's Michelle Lozier, who warned of the "phenomenal growth in the piracy industry," which he said was a serious issue, but "there are solutions." For instance, he said, in France, adult and mainstream producers have banded together to "lock out" pirates from Internet access for their pirated materials. He also presented FSC with a $25,000 check to help fight content piracy.
Finally, Duke introduced Tom Stewart, co-owner of Sportsheets, and the brains behind a new campaign to involve consumers in the fight to keep adult legal. Stewart wrote, and got Great Western Litho to print more than 100,000 copies of, a postcard-sized insert which he convinced several novelty producers and video retailers to include in their packaging.
The card is in two parts: An upper section titled, "Warning: Your Rights at Risk," which urges consumers to protect their right to purchase adult products, and a bottom portion to be filled out and returned to Free Speech Coalition, which is essentially a petition to the consumer's "government representative," which announces that the person has purchased an adult product, and says, in part, "I wish to remind you that I consider the ability to do so my right, which should be protected by law and not criminalized. Please forward this to your colleagues so that they too may be reminded that the sex toys/products I buy and what I do in the privacy of my bedroom should be no one else's business by my own."
AEE attendees can find multiple copies of the card that they may take back to their home cities at the Free Speech Coalition booth in the B2B section of the convention.
Pictured: Reed Lee