PORN VALLEY - It's an interesting dilemma: More women are looking for work with adult industry employers just as the recession is making it more difficult to hire them.
Just a few months ago, the mainstream press was touting the idea that the adult industry had barely felt the pangs of an economy that's "downsizing" at the rate of more than half a million jobs per month. Now, the Associated Press and other news outlets are learning the unhappy truth: Sales are down 30-40 percent at most brick-and-mortar stores, and not doing much better over the Internet.
But considering that nearly half of the newly-unemployed and less-employed (part-timers who once were full time) are women, it's starting to look as if Wicked VP Joy King had the right idea. Her self-published how-to book "Get Into Porn" went on sale last month, and as the economy worsens, it seems more and more women are taking that advice - or something close to it.
For instance, over the weekend, more than 200 applicants showed up for a job fair sponsored by the strip club chain Foxy Lady . Co-owner Tom Tsoumas was looking to hire topless dancers, waitresses, d.j.s and bartenders for the club's three locations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts - but it's not as if his clubs are making the profits they did even last year.
"We're as recession-proof a business as there is, but when it rains everyone gets wet," Tsoumas told the Boston Herald. "We dropped our prices to what they were when we opened in 1979. Now, a beer or a mixed drink cost about $2.75 and business is up again."
And that's good news, considering that in January, his revenues had dropped 15% from the previous month.
Similarly, Gus Poulos, general manager of the Sin City cabaret in New York City, got 85 applications for dancing positions in a single day after posting an ad on Craigslist, and Rick's Cabaret spokesman Allan Priaulx told Associated Press reporter Karen Hawkins that the club's Manhattan branch gets 20 to 30 dancer applications per week - twice the number of just a year ago.
And the gals aren't the usual refugees from retail sales and fast-food restaurants. Some are low-level executives trying to survive in an economy where even long-established companies are downsizing staff rapidly, while others just need more money to cover their bills and past debts than mainstream employers are willing to pay them.
For instance, Rebecca Brown, a 29-year-old former bartender and trainer for a national restaurant chain, recently made the move to stripping at Chicago's Pink Monkey gentleman's club where she can earn, in a good week, five times her previous salary. It's a move similar to one made a couple of years ago by restauranteur-turned-porn star (and Best MILF nominee) Darryl Hanah, who burned up the screen in the recently released This Ain't Gilligan's Island XXX. And with Priaulx claiming that Rick's dancers can pull in as much as $300,000 per year, women are finding that it's worth reexamining their hang-ups about showing some (or all) of their skin.
But according to Angelina Spencer, executive director of the Association of Club Executives, the gentlemen's club lobbying group and a former club owner herself, $300,000 per year may be a wildly inflated figure.
"They [clubs] are not getting the big spenders," Spencer lamented to Hawkins. "They're not getting the guys who come in and drop $3,000 to $4,000 a night anymore."
Porn is seeing a similar influx of talent, and the ladies are "more competitive than I've seen it in 25 years ," said Vivid Entertainment co-owner Steve Hirsch.
But with the decrease in the number of newly-shot titles being released, even well-known porn stars are having a hard time "making the nut."
"It is worse than the last recession," King told MSNBC's Brian Alexander in December. "We have rising fuel costs, the price of DVD cases tripled and we cannot pass that on and we have a very competitive industry."
"We're competing with the guy with the camcorder who bought it for $993 at Circuit City, who's got his girlfriend and somebody else and they're gonna shoot it and have sex and put it on the Internet," echoed director Kelly Holland, speaking at Women in Film forum last year, and even Larry Flynt is predicting that many video producers won't survive for long.
"A lot of the small studios are out of business now, there's no doubt about that," Flynt told Hawkins.
Even porn stars themselves are opting for new sources of income by "working private" through escort agencies and spending weeks at a time at Nevada brothels such as the Moonlite Bunnyranch. Recent Bunnyranch offers include award-winning star Sunny Lane and the popular Anna Mills, while Desi and Ellie Foxx, a mother/daughter duo new to porn, have just announced that they'll be working the ranch this month.
But while no one expects the influx of dancers and porn stars to last past the current downturn, "I have job security," said Brown.