Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Sign O' The Times: Even Prostitution Isn't That Recession Proof

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You can read in the papers and watch on cable news everyday how car sales are down and retail is down and housing prices are down. I've been asking my friends in who own restaurants and they tell me their businesses are down too. People are eating at home more frequently (or maybe just not eating). Today I called an old friend who operates one of the world's most successful rock memorabilia businesses. He told me the bottom fell out after the stock market tanked. "No one wants to buy a $50 vinyl album now," he told me, "... unless they can get it for $30." After a scare with revenues sinking by as much as 90% for a few weeks, he came up with some new marketing strategies-- direct mail, deep discounts, etc and he's getting by. I was wondering if his business was recession-proof. "One of a kind items at discounted prices sell-- at all price points. But that's about it," he told me.

A few weeks ago we saw that the live music business is faltering badly, all over the world. Today's NY Times makes it clear that even the world's oldest-- and most recession-proof-- occupation is having a rough spell. Yes, even prostitution is down!
In the Czech Republic, where prostitution operates in a legal gray zone, the sex industry is big business, generating more than $500 million in annual revenues, 60 percent of which is derived from foreign visitors, according to Mag Consulting, a Prague-based research firm that studies the industry.

...Egbert Krumeich, the manager of Artemis, Berlin’s largest brothel, said that in November, usually peak season for the sex trade, revenues were down by 20 percent. In Reno, Nev., the famed Mustang Ranch recently laid off 30 percent of its staff, citing a decline in high-spending clients.

...For nearly 20 years, tens of thousands of sex tourists have streamed into Prague, the pristinely beautiful Czech capital, drawn by inexpensive erotic services, an atmosphere of anonymity for customers and a liberal population tolerant of adultery. According to Mag Consulting, 14 percent of Czech men admit to having sex with prostitutes, compared with a European Union average of 10 percent.

Dozens of cheap flights to Prague have also ensured a flow of bachelor parties from across Europe, with multiple daily flights from Britain alone.

But with business seriously down-- at least among married men who are finding they can live without adultery-- Prague's entire tourist business is suffering, including hotels and restaurants. And the government is thinking of legalizing it completely so they can tax it to make up for lost revenues from other sectors.
Only a few years ago the town of Dubi was so overrun by prostitution that a nearby orphanage was opened to provide refuge for dozens of unwanted babies of prostitutes and their German clients. Sex could be purchased for as little as 5 euros-- the price of a few beers in Dresden-- drawing a daily influx of more than 1,000 sex tourists.

Today, more than three dozen brothels have been winnowed down to four; several were converted into goulash restaurants or golf clubs.

Still, one prostitute/philosopher told the Times that "People have less money. But hard times also mean that people want to be cheered up." It also means women are looking for work. In fact, a piece in today's NY Times mentions that Obama's massive economic rescue package seems to leave women out. Meanwhile, an American humor site 23/6 delineates how the crashing economy is redefining what will be "in" next year as opposed to this year.

THIS YEAR: People losing their homes
NEXT YEAR: People losing their beds at the shelter

THIS YEAR: Paying too much for gas
NEXT YEAR: Getting your car repossessed

THIS YEAR: Worrying about the election
NEXT YEAR: Worrying about feeding your kids this week

THIS YEAR: People waiting in line for iPhones
NEXT YEAR: People waiting in line to try to get some day labor

THIS YEAR: Retirement
NEXT YEAR: Being the sad old guy behind the counter at McDonald's

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