October 3, 2008

The End of the Sex Writer?

The last seven days have seen a major shake up in the conjoined worlds of sex writing and sex blogging. There’s been so much of a shake up that it warrants a bullet pointed list.

    *A week ago today, Tristan Taormino was fired from her Village Voice column Pucker Up, which she’s been writing for the past nine years.
    *Always Aroused Girl announced on Monday that she was parting ways with sex toy retailer Eden Fantasys, where she was helping to develop their social media and blogging initiatives.
    *Today Gawker chopped 19 people from their payroll, perhaps most notably Jonno, who has edited Fleshbot for just shy of five years. The site won’t go dark though – nor will it be left in unfamiliar hands, as my pal Lux Alptraum will be stepping up to bat as editor.
    *On the left coast, Melissa Gira’s insightful Sex Trade column and other writing for Valleywag has been axed.
    *And though the shutdown of the print edition of Playgirl (where Jamye Waxman was a columnist for many years) isn’t recent news, today editor-in-chief Nicole Caldwell sent around her final farewell – it’s her last day with the magazine.

Am I missing someone? So much change it’s almost hard to keep track of.

This means that my new history column at Eden Fantasys is done, as is my Fashion Police column at Fleshbot. And let’s not forget the losses of the past month and change: the termination of my Village Voice sexuality blog Naked City in mid-August and the demise of Regina Lynn‘s Wired Sex Drive column the same month, plus the end of her stint doing sex news for Playboy Radio.

Wow. Though there’s been debate lately about the extent to which sex industry jobs are recession proof – there was a short piece in New York magazine last week saying that strippers and escorts have been staying afloat – it’s pretty clear that while maybe money can be made doing sex in a recession (though I also hear that sex workers are feeling the pinch), cash can’t be made writing about it.

There’s been a flurry of talk on Twitter about “let’s start a site together!” for those of us who’ve been cast off by our various employers. It’s unfortunate that these voices won’t be present in the places we’re accustomed to reading them, but I really don’t think banding together to write on a new site (presumably for free while we wait for magical non-existent funding to sprinkle down on us) will do any of us any good.

If the sex-writing bubble is bursting, that isn’t entirely a bad thing – and I say this even as a victim of what’s been going on. I like reading and hearing lots of perspectives on sexuality, and delivering real information about sexuality is real work. But writing about sex also has a really low bar for entry – you just have to have sex, or think about it, and be unashamed of putting it out there.

Certainly, the glut of sex blogs that people write for free is affecting the market for those of us who want to be paid for our sex writing. Certainly a lot of what my career is today is the direct result of maintaining a blog (though, ahem, I’m not so good at keeping it consistent these days), and I don’t make money from this blog at all.

I would be sad if the above people’s voices disappeared from the internet – but I also don’t think professionals should work for nothing, and I don’t really see a clear path to piles of money for this smart bunch of writers. Compulsively producing more and more content isn’t the answer, and that’s what’s been going on with blogs for the past few years – Gawker publishes posts every fifteen minutes during weekday work hours. There is no reason for there to be that much content – its compulsive, its stressful, it reduces the quality and the impact of the work.

Susannah Breslin has been sounding death knells for the sex blog for a while, and this is something I’ve been pushed to mull over an awful lot since losing my Naked City blogging gig last month and embarking on the wild ride of seeking out gainful employment with a broader vision to the future and serving my communities. I think that ultimately writing, especially on the internet, can’t just be about writing.

Sometimes, when I am described by others as a “writer,” I find it odd. Yes, I write and it’s my primary mode of communicating to the world, but I don’t think of myself as a writer. That’s not the sum total of what I do. Writing and other forms of media are tools for expression – I am an activist, an advocate, some might say I’m a force of nature. Writer doesn’t even begin to sum it up. I don’t think writing and blogging about sex are over – but I think writing is a piece of the puzzle, a necessary and important skill, but not a singular identity.

I want to see these folks I so admire, many of whom I’ve worked with and who are my peers and my inspiration, rise from the ashes. But I don’t want to just see another round of blogs founded, columns assigned. I think there has to be more than that – it has to be about culture, not just words and pageviews and links.

21 Comments on “The End of the Sex Writer?”

1
Mia
10.3.08
7:10 pm

Eh, I hate to say this but I saw it coming. Way too much saturation. But hopefully, it’ll get to a point where the shit writers (not saying the ones that were axed were shit, but actual shitty writers) will go DIAF and the ones that can evoke true emotion aside from “OMG I LUV HER TITS LEMME SUCK ON THEM LOL” can have their market back.

2
Regina Lynn
10.3.08
7:47 pm

Well said (written), Dacia.

One of the things I struggled with in my decision to leave Wired (which was my choice, not a layoff) was that I could see other smart sex coverage being pared away and I felt I should hang on to mine as long as I could … but ultimately, I had to find the guts to leave, and I suppose I don’t regret it. Heh.

I’ve never considered myself a blogger. I blog because writers have to, now. But I dislike sending my words out there without a few days to consider them, or unshaped, or not crafted to my full ability like I always tried to do with my column, and what I do with article assignments and books. And yet there’s no way for me to put that kind of energy, skill and thought into work that costs me money (figuring that every hour blogging is a lost billable hour).

So what I’m left with is a blog like any other, with so-so writing and top-of-the-brain thoughts, that does not represent the kind of analysis, intelligence, wit, or craft that I am capable of. I’m left with mediocrity performed in public. That’s why I consider, upon occasion, shutting it down altogether rather than parade my less-than-best work.

I don’t shut it down, though, because I love talking with people in the comments, and because I do have things to say from time to time. Also, it amuses me to keep noting the sex-tech stories floating around, particularly when so few people look at sex from a technology point of few (and many who dabble in it do so with only a surface understanding).

And then there’s the business reality: if you write professionally, and you don’t blog, you’re invisible to acquisitions editors and other clients. It’s the easiest way for them to check you out when considering your pitch.

3
Gracie
10.3.08
7:58 pm

I hate to alienate myself from you and the plethora of sex positive folks who will read this, but…

This isn’t anything new. It’s frustrating, yes, and I’m certainly sorry for those writers affected; but I’m not really surprised. It’s not just that sex isn’t seen as an “appropriate thing to write about”, so that when revenues dip those columns are easily cut (which is disturbing in general), but there are other issues. Including, frankly, that some of those sites mentioned have been replaced long ago by readers who’ve found other places to go for reliable sex news & opinions. And the Internet is still such a new medium, monetization is still a puzzle (to those who don’t get it, it’s even a matter of “if” not “how” to many), so cuts & adjustments will be made.

I’ve been here on the Internet talking/writing sex for a decade myself and have seen this before ~ had it happen to me before. For all these reasons & more (I already feel like I’m monopolizing).

I don’t honestly see this as a failure, but as one of shifting. Unfortunately, as often happens in publishing, writers who have no control over the publication or its methods get the ax. I’ve seen this happen in mainstream & adult ~ and in print too. Yeah, I would have made different choices if I were the one wielding the axe, but I’m not.

I *do* feel badly for you and others who have lost paying gigs, and I’d like sex to be more legitimized in general (heaven knows that I do!), but I just don’t see this as “new” in anyway.

I know all this is likely seen as ‘negative’ ~ but it’s not delivered that way, honestly. I just don’t think people are looking at the larger picture here & that means finding a way out of the mess is less likely… It’s delivered with the best of intentions.

Oh, and I have a different take on those sex work in troubled times articles too ~ click my name to read it.

5
Ducky DooLittle
10.3.08
10:57 pm

I’ve been doing and writing sex for a living for 20 years now… and I can tell you good jobs come and go. The value of smart, opinionated, beautiful minds is appreciated and then taken for granted. Sometimes in the same breath. I find that the more I cater to and love my audience… the more peace and security I have. These corporations are fickle. DIY drive is forever. And you ooze it. As do many of these women… I don’t worry.

6
aag
10.3.08
11:06 pm

This writer (of sex and other stuff) is going no where. :)

7
Seth
10.3.08
11:21 pm

Commercial media, however it’s now defined is changing so rapidly that we’ve no clue how the new business models will sustain. The newspaper industry collapse has pushed thousands of journalists into career alternatives. The revenue model of aggregating readership and selling that to advertisers has become a dying cash cow.

I guess the question for the future: “Will readers demand quality and actually be willing to pay for good journalism?”

The real danger is that if the activists and advocates don’t have revenue, being the watchdog of the government will be under-served.

8
Audacia Ray
10.3.08
11:45 pm

@Regina you say “But I dislike sending my words out there without a few days to consider them, or unshaped, or not crafted to my full ability like I always tried to do with my column, and what I do with article assignments and books.” – this is certainly where we differ. I like the immediacy of bloggin – I like that back in March when the Spitzer madness was happening I was able to respond immediately, in my space and on my terms. Of course I can’t keep up that pace or quality all the time, though.

You’re right too that the pressure is on to blog – if you’re a professional writer its like shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t have some online presence. Think of it as an investment – but its true that it can take you away from billable hours, and there have certainly been times when after the fact I think “shit, I should have pitched that as an article instead of feverishly blogged it.”

@Gracie – I don’t think that what you wrote is alienating, its important stuff, and you’re right for sure that this problem isn’t anything new. And though it’s a little off topic – this applies also to your comment on the post at Sex in the Public Square about my woes with iTunes/Google Checkout/Citibank. Sex makes people nervous as a professional pursuit – this isn’t anything new or revolutionary.

It’s hard to see the bigger picture when you’re deep in panic about your livelihood and looking around to seeing your respected colleagues having the same problems. It’s hard not to doubt yourself under these circumstances. But just like with the economy – on the long term these things will level out a bit, if we hang in there long enough.

@Ducky – thanks for the encouraging words about DIY drive – I think you’re right, its just a matter of taking a deep breath and moving forward.

@Seth – you present a lot of important questions, and you’re so right about the issue of sustainability and the flow of dollars. It should be really interesting to see how that develops over the next months and years. At the moment I’m not sure what the demand will be for what I think of as quality in the world of sex writing – or at least not on a massive scale, maybe not enough to sustain a publication/subscription service with a dozen well-paid content creators. You’re certainly right that without revenue activism is exhausting and impossible (I’ve definitely experienced a complete collapse of my ability to be a big activist in the recent months – exhaustion has set in).

9

[...] back to trying to write a post about all this business; I’ve been having such trouble finding the right [...]

10
Caracala
10.4.08
11:50 pm

I don’t have as much to say about this as others do, but I do know that I I hate seeing so many of my favorite writers/editors/bloggers/etc feeling the pinch of all of this. Frankly, it just plain sucks and there’s nothing I can say or do to really change any of it. :(

11
Regina Lynn
10.5.08
10:58 am

@Audacia — oh totally; I’ve freelanced for 15 years and I know the value of “nonbillable time.” Also, I do like blogging, enough to procrastinate billable work koffkoff to post something that doesn’t NEED to be posted right at that moment. And boy is that “oops I shoulda pitched that” familiar! OTOH Sometimes I have gone back and pitched it, with a more structured outline and a “I blogged the idea recently and got such response I know lots of [your readers] are interested….” approach.

I do think that in the “information age” we have more content that needs not just writers but multimedia producers who can do video and podcasts and social media (what we used to call “community”) and the like. Particular gigs will come and go, but companies still need content.

:)

12
Viviane
10.6.08
4:19 pm

What upsets me is that I read all the above mentioned for their ability to write perceptively about the landscape (the 30,000 foot view, if you will) and to help me understand what’s going on. The personal chronicles are fun, but they don’t help me make sense of the bigger picture. Sigh.

13

[...] to get laid off from a writing gig: it’s another thing to watch that layoff turn up in a trend piece. And another. And another. My editor and I used to joke, it takes three to make a trend, but two in [...]

14

[...] has no hope left. I mean, my employer folded. Gawker Media fired a bunch of people. Sex writers are dropping in droves. The Star-Ledger almost went under. The world is coming to an [...]

15
Warren Ellis » Fifteen
10.10.08
4:47 pm

[...] of blogs, I’m pretty sure I didn’t know this, and was taken aback when I read it on Waking Vixen just [...]

16

[...] to this post from Warren Ellins, from this post from Walking Vixen(maybe NSFW) ”Gawker publishes posts every fifteen minutes during weekday work hours”. [...]

17

[...] Taormino getting fired from the Village Voice? She’s not the only sex writer losing a job. Audacia Ray provides a brilliant take on what’s happening in the sex writing [...]

18
Adriana
10.21.08
2:32 am

Wow! Put that all together and it’s quite a shocking picture!

19
bailme
11.6.08
9:40 pm

Honestly, we the public are bored with hearing what you all think about sex. Sex is great. But sex is just…sex. It’s something we all do and enjoy, but it’s not ALL we do and it’s not ALL we want to hear about.

Maybe some of you need to develop some other interests.

20
maymay
1.1.09
12:22 am

Honestly, we the public are bored with hearing what you all think about sex. Sex is great. But sex is just…sex. It’s something we all do and enjoy, but it’s not ALL we do and it’s not ALL we want to hear about.
Maybe some of you need to develop some other interests.

To be blunt, it’s not just the public that’s bored with it. I’m a sex blogger and I’m bored with it. That’s why the sex blogs I choose to follow and keep up with are the ones that mix sexuality topics with other interests, as I try to do with mine as well.

Mark my words, the intersection of sex and other interests is surely where “the sex blogging revival” will be.

21
AoH
1.1.09
3:16 pm

I think maymay hit the nail on the head, regardless of what genre you roll with, it seems that when you dabble with other topics, your blog may withstand the tides better.

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