Porn Vendors Finding it Hard to Keep Things Up

    December 11, 2003 17:05

    Seun Sagga and Cheonggyecheo 8-ga, in Seoul's Jongno-gu, were known from the 1970s to the mid-90s as a shopping Mecca for porno. Yet the pornography market has been shrinking fast over the last four or five years, as the online market for illicit material grown with the rapid spread of Internet use in Korea.

    "Kim" sells video tapes at Seun Sangga. "Look around you," he says. "People have to come if I'm going to do good business." Here and there one sees merchants in the halls smoking cigarettes, talking to each other.

    "I sell two or three a day at best. These days there's porno everywhere. Who would come all the way down here to buy it? You can see a whole month of it on the Internet for W10,000. Who wants to pay W10,000 for three videos?" asks Kim. He says it's older people, who don't know how to use the Internet or who won't subscribe to adult cable channels because they're worried what the younger members of their families will say, who purchase the few videos he manages to sell.

    "Park" has been in the business for seven years. "I'm here because I've not much choice, but this line of business is already dead," he says. When a nearby restaurant owner comes to collect the credit he owes her, he tells her to come back the next day. "I haven't sold a single tape today," he tells her.

    The area around Cheonggyecheon 8-ga is in similarly dire straits. "Jo" sits leisurely reading a book, sitting to one side of the congested market, a selection of pornographic videotapes on display next to him.

    "In the past, customers were young people, starting with teenagers. These days I don't even see them come," he says. "Who's going to come here so they can see videos when you can find pictures of celebrities naked on the Internet?"

    Times were good for porno-hawkers in the 80s. "Jeon" says she earned several million won a month back then. "As recently as a few months ago, people running hotels in the provinces would come here to buy video tapes for their guests to view," she says. "But because of the restoration of the Cheonggye stream, they're not coming this way anymore."

    "Kim," 52, says he came here to buy adult material. "The home computer is in the kids' room, so I don't get much of a chance to use the Internet." He says that with videotapes, troublesome as it can be to buy them, he can relax and watch them in his bedroom.

    The shrinking market has led to less enforcement by the authorities.

    Five or six years ago there were maybe 100 venders. Now there aren't even 20. As a result, police have been lethargic about enforcing pornography laws. "They come through here about once a week, look around to see what's going on, then just pass by," one vender said.

    "The fine for selling pornographic material is usually around W1 million," a police official said.

    Another "Kim," who says he's sold contraband at Seun Sangga for 13 years, said that when he was young, the income was so good he "didn't have to think about the business I'm in." Now, his children are growing up, and "it's getting difficult to continue in this kind of work." He says that he intends to return to his hometown next spring and "run a farm or something."

    An electronics vender at Seun Sangga says he felt his reputation was bad because people used to come to the area late at night, and "even regular venders wouldn't be looked at favorably." He says he hopes that with fewer pornography venders around, the area might soon win back its former reputation as a good place to buy electronic gear.
    (Hong Won-seong, wshong@chosun.com)
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