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Succumbing to the pressures associated with online business – namely lack of revenue sources – Salon.com has begun selling pornographic material on its news and commentary website, hoping the subscriptions will heal the financially ailing Internet publication.

For $30 per year, customers will get a new commentary section featuring the “exploits and mishaps of President George W. Bush and his administration,” additional commentary, synopses of reality television shows like “Chains of Love,” audio downloads of celebrity-read stories — and “premium-only galleries of erotic art and photography in Salon Sex.”

Another feature of the subscription-based “Salon Premium” is its reduction of banner ads, making the privileged content virtually ad-free.

The website encourages readers to “subscribe to Salon Premium today to enjoy these benefits — and help support Salon as a unique and irreplaceable source of news and commentary.”

Says Michael O’Donnell, Salon’s president and chief executive officer, “We’re very excited about the launch of Salon Premium. It closes the loop in our mission to provide our readers with two compelling options with which to enjoy Salon — on a free basis with prominent advertising, or a largely ‘ad-free’ version of Salon with an annual subscription. The Internet is all about flexibility and we’re delighted to provide these options to both our advertisers and our readers.”

Salon’s decision follows the recent public relations nightmare experienced by Yahoo!, which briefly expanded its retail content to include pornographic products. The day after it began selling the products two weeks ago, Yahoo! reversed its decision due to negative public response.

“At Yahoo!, we value the strong relationships we have with our members and have consistently listened to them. While Yahoo! has offered controlled access to adult products available via the Internet since launching our commerce services more than two years ago, many of our users voiced concerns this week about some of the products sold by merchants on Yahoo! Shopping. We heard them and swiftly responded. We consistently strive to act responsibly and constantly evaluate our policies based on what our users tell us,” said Jeff Mallett, Yahoo!’s president and chief operating officer in his announcement of the decision to abort its new porn venture.

Salon’s senior vice president for business operations, Patrick Hurley, told WND by e-mail that there is no similarity between Yahoo!’s and Salon’s approach to sexually explicit and graphic material.

“We are providing galleries of erotic art, not pornographic videos as Yahoo was doing,” said Hurley. “The erotic art galleries are not even new to Salon, as we’ve run them in the past in our Salon Sex site and are simply now requiring that viewers now be subscribers to access that material,” he said.

Does Salon anticipate negative feedback from its readers, as Yahoo! experienced?

“We have never had complaints about the erotic art we’ve showcased in the past and have had a site dedicated to sex (as one of our 10 sites) for several years,” added Hurley, “so we anticipate little or no negative response from consumers.”

Salon has been losing money since it began in 1995. But the financial woes of the company come as no surprise to executives who alerted potential investors to the problem when Salon went public in 1998.

“We lack significant revenues, we have a history of losses and we anticipate increased losses,” Salon stated in its filing for its initial public stock offering. “We have not achieved profitability and expect to incur operating losses for the foreseeable future.”

Indeed, the company recently completed two rounds of layoffs and cut some employees’ salaries by 15 percent. According to financial publications, the last time its stock closed above a dollar was Jan. 23.

Regarding the website’s decision to sell pornography, WorldNetDaily.com founder and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Farah remarked, “Salon is clearly desperate as the capital it raised evaporates in the next several months. It’s sad to see any business turn to sexual exploitation of this kind, but especially sad for a content site. I think it goes without saying that WorldNetDaily would never consider such a move. We believe our unique newssite has already developed a viable revenue model. But, even if we hadn’t, I can assure you that pornography, gambling, prostitution and other similar vices would still be off the table — no matter how lucrative they might seem.”

Farah also announced that, as a result of Salon’s decision to market porn, WorldNetDaily would no longer link to news and commentary articles at the site. Salon has, as a matter of course, solicited such links by providing WorldNetDaily editors with a daily budget of upcoming stories and columns.

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