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5/21/2007

06:18 AM PST

Adult video business Platinum Media thrives in Waterville, Maine

XBIZ last year declared Waterville "The Porn Capital of Maine"

--The Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE, Maine -- A spacious porch in a quiet neighborhood off Main Street made for an incongruous setting for a discussion about selling on-screen sex.

Three people were telling the story of how they used sex, cameras and a little business savvy to build an international pornography distribution company in Waterville.

That's right.

Sex.

On-screen.

Right here in Waterville.

The business, owned by Mandi Michaels, Scott and Margaret Morgan, began in 1999, a year after Scott Morgan started tinkering with the idea of making money from adult Web sites.

Margaret Morgan said she was leery at first. But by 2000, they were producing, editing and distributing sex footage from couples throughout New England.

"At first, I was a little ... well, I didn't know if this was such a good idea," Margaret Morgan said. "But the more I thought about it I realized, this is a business."

The company is operating within the bounds of the law, according to Waterville Police Chief John Morris. Soon after the creation of the business, a neighbor's complaint about excessive delivery-truck traffic prompted a visit from police, but officers determined that the operation was not illegal.

All the neighborhood residents who could be reached declined to comment for this story. Dozens of calls were placed to homes along the street.

Once she warmed up to the idea of the business, named Platinum Media, Margaret Morgan took over its finances, and Michaels became a third partner, handling distribution and marketing.

At this point, the company is selling more than 40,000 DVDs a year through its sister company, Select Distributors, Michaels said.

At an average price of $13.95 each, the company's annual estimated gross sales add up to nearly $600,000.

The U.S. adult entertainment industry generated revenues of about $12.6 billion in 2005, according to the most recent report from the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association and lobby group for the adult entertainment industry.

Adult video rentals and sales continue to grow each year, and rose from $3.95 billion in 2001 to $4.28 billion in 2005.

Platinum Media uses a variety of distributors across the country to sell its products. More than 120 titles are available in categories that include solo, couples, groups and seasonal themes, according to the company's distribution Web site.

The company's success has caught the attention of some of the biggest names in the industry. Their notoriety includes winning the 2007 Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network Best Amateur Award, in addition to four nominations for the 2007 Adult Video News Awards, widely referred to by adult entertainment blogs and media outlets as "The Oscars of Porn."

Trade magazine XBIZ Video last year declared that Platinum Media's success had made Waterville "The Porn Capital of Maine," and stated that the company was quickly becoming a nexus for East Coast amateur porn. But Platinum Media has kept a remarkably low profile in its hometown.

All three business partners have school- or pre-school-aged children, and they became concerned about the stigma associated with their line of work. They began phasing out the production portion of the operation around 2001, relying instead on a network of videographers in the United States and in the Ukraine to supply them with material.

They have not produced sex footage locally in four years, according to Scott Morgan. Continuing to use local couples to produce sex footage would have attracted too much attention, he explained.

"I'm not worried about what people think about what I'm doing," Scott Morgan said. "Our business is within the bounds of the law. My concern is that people leave my kids alone."

Scott Morgan said Platinum Media does not sell to Maine distributors for the same reason.

The company tries to use only footage that comes from existing couples, such as husbands and wives or boyfriends or girlfriends, Margaret Morgan said. However, there is no way to be absolutely sure that the people featured in the films are not contracted models, or put together just to produce the footage, since Platinum Media relies on independent videographers, she said.

The company also avoids extreme shock or "fetish" movies, and shuns models with obvious body implants, they said.

They also avoid contracted, career porn stars such as the ones populating San Fernando Valley, Calif., area where much of the industry's footage originates, according to Scott.

This focus makes the product more appealing to women, a segment of the population that often is overlooked in the industry, Margaret Morgan said.

"I feel that there are a lot of women who do enjoy the adult entertainment industry, and because of the stigma that's placed on it, they don't feel comfortable saying 'I enjoy watching adult movies,'" she said. "But they do. And there shouldn't be any problem with that."

There's more to Platinum Media's approach than mere taste or sensitivities, according to Steve Javors, an editor for XBIZ Video. In narrowing their focus, the partners have carved out and exploited a niche that is overlooked by many of their larger competitors, he said.

"The appeal of what they produce is that it's real couples; it's real boyfriends and girlfriends, and it's a voyeuristic quality of watching them have sex, rather than the plastic stuff that the folks in the Valley are pumping out," Javors said.

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