This post by Sarah Skwire originally appeared on the Foundation for Economic Education on October 14th, 2015. Below is an excerpt.

The disappearance of full nudity from Playboy magazine is, in other words, a perfect example of Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction. Schumpeter wrote that the “essential fact about capitalism” is creative destruction — the process “that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structurefrom within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”

Just as buggy-whip makers were driven out of business by the rise of the automobile and manufacturers of wall phones were driven out by the rise of the cell phone, traditional purveyors of pornography can be driven out by new technology. In fact, pornography may be a business that is particularly sensitive to technological progress. Though it’s a disputed claim, many technology magazines have claimed that the superior availability of naughty movies on VHS lead to the demise of BetaMax. The legal scholar Peter Johnson argued in 1996 that

Throughout the history of new media, from vernacular speech to movable type, to photography, to paperback books, to videotape, to cable and pay-TV, to “900” phone lines, to the French Minitel, to the Internet, to CD-ROMs and laser discs, pornography has shown technology the way.”]

The two decades since Johnson’s article have only proven him more correct. With an ever increasing amount of free nudity available online in ways that allow users to precisely calibrate the images they find in order to satisfy their individual desires, the images in Playboy began to seem increasingly quaint and out of date. The desire for pictures of fresh-faced girls next door — filled byPlayboy in ersatz and airbrushed fashion — is, presumably, easily filled by the actual girls next door on Snapchat and Tinder. Playboy needed to get creative and change, or be destroyed by its competitors’ creativity.”]
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