How the Chaos Scenario Ruined a Humble Porn-Purveyor in Belgrade

Branko Urosevic: 'How Long the Agony Will Last, I Don't Know; But I Won't Survive'

By Published on .

Bob Garfield
Bob Garfield
BELGRADE, Serbia -- Branko Urosevic, on his patio with the breathtaking vista of the Danube, offers me a jar of spicy eggplant spread from Macedonia. It is not merely a gift and delicacy; it is his latest fallback position. He's in the midst of trying to import the eggplant to Serbia, where the domestic variety of the staple ajvar is made with red peppers.

He has quite a bit riding on the venture. The pizzeria didn't work out. Short of cash, he'd compromised on location, location, location and wound up empty, empty, empty. There were high hopes for a private kindergarten on the ground floor of his stately new home, now three-quarters finished, but construction funds dried up like everything else and, in the interim, competing kindergartens sprouted up in the neighborhood like dandelions.

Branko, 58, would be facing none of this were it not for the genuinely global effects of the Chaos Scenario. For he is not Branko Urosevic, the prominent University of Belgrade economist. He is Branko, Urosevic, the struggling Serbian, uh, eroticist.

"The problem is internet, cable television channels you can watch without paying," he explains. "And local erotic programs [live explicit sex-chat infomercials]. And pirates. The state is fighting piracy, but only one man was ever brought to trial. The vendors are bribing the police to leave them alone. And that has ruined sales."

NBC, Condé Nast and The New York Times have famously been victimized by the digital revolution, but the chaos is especially poignant when it devastates a tiny family business.

Yeah, family business. You sort of have to see this to believe it. The 400-square-foot cellar is bulging with 5-foot stacks of fASSination, Fat Grandmas and similar titles. The patio table is covered with polybagged packages of ANAL, which Branko and his charming, straight-A's-14-year-old daughter Angela have just stuffed with free "Perverted Grannies 2" DVDs and wrapped for shipping. Antonela, 9, is building a fort with my daughter in the backyard, but she's on the payroll, too.

"When Antonela was in kindergarten, she said 'I'm earning my own money.' The teacher said, 'How?' She said,' I'm helping my dad package his magazines.' Teacher said, 'What kind of magazines?' She said, 'Naughty magazines.'" This revelation led to a parent/teacher conference, one that ended happily when Branko brought coloring books for all the children and erotica for the teachers.

"They were very satisfied," he recalls. "And my kids, it is nothing to them. They don't look. It's just the business."

In better times, the whole neighborhood pitched in for a little extra spending money. Now the Urosevic family is on its own. Branko, the girls and their mom, Gordana, alone manage the enterprise that lifted them from poverty amid war, sanctions and authoritarian rule in the '90s. Branko had owned heavy construction equipment when the economy ground to a halt. In 1994, a friend who worked at Novesti, the big publishing house, and who was frustrated by the censorship and corruption of the Milosevic regime, suggested they independently publish crossword magazines.

They did that for a year, quite successfully, with 90% sell-through but low volume. Then they identified another niche: glossy erotica in a market dominated by pulp.

"We began by acquiring photos from Holland, Hungary, wherever we could find them," Branko explains. The NATO bombing and hyperinflation put them on hiatus, but "in 2001, I started again printing sex entertainment, and sales were very, very, very good."

Soon he started adding free DVDs, with licensed content acquired at erotic fairs throughout Europe. At its peak, in 2007, gross circulation exceeded 11,000 every two months at four euro per copy. Net profit for Branko: 2,000 euro per month, an enormous sum in this poor country. He acquired the Danube property and broke ground for the house that "Perverted Grannies 1" built.

Then the inevitabilities of the digital world intervened. The upper floors of the palace remain unfinished. The ground floor is un-kindergartened. The prospects are bleak. The coloring-book business is not filling the gap, and his only printing job is pro bono work for schools and youth hostels.

"No jobs for print, for photos, for brochures. Those are all online, all lost. Everything is sinking underwater."

Branko peers over the bluff, where below inexorably, magnificently flows the vast Danube -- transporting whom it will transport, drowning whom it will drown.

"We are going into the abyss," Branko declares. "How long the agony will last, I don't know. But I will not survive."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Garfield, now a consultant, has reported on advertising, marketing and media for 28 years.
In this article:
Most Popular