Yahoo! Gets A Little Blue

Yahoo! now has a lot more in common with Hustler and Penthouse than it used to.

The popular portal has begun selling pornographic videos and DVDs. While its search engine has directed users looking for such items to other sites in the past, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based portal will now sell hardcore DVDs and videos itself, much like its other online stores sells items such as music, books and sporting goods.

Yahoo! representatives could not be reached for comment, and have declined to speak with the media.

Analysts said the company was seeking to raise revenue in the face of shrinking ad sales. But some worry that this decision could hurt the company’s family-friendly brand and reputation.

“[Yahoo! has] been known by mainstream America for having a pretty squeaky-clean reputation,” said Charlene Li, a research director at Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. Li noted that Yahoo! is the first major Internet portal to directly sell explicit material.

Yahoo! has set up a few barriers to ensure that only those who are of legal age and looking for pornographic material can find it. To access the adult section of the online store, potential buyers must be registered with Yahoo!, and must also provide a credit card number. There will be no ads on the network promoting the new adult-oriented offerings.

“Yahoo! has been under pressure to diversify its revenue and advertising base, but it’s a real paradox that they would move in this direction,” said David Marks, an Internet media analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner.

“This will be their dirty little secret. In order to make this business grow, they will have to promote it. But if they promote it, they run the risk of offending users and advertisers.