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Club scene big business on the Web

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http://66.225.205.104/0218nightlife.mp3

st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } Welcome to Suite, a posh uptown nightspot. Groups of 20 and 30-somethings file past the roped-off VIP tables and head straight to the bar. And photographer John Tatum moves in. "Girls, don't move. Ready: 1-2-3," Tatum instructs. Tatum is a photographer for LazyDay.com. LazyDay is a major player in a relatively new industry in which web sites, magazines and newspapers focus on life at local bars and clubs. They include blogs, polls and reviews. But it's the photos that drive these sites. Tatum says most of his subjects are not shy. "If a girl sees you taking pictures, she comes up to you, be like, 'Hey, will you take ours? A lot of times I don't really ask and they see my face enough so they get familiar with you," Tatum says. Ashley Jones of Charlotte is one example. "I like to look at pictures and stalk my friends from there (on LazyDay.com)," she says. Such obsessions have helped fuel the rise of LazyDay and similar sites. There are at least 10 sites dedicated to covering Charlotte 's nightlife. That includes mainstream media like the Charlotte Observer that are paying attention to this beat online. "There's something about looking at pictures of people that people just really like," says James Wolfe. By day, Wolfe is a software engineer. He specializes in insurance and credit union enrollment applications. He also started LazyDay.com nine years ago with two partners. At the time it was just a site that offered bar coupons and an excuse to engage more local nightlife. "While we were promoting we started taking pictures and we found people really liked pictures. It changed our business model," Wolfe says. Today, Wolfe says LazyDay.com has about 14,000 registered users and gets 6 million page views a month in Charlotte . The company also has franchises in Wilmington, Raleigh and even Nashville, Tenn. Wolfe runs the business from a laptop in a spare bedroom in his uptown townhouse. LazyDay employs 15 freelance photographers in Charlotte . Some are pros; some just point and click. They make between $8 and $12 an hour cruising nightspots in search of partiers, especially women. Their pictures are packaged as online albums of clubs on different nights. It's like a PG-13 version of "Girls Gone Wild." No nudity, but plenty of cleavage. CarolinaNightlife.com is another popular site for club-goers in the Charlotte area. Charles Wilson started it six years ago when he was a bartender in college. It's been his career ever since, and he now has franchises in four cities in the Carolinas . He says business is booming. "When times are tough, people drink. When times are great, people drink. That's the great thing about nightlife. The recession hasn't hit us directlyPeople are still going out." Both LazyDay and Carolina Nightlife make their money off advertising. Typical banner ads cost $300 to $400 a month. There are also sponsors that pay a flat fee to sponsor parties hosted by the sites, kind of like college football bowl games. Then, there are special features, like the photo of week. LazyDay's James Wolf explains. "To be the photo of the week on our main page of LazyDay, you need to be holding a properly-displayed Anheiser Busch product. For Charlotte , it's Bud Light. "Girls are always asking us, 'I want to be the Photo of The Week,' because they want to be the most important photo. So we say, 'Hey, let's take a nice picture of you and your girlfriends holding Bud Lights,' and that will give them a good shot of being the Photo of The Week. We kind of sold that to Anheiser Busch. They love the Labels Out program," Wolf says. Both he and Wilson, his competitor at Carolina Nightlife, say they're making money, but won't say how much. But both say 2008 was their best year in part because so many new bars opened uptown. "The competition's getting heavier and it's causing bars to advertise more and advertise across different medias, whereas bars that traditionally had only done print media or only done radio, they're moving into alternative medias with online and social medias," Wilson says. He realizes the good times may not last; but doesn't expect 2009 to slow down. After all, at least four bars recently opened uptown. Sites that cover Charlotte's club scene: - LazyDay, a general site with franchises in three other cities. - CarolinaNightlife, a general site with franchises in four other cities. - D'Noche, geared toward Hispanics. - CharlotteVibe.com, targeted to African-Americans. - MingleBerry.com, a general site with franchises in two other areas. - The Velvet Nights, a general site. - LKNfun, covering life, including nightlife, in the Lake Norman area. - Paid to Party, nightlife blog by a Charlotte Observer reporter. - Elevate Magazine, site for a monthly magazine covering nightlife. - QC After Dark, Creative Loafing blog about nightlife.