“No one makes any money if users won’t pay for porn.”
So now we know what our teenagers, or most of them, are doing when they’re sent to their room to study. They’re watching internet porn.
A study carried out by Unicef Ireland revealed that 58% of Irish teenagers “consume” pornography. More than one-third of them claimed it was educational.
The use of internet porn is not, of course, confined to teenagers. According to Alexa Research in the US, 60% of all web traffic is sex related. “Sex” is the most commonly searched-for word on the web.
A study of Google trends shows that, in Ireland, searches for “porn” or “free porn” are as common as searches for sites such as RTÉ (Ireland’s most popular site) and the Irish Independent’s website.
Porn is everywhere online. Soon, if Michael O’Leary has his way, you’ll be able to launch a porn app during your Ryanair flight. “Hotels around the world have it, so why shouldn’t we?” he said.
And speaking of hotels, 55% of hotel movie rentals are porn movies. The average time spent watching one is 12 minutes. The adult industry releases 11,000 film titles per year, over 20 times as many as Hollywood.
According to Adult Entertainment News, the porn industry in the US alone is worth an estimated $13bn a year, employs about 15,000 people and pays about $40m in taxes.
Yet, at the recent Erotica 2011 expo in London, and at the trade show XBIZ last month, the big question was this: how can an industry with so many customers be losing so much money?
The adult entertainment business used to be pretty straightforward. You made an X-rated movie. You sold it online and on DVD. You sold stills from the movie online. You made money.
Yes, there were always the high-end players, such as Playboy and Hustler, who paid more and had higher production values, but basically the porn market stratified like any other market.
And they paid well. Make-up artists got $200 an hour. Female actors got $1,000 per scene, with males getting about 75% of the female rate. A mid-rank porn star could make $200,000 a year.
Then came a twin-pronged attack on the industry: regulators started to clamp down on internet porn, and users started uploading their own content. For free.
The real game-changer, say industry insiders, was YouTube technology. The ability to upload short, low-quality video on to so-called “tube” sites has left a hole where the industry’s revenue used to be.
The tube sites started an explosion of pirated material. The scenes the movie-makers had spent thousands creating were being uploaded for free. The average viewing time for online porn is seven minutes. Consumers don’t “need” a longer movie and have largely stopped buying them.
Estimates of the fall in porn revenues at the XBIZ conference in London ranged from 50% to 80%.
Take porn star Savannah Stern. She told the LA Times that she used to earn ¢1,000 for a male-female sex scene and took home about $150,000 a year. She drove a CLK Mercedes 350 and often turned down work because she didn’t need extra money.
Now, she’s working one day a week and bringing in just $50,000 a year.
The adult entertainment industry has always been a Petri dish for other media industries — the mainstream movie industry and the press would watch to see how an experiment turned out.
“They led the way with internet business models,” says one Irish academic, “and now they’re seeing the decline in their industry before everyone else.”
“The death of the DVD business has been more accelerated in the adult business than mainstream,” says Bill Asher, co-chairman of adult industry giant Vivid Entertainment, who estimates that his company’s revenue is down more than 20% this year.
“We always said that once the internet took off, we’d be OK,” he added. “It never crossed our minds that we’d be competing with people who just give it away for free.”
Diane Duke is the director of the Free Speech Coalition, the porn industry’s trade association. “I asked my son once, ‘Do you pay for your porn?'” she told an XBIZ session. “I managed to get an answer out of him that was, ‘If you buy it, it’s kind of sleazy’.”
There is a generation of internet users out there who have grown up with the idea that content — whether it is porn, news, music or movies — should be free.
The music industry has struggled to regain control of its content, and the newspaper business is still unsure about how to proceed. Some newspapers have retreated behind paywalls, while others, such as this newspaper, give access to their stories for free.
And there are other parallels too. There is a boom in user-submitted and webcam porn, just as there is a boom in blogging and so-called “citizen journalism”.
The questions asked at the XBIZ conference are the same that might be asked at a newspaper conference: how can we survive providing quality content when other people are giving it away for free?
As any economist will tell you, nothing is ever “free”; someone somewhere is bearing the cost. For the porn industry, the trick is to get those 58% of teenagers to pay their way.