In 2012, the porn industry generated about $14bn in revenue, and $5bn of this came from internet porn. In fact, 12% of all websites today are pornographic, which is over 24m websites. Every second, $3,075.64 is spent on online porn and 25% of all search engine requests are pornography-related, that’s about 68 million a day.
And yet despite all this, the porn industry is in rapid decline. Global porn revenues have dropped 50% since 2007 due to the amount of free porn now available online. It’s estimated that 80-90% of users now only access free porn online. Like the music industry, porn is struggling to find ways to deal with privacy.
The studios making porn movies are suffering big time, most either going out of business or else being sold off. Few of these companies are using their production knowledge for other entertainment. One company has switched from making hardcore porn to making children’s movies about cartoon rabbits.
Porn performers are finding it tough to get by as well. Male actors get the worst deal, being paid as little as $150 per scene. Gay porn is one option to increase takings, but not all porn actors will go that route.
Female performers get about $600 per scene, compared with almost $3,000 only a few years ago. A lot of girls supplement their income by performing live shows online while others allegedly have private sessions with clients where they can earn more money.
While the studios and performers are struggling, the online YouTube-style porn sites that show the content for free are cleaning up, making a killing on the ads that accompany all these free videos. So much so, that these online companies (such as the internet porn giant Manwin) are buying up production studios and paying for movies to be made so they can be shown for free.
The emergence of amateur tapes has made huge money for these sites. Homemade tapes are responsible for making Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton famous, which appears to have led a lot of young girls into thinking: That could be me. Not a lot are right, but their free homemade movies are largely responsible for the massive dents into the previously-profitable porn studios.
Names synonymous with the industry are suffering with the ever-changing environment. Playboy, for example, no longer makes any of its pornographic movies. Instead they sold off their Spice Channels along with their TV and other digital properties to Manwin. Playboy is actually trying to change their whole image, moving towards being an aspirational brand, as opposed to a pornographic one. Anything to avoid becoming the bankrupt Kodak of the porn world.
However, recent attempts have not been very successful. The closing of the Palm’s Hotel Playboy Club in Las Vegas has taken away $4m in licensing fees alone. In the tourist hotspot of Goa in India, a nation very shy of sex appeal, Playboy tried to open a 22,000sq ft open-air club on the upmarket Candolim beach. Despite highly promoted attempts to move away from the image of nudity and traditional bunny costumes towards the aspirational image, women’s groups and conservative politicians attacked the proposed club, saying it was “tantamount to promoting prostitution”.
Manwin is the current industry leader, a multi-million dollar, international porn giant based in Luxembourg, but it also has offices in Ireland. The owner, Fabian Thylmann, has been called “The King of Porn” by CNN. Mr Thylmann has tried to brand himself as a different sort of porn kingpin, emphasising the hi-tech aspects of Manwin as opposed to the pornographic ones. Because of this he has earned an image as the Mark Zuckerberg of porn, gaining respect on Wall Street. However, his reputation took a hit for the worst last year when he was arrested for tax evasion by officials in Belgium. Manwin has been renowned for keeping its business under tight wraps and some industry insiders now fear this might lead to a lot more unravelling.
In LA — a state generally regarded as the home of the porn industry — attempts at getting ‘first hand’ information on the industry brought up a few people who claimed to have ‘friends’ working in porn, but nobody would admit to being in it themselves.
A few girls introduced themselves as actresses or photographers, though later admitted they had actually starred in porn movies. Some were in softcore, while others were employed by the hardcore companies.
In the end I met a friend-of-a-friend who used to work at Playboy. Her job was to write the blurbs for movies that appear in hotels’ pay-per-view sections. These movies are still a lucrative moneymaker. Not lucrative enough, though, seeing her old department at Playboy were let go last month due to cuts. When I asked her about the piracy affecting the industry she said: “I can fully understand why no one wants to pay anymore. It’s like being at a free bar with every type of drink you could imagine on offer. Why would you pay for it?”
She now works for an advertising company and makes better money than she did at Playboy. A sign of the times.
The availability of free porn online is having a major effect on society, according to Ireland’s Rape Crisis Network. “The fact that pornography has become so normalised and part of our everyday lives is having a very significant impact on how men and women and indeed children relate to each other sexually,” says policy director Cliona Sadlier.
“Consent, which is the key distinction between sex and rape, is often irrelevant in pornography, and where it does appear, non-consent is often presented as seduction. In a pornographied world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to name sexual violence appropriately because sex without consent is normalised. If we can’t name it, we can’t prevent it.”