June 2, 2007

The internet is taking the profit out of pornography.

At first, it looked as thought the internet was going to help the business, but it hasn't worked out that way. Too many amateurs are giving pornography away for nothing.
And unlike consumers looking for music and other media, viewers of pornography do not seem to mind giving up brand-name producers and performers for anonymous ones, or a well-lighted movie set for a ratty couch at an amateur videographer’s house....

“People are making movies in their houses and dragging and dropping them” onto free Web sites, said Harvey Kaplan, a former maker of pornographic movies and now chief executive of GoGoBill.com, which processes payments for pornographic Web sites. “It’s killing the marketplace.”...

“The barrier to get into the industry is so low: you need a video camera and a couple of people who will have sex,” [said Paul Fishbein, president of AVN Media Network] ...

The more traditional pornographic film companies are not giving up, of course. They say they have an answer to the new competition: quality...

“We use good-quality lighting and very good sound,” said David Joseph, president of Red Light District, a production company in Los Angeles that has made films like “Obscene Behavior.”

Mr. Joseph said his company did not waste its time, or that of the viewers, on unnecessary plot lines.

“There’s not a whole lot of story — it’s basically right to the sex, but we’re consistent with the quality,” he said, noting that the company is also careful to pick interesting backdrops. “We use different locations, rooms and couches.”
So do you want a nice couch or not? I wonder what it would take to before the idea of a good story would present itself as a strategy for success.

Anyway, no one's going to feel sorry for these businessfolk having a problem. Too bad the problem isn't that people have gotten tired of pornography and have found new attraction in real-life encounters, but maybe the amateur work seems more like real life. (I wouldn't know. Personally, I have never encountered a pornographic film anywhere other than in the context of a federal district court case.)

43 comments:

Meade said...

Amazon.com: "An Army of Rahabs and Jezebels: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary Amateurs to Beat Big Media, Big Mafia, and Big Pornography."

Simon said...

Demand. That is, isn't wondering why, faced with declining profits, the porn industry doesn't start including plots, akin to wondering why, faced with declining profits, the Detroit auto companies don't start including a built-in Sodastream? In both cases, the answer would seem to be because the people buying the products would find it at best irrelevant and at worst a distraction from the primary purpose of the product?

Ann Althouse said...

Simon: You're restating my question. What would it take to produce that demand?

Tom Kelly said...

If the U.S. government hadn't been so foolish (or perhaps conspiring with the gaming industry) as to enact a gambling prohibition, gambling would also become profitless.

On line gambling sites eventually would need to operate with an incredibly thin house edge- making for major price competition for elaborate bricks and mortar operations.

Gahrie said...

There’s not a whole lot of story — it’s basically right to the sex,

This is exactly the wrong tactic. This is the area that the amateurs can compete with them most effectively. The industry should instead go exactly the opposite way and create movies with good plots. No one knows what the market is like for this product, because it has rarely been done. But I'm willing to bet that there would be a demand, especially among women. Hell they could start with adapting Harlequin Romances and their ilk.

Bissage said...

1. I thought the home video cassette recorder (VCR) already destroyed the pornography industry.

2. "Boogie Nights" was a much better movie than I expected.

3. If the "mainstream" pornographers class-up their product, won't they have to call it "Erotica?"

4. Contrary to what some might think, the pornography business has always operated on a narrow margin. High quality female talent was always expensive and producers had to keep this cost to the absolute minimum or go bankrupt.

That's why my career lasted only a few months. My natural gifts and astonishing technique caused female performers to achieve climax repeatedly and become spent almost immediately thus necessitating the procurement of yet another costly actress.

My career ended abruptly when a producer gave me the bum's rush yelling, "I'd rather you stole my cocaine. Get the hell out of here, you shmuck!"

DBrooks17 said...

"I have never encountered a pornographic film anywhere other than in the context of a federal district court case.)"

That's not true, Ann. I know you have seen at least parts of several Al Gore speeches on film.

Peter Palladas said...

They are banking that viewers will be discerning when it comes to sex.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. No.

As bad marketing choices go
that's right up there with the chocolate teapot. Just don't hold water.

Tim said...
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Tim said...

"Simon: You're restating my question. What would it take to produce that demand?"

That's a curious question.

I think economist agree that demand can be stimulated (no pun intended, so you'll excuse me...), but can it be stimulated such that it's "produced" (i.e., made sufficient enough to support recasting the product's basic features?).

My guess is, broadly speaking, no. Some "art" films, such as "Shortbus," (while I never saw it, I did read a review) have explicit sex scenes, but I'm not sure about their profitability. I'd guess the standard actor/actress of fair to middling talent is not especially interested in acting in porn, and the standard actor/actress in porn probably cannot act.

Amateur productions, on the other hand, probably have two advantages over professional ones (so to speak); cost and the relative "enthusiasm/believability" of the performers (I'm thinking amateurs are probably exhibitionists, and being on video is its own reward, notwithstanding the probability many of these folks will eventually come to regret their decisions).

When I was younger, I recall seeing on Saturday Night Live or some such show a skit mocking porn from the perspective of what if real life was like porn, i.e., every delivery of a newspaper, milk, groceries, mail and pizza, or every house call for repairs automatically led to sex. It was pretty funny; and true enough, I guess. In the end, I don't think folks watching porn are all that interested in stories.

Maxine Weiss said...

Both 'The Last Tango In Paris' and 'Midnight Cowboy' were X-rated.

I'm assuming Althouse hasn't seen either of those.

John Stodder said...

When I was running a magazine at Cal in the mid-70s, it was during a time when porn was creeping toward respectability, due mostly to the huge success of "Deep Throat" and "Behind the Green Door." The proprietors of a porn movie palace in San Francisco, the Mitchell Brothers, who also produced "Green Door," decided to make a movie that would integrate graphic sex with a plot line. They decided on a costume drama -- maybe it was about the last days of Pompeii, but I can't remember. I interviewed one of them for the story -- probably Jim, who seemed to be the intelligent one, and who later murdered his brother -- and attended the premiere.

The most interesting thing about the movie was the nude bellydancer that greeted us in the lobby. The movie itself might as well have been about pizza delivery. It was the same idea. A soldier would run into a palace. Girl there. One of them seduces the other. Sex. Then back to the action, except by this time you didn't remember what was going on. In order to tell their "epic" story, they needed a lot of time, but they also didn't want to stint on the numerous sex scenes, so the movie seemed interminably long. It was a deeply stupid movie.

All this to say, there is an inherent conflict between the aesthetics of porn and the aesthetics of storytelling. Stories move. Porn lingers. Plus, considering all the bad movies that are made by non-pornographers, it's obvious that cinematic storytelling talent is scarce, and if porn makers had it, they probably wouldn't be making porn. The porn biz is screwed.

Gahrie said...

Bob Guccione (of Penthouse Magazine) tried to make a porn with a plot back in 1979: Caligula. It even starred some serious actors: Malcolm McDowell (most recently seen as Linderman on Heroes), Peter O'Toole, Helen Mirren (Oscar for Best actress 2007), and even an appearance by John Gielgud.

But this was basically just a high end porn with a plot thrown on.

The way to do this if you are going to do it is the way that the cable channels are doing it with shows like Sex in the City and The Tudors. Neither of these shows would have to become all that much more explicit to become true porn.

Ron said...

That porn is trying to sell itself on its lighting and professionalism!! What planet am I on again? Will I next be seeing articles on the Welles-like deep focus camera work like Citizen Kane? Or 5 minute long convoluted tracking shots with some girl-on-girl action, like Touch of Evil? (oh no, a porn title if there ever was one!)

Is the porn Haskell Wexler near?

Dave F said...

I'm shedding a tear for dear Jenna Jameson.

Actually, though, it occurs to me that those porn people who can be entrepreneurial, such as Jameson, stand to make more money in the internet world than those porn performers who rely on signing contracts with the porn production companies.

Jameson has established herself as a brand, and has made millions doing so; I see no reason why her fame (infamy?) should diminish merely because un-branded amateurs put porn up.

As for the idea of consumers of porn becoming more "discriminating"--this seems somewhat like a cocaine dealer coming up with an idea to cater to the discriminating nostril. It just doesn't work; porn and coke are not wine or whiskey.

Finally, someone commented about the government's enacting a "gambling prohibition." There is no prohibition of gambling, except, perhaps in Utah, and online. The comment makes no sense, and the business of gambling has little in common with the business of porn, except perhaps insofar that gambling had a seedy past and porn seems to have a seedy present. The economics of porn seem sufficiently different from those of gambling as to make comparisons between the two of them questionable at best.

AJD said...

I wouldn't know. Personally, I have never encountered a pornographic film anywhere other than in the context of a federal district court case.

Let's see. One -- and only one -- of the following is true:

1. Richard is the only man in America who has never encountered porn.

2. Richard encountered it alone.

3. A-house is lying. Or maybe playing some kind of Clintoneqsue game with the word "encounter."

My money is on No. 3.

blake said...

Gahrie--

I saw it in the theater when it came out and it was flawed but not pornographic. It was an R-rated movie with a lot of sex going on in the background (John Gielgud and Malcolm McDowell would walk through a room discussing something and there'd be 20-30 people having an orgy).

After it bombed, Guccione re-cut it and added hardcore sex scenes to try to re-sell it, but it's wrong to characterize it as "porn with a plot".

Revenant said...

In both cases, the answer would seem to be because the people buying the products would find it at best irrelevant and at worst a distraction from the primary purpose of the product?

It is fair to say that most porn viewers, most of the time, don't care about stuff like plot or characterization.

On the other hand, there's a segment of the market that does. Most of the porn I personally own is old 70s/80s porn flicks. Are they cheesy? Well, yeah -- duh. But even bad acting and a cheesy plot can make the underlying material more interesting. That's why direct-to-video action movies actually have dialog, and not just shooting and explosions.

The porn industry can't keep its current market share by making "porn with a plot", no. But it can't keep its current market share no matter WHAT it does, because the most in-demand porn is just too easy to get for free. Plus, of course, so MUCH porn has been produced, and saved in lossless digital format, that the porn industry could disappear forever and every man on Earth would still have an effectively unlimited supply of nekkidness to watch.

What the porn industry CAN can do is keep SOME share of the market by appealing to that segment of the market that doesn't have a good alternative.

blake said...

Money could still be used to generate porn that amateurs couldn't compete with. You just have to add value with those production dollars with, say, interactive action development, camera angles and zooms, etc.

That's just a guess, of course. I think I wrote somewhere else about the fragmentation of pop culture (Sgt Pepper?) and porn is going to have that in spades.

blake said...

Oh, and AJD, I'm pretty sure Althouse has stated outright that she's never seen a porn except as it involved a case. Google it!

tiggeril said...

I wouldn't turn to Harlequin romances for plot advice unless you want your audiences to be too busy howling with laughter to notice the...er... central scenes.

Maxine Weiss said...

"Personally, I have never encountered a pornographic film anywhere"---Althouse

And yet, you are apparently intrigued enough to write extensively, in blogposts, about the industry.

Idiosyncratic. Completely idiosyncratic, I tell you!

babuilder said...

How can they whine about declining profits. A graph of their profitability will look like a bell curve for the last 35 years if it continues to decline. The boom years started with the vcr and is ending with the internet. In the old days you had to sneak downtown in almost every city in America to watch porn in some run down theater (almost universally The Majestic Theater).

Whoops! I meant to say I heard you used to have to sneak downtown.

Gahrie said...

Blake:

You've got your history wrong. The porn version came first, and then it was edited to an "R" version. I remember the controversey quite clearly when it came out because I was a horny teenager at the time, and a regular reader of Penthouse. The whole point of the movie was to create a "high-class" porn movie.

rishi said...

"Personally, I have never encountered a pornographic film"

Care to enlighten us about the case

I loved reading this post. It was a lot of fun. I think the internet is working two ways here. It may be taking some profit away from video producers. But modern pornographic video is like MTV. It's slick and lifeless. Nothing erotic about it. Strip clubs and toy companies will continue to and probably make more money thanks to the internet. I think there is a case to be made for videos that are produced by amateurs.

rishi said...

Since you don't watch porn, the free sites these folks are referring to are forums that are distributing and displaying.

rishi said...

"What would it take to produce that demand?"
Real films that have actual sex. Unfortunately, they are slapped with an NC-17 rating. That is one of the ways the companies could compete with amateurs.

rishi said...

"That's why direct-to-video action movies actually have dialog, and not just shooting and explosions."

So true, I think its a matter of taste and not just a concentration of graphic sex.

Joe said...
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Joe said...

I think the key point missed by the pundits is that amateur means natural. Improved prodution quality would help, but what would help more is hiring women that don't look like they just walked off the strip-club stage and men who don't look totally gay.

Fact: Most porn actresses make far more money stripping than in porn--the porn serves as an advertisement.

This symbiotic relationship had warped the entire porn industry to a subset of the populace. Even Playboy has been affected--too many of their models don't look or act like "the girls next door."

This is all complicated by the advantage of the anonymity of the internet.

amba said...

I think they should make romantic, pornographic historical romances -- X-rated costume dramas, with plots. The women who read Regency and all that would be a whole new market. Imagine the sexiness of seeing a woman throw back voluminous skirts and multiple petticoats and having nothing on underneath.

amba said...

I see Gahrie said the same thing. This is a huge, untapped market. Women!

amba said...

I have never encountered a pornographic film anywhere other than in the context of a federal district court case.)

You're not missing much.

blake said...

Gahrie--

After reading the Wikipedia entry, I guess you're right, though Gielgud and some of the other actors claimed to be unaware that there were going to be hardcore scenes. (Some quit, and some, like Orson Welles, never signed on because of the hardcore scenes, though, so that seems contradictory.) I conflated that with the later additions Guccione made that were strictly porn.

Some of the scenes--apparently all(?) of the ones shot by the original director--were simulated hardcore(!).

Huh. I saw it in the theater when I was 13 and yet it made little impression. Go figger.

hdhouse said...

Loath as I am to admit, I actually did a sub contractor stint for Adam and Eve 4 years back. Aside from the provocative product array, they faced the same problems that any B2C marketer has:

distribution, customer acquisition, repeat customer base, shelf space..right on down the line. Further, marketing through the internet is and always will be a very low percentage return business helped only by the low cost of distribution and the nearly endless avenues of access to in your face marketing efforts.

This company, although high end in comparison to much of their competition and with a significant advertising and marketing budget, always was faced with an overloaded marketing competition matrix....essentially mutliple manufacturers niching out the vertical segments...so that a general marketer was always loosing share here and there.

It is, in the end a business and a huge one and for a long time they were the only internet marketers that "got it" and made a ton. While still extremely profitable the industry is just sorting itself out again. It is just a cycle....and if you look at it from a ROI formula, it is just going through a phase and will right itself..not that it is financially very far off track.

Roger Sweeny said...

I'd guess the standard actor/actress of fair to middling talent is not especially interested in acting in porn, and the standard actor/actress in porn probably cannot act.

Have you seen Friday Night Smackdown (Friday, the CW), the present version of professional wrestling? Wrestling has always had a fair amount of acting but now any wrestler who expects to be big has to be able to memorize--and deliver--a large number of lines.

Of course, the delivery is overdone but it's never bad. It's good enough to maintain the illusion that these guys really hate each other, or whatever the story line is that week.

Porn acting like that might actually work.

mrsizer said...

Hi, my name is Mark and I watch porn; but not much, it is too expensive.

At $80 for a DVD of porn worth watching (nominal plotline but without much acting; good looking guys doing interesting things; and decent production values, such as all the cameras white-balanced the same), the industry has a problem.

People who can afford an $80 DVD are probably older and in relationships. Porn is an infrequent indulgence for that demographic (low volume also explains the high price - teenagers probably don't care about white-balance, either).

Product placement! That's the answer: Chesterfields! So round, so firm, so fully packed!

I really don't think it matters either way. We'd probably be better off if the entire entertainment industry went under; not just pornography, which seems to be an industry trend-setter so I have hope.

David said...

Let's look at this the other way 'round. Which popular mainstream movies would have been improved by graphic porn sex? If seeing Harrison Ford's penis and Karen Allen's vagina wouldn't have improved Indiana Jones, then why believe that plot and good production values would improve porn?

I suspect that there are two difference itches being scratched here.

Revenant said...

At $80 for a DVD of porn worth watching

Yikes, where do YOU shop? Even expensively-produced features like "Pirates" retail for less than $40.

I've never heard of a porn DVD costing $80. Maybe when DVDs were a new technology?

hdhouse said...

rev...i'm loath to admit that i even know this fact but debute series porn, old stuff, 1 time now mainstream theatrical stars who did the deed to live, etc., are worth a ton of money...its an underground cottage industry.

simon is dead wrong...by the way i his 10:19 post (why am i surprised).the people who make an distribute porn are fully aware that the demand is as high if not higher than ever. the single most profitable item in just about any hotel room is the adult movie channel.

actually this is, in strictly marketing terms, a very complex situation in a dynamic and profitable marketplace. very smart people are struggling to find the solution and they will.

Simon said...

hdhouse said...
"simon is dead wrong...by the way i his 10:19 post ... the people who make an distribute porn are fully aware that the demand is as high if not higher than ever."

You're always a bore, but occaisionally it's leavened with amusing incomprehension. My 10:19 post didn't even hint that there is no demand for pornography, but rather, answered Ann's question (or attempted to do so) about what "would [it] take ... [for] the idea of a good story ... [to] present itself as a strategy for success." That is, it suggested the absence of a demand for plot-oriented pornography, or to put it more directly, that the demand for pornography is in quite the other direction, to "get to the point" (so to speak). That point was plain enough to everyone else but you.

hdhouse said...

Simon....do you take great pains to write so badly? Do you rewrite your sentences to make them unclear and poorly constructed? Just a thought.

Nataraj said...

amba said... I think they should make romantic, pornographic historical romances -- X-rated costume dramas, with plots. The women who read Regency and all that would be a whole new market. Imagine the sexiness of seeing a woman throw back voluminous skirts and multiple petticoats and having nothing on underneath.

I think Amba is on to something here, but I'd take it a technological step further. With DVD technology it's easy enough to create, essentially, hyperlinked scenes. The viewer would be watching (to return a previous example) Indiana Jones and at the scene where Ford and Allen are starting to make out on the ship ("Ouch!") the viewer would have an option to jump to an extended sex scene or continue watching the scene as we're all used to seeing it. Typical Regency (etc) bodice rippers could be made the same way, and women DO gobble those like cerebral popcorn. I can see the GenY crowd taking that path. Their explorations of sex, and pervasive access to porn, is significantly different than the experience of us 40+ geezers.