New Louis Theroux Documentary on the porn industry, tonight, BBC2, 10pm

Louis Theroux first visited the LA based porn industry 15 years ago for his ‘Weird Weekends’ documentary series. He returns now to find the porn industry in ‘decline’, largely due to online ‘free’ and pirated content.

However, Gail Dines and Dana Bialer, in a CiF piece here, refute his claims, saying the porn industry has simply changed, adapted and actually expanded, leaving the ‘traditional’ LA companies behind:

These changes were best summed up by Stephen Yagielowicz, a writer for the porn industry website, XBIZ, when he wrote: “The corporatisation of porn isn’t something that will happen or is happening, it is something that has happened … It’s Las Vegas all over again: the independent owners, renegade mobsters and visionary entrepreneurs pushed aside by mega-corporations that saw a better way of doing things and brought the discipline needed to attain a whole new level of success to the remaining players.”

What has happened to porn is typical as industries grow and mature. The internet enabled rapid market growth and attracted a proliferation of new entrants eager to make what appeared to be easy money. This led to intense competition, falling prices and profits, and, as documented by Theroux, lower pay for the performers. But the weeding out of some unprofitable firms and a wave of acquisitions have led to the consolidation of the industry and the emergence of a few large, more professionally managed businesses operating in multiple market segments through a variety of distribution channels. These big players have gained a level of economic, political and cultural power that is reshaping the industry. It is a sign of the success of the porn industry that it has become a mainstream, legitimate sector that interfaces with credit card companies, mobile technology companies, software developers, venture capitalists and mainstream media corporations.

So who are these major players? People often guess Hugh Hefner of Playboy, Larry Flynt of Hustler, or perhaps Steve Hirsch of the “feature” company Vivid. But few have heard of Fabian Thylmann, a 30-something German businessman who is the Rupert Murdoch of porn. He is the founder of Manwin, a Luxembourg-based conglomerate with more than 700 employees that owns and operates such well-travelled sites as Brazzers and Digital Playground, and, in 2011, brokered a deal with Playboy to manage some of its branded online and entertainment businesses. In its PR material, Manwin describes itself as “the leading international provider of high-quality adult entertainment, delivered through online, mobile and television media platforms. It is the owner of the largest network of adult websites in the world, with more than 60 million daily visitors.”

It turns out ‘free’ porn isn’t actually anything more than advertising for paid-for sites (it’s lucky porn is so addictive isn’t it?)

Theroux claimed that the porn industry was in crisis due to the proliferation of free and amateur porn. But Manwin, in addition to controlling profitable paid sites, also owns many of the top-visited “free” porn sites, including YouPorn, PornHub, Tube8 and Spankwire. In a clever marketing ploy, Spankwire tells users that this is the place for the “best free porn” that shows “real life sexual escapades in the free sex stories written by the users”. In reality, much of the content comes from Manwin’s and others’ paid sites, and acts as teasers to get the viewer interested so that they can then “monetise” the free porn by diverting him or her to paid sites.

At the same time, the industry is cracking down on pirated porn through legal and technological strategies. This is similar to the business model adopted by the music industry. So, rather than destroying the porn industry, free porn is expanding the consumer base for paid porn. Feras Antoon, CEO of Brazzers, told New York magazine that free porn sites had “vastly enlarged the total universe of porn consumers that the number of those who pay has ballooned along with it”.. The strategy is paying off for Manwin, whose pretax earnings increased more than 40% in 2010.

And ‘amateur’ porn isn’t actually amateur either, no matter how much funfems may like to believe it’s all just ’empowering’ fun!

So-called “amateur” porn has also been blamed for reducing the profits of the porn industry. In industry terms, amateur refers both to the visual grammar (looks homemade), and the “girls” (unknowns) rather than who is actually making it. The big secret is that the mainstream porn industry owns many of these sites. Amateur is just another market segment – along with anal, oral, and interracial porn. As Yagielowicz told ABC: “Many so-called amateurs are not real amateurs … The studios have already figured out how to dress up real porn stars like the girl next door on single-model, subscription-based sites, so I would expect they’ll do the same on user-generated, revenue-sharing sites.”

Theroux’s recent articles promoting his documentary are still worth reading, as they highlight how abusive and degrading the industry still is, even if it is trying to make ‘better’ ‘quality’ porn to compete with the online stuff. From his Guardian piece:

And as goes the industry, so go the performers. It’s well known that many of them come into porn looking for validation, fleeing lives of damage and abuse. They then sign up to a lifestyle that inflicts stress and illness, not to mention embarrassment, on its young foot soldiers, while offering nothing in the way of pensions and health insurance. Now they find themselves out of work, looking for a Plan B, when the only experience on their resumé is having sex for cash.

At one of the top LA agencies for performers, LA Direct, the accountant Francine Amidor laments the “devastating” impact of piracy. “There’s less work, and there’s an abundance – because of the economy – of performers. There aren’t enough people shooting to give everybody a day’s work.”

I put it to Amidor that she owes it to the young aspirants who still make their way to the LA Direct offices to explain the consequences of their decision. She demurs. “Because then I would talk three quarters of the girls out of the business and then we wouldn’t be in business.”

Women porn performers now have to supplement their incomes through prostitution.

It’s an open secret in the porn world that many female performers are supplementing their income by “hooking on the side”. It’s also called “doing privates”, as in private bookings. The official industry line is that it’s dangerous (because clients aren’t tested the way performers are) and irresponsible (because the women could then infect the closed community of professional performers). But the women can make far more money having sex behind closed doors than doing it on film and, in fact, the practice is widespread. For many female performers nowadays, the movies are merely a sideline, a kind of advertising for their real business of prostitution.

The line about ‘clients’ not being tested is disingenuous, as the only STI routinely, mandatorily screened for in the LA porn industry is HIV (see Martin Amis’ 2001 A Rough Trade article, “We’ve contained Aids in the industry but what about all the others? You know we’re now up to Hepatitis G?”), and the only reason that happened is because they risked being shut down as a public health risk if they didn’t – there is no genuine health and safety or concern for workers’ welfare in the LA porn industry.

From Theroux’s BBC article:

While the wages stagnate, and the jobs dry up, the pressure on the performers continues.

During my visit, Monte expressed his unhappiness about a scene Kagney [his girlfriend] had just been booked for, involving a sex act so outlandish it can’t really be described in a mainstream news forum.

There is no mention in either of Theroux’s articles about the recent law changes making condom use mandatory in the LA porn industry; perhaps filming was completed before the law changes. I will watch the documentary and write up notes if there is anything extra worth reporting.

One response

  1. […] is not ethical). Most women last less than a year in the industry, and have to do stripping and prostitution on the side to survive. The fees in porn are not high when considered against the potential physical and psychological […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: