Love & Sex

Sorry, Adult Industry, but No One Is Going to Pay for Porn

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Piracy is now par for the course for porn consumers, and that's unlikely to change any time soon. 

Last week, porn publishers Adult Empire, along with a number of adult stars, announced the launch of Pay For Your Porn, an online (and mostly Twitter-based) campaign intended to shame consumers into abandoning pirated porn. It's the same message that members of the industry have been trumpeting for years online, in interviews, and in pre-roll PSAs on porn DVDs. Piracy hurts the people who make porn, and anyone who enjoys consuming the product should pay for it. In principle, I agree with the sentiment. But it's hard for me to shake the feeling that #PayForYourPorn is doomed to fail, and that porn would be better off giving up the guilt trip and accepting that free porn is, for the most part, the new normal.

There is no question that piracy has dramatically hurt the porn industry and the people employed by it. In the decade that I've been involved with the adult industry, I've seen companies scale back and shut down and performers go from working several times a week to a couple of times a month, with their per scene rates dropping all the while. People are working twice as hard for half as much, and it's only getting worse. For many, this feels like a betrayal, and it's not hard to see why the #PayForYourPorn campaign holds some attraction: if only porn fans would understand that they're hurting real people, if only they knew that piracy was wrong, everything could go back to the way it used to be.

But there's also no denying that – unethical as it may be – piracy is now par for the course for porn consumers, and that's unlikely to change any time soon. An entire generation has grown up seeing porn (and music and TV shows and movies) as something that should be easily, and freely, accessible. Changing that sort of deepseated mindset is going to take a whole lot more than a fancy new hashtag. To put it bluntly: if the guilt trip approach didn't work four years ago, it's not going to work today – no matter how many social media platforms the industry inundates.

To some, this may sound like a death knell for the industry, and in a way I suppose it is. It seems unlikely that porn will ever return to the days when money was easy and anyone could be a millionaire just by whipping out a camera while their friends got down and dirty. (Though given that those days resulted in a great deal of poorly shot product by people who were only in the industry to make a quick buck, maybe we shouldn't be mourning too hard.) But that doesn't mean an end to porn: it just means that the flesh peddlers of the future are going to have to find a different way to make money off of their product.

And there are signs that at least some members of the industry are taking the time to innovate and figure out a new path to profitability. For some, like FTMFucker, that means making porn that breaks the standard mold and connects with underserved communities: people who want authentic, feminist representations of FTM sexuality, for instance, don't have a lot of options, and are often more likely to pay for product that caters to their needs. For others, porn has become a loss leader that's used to generate attention and interest for other, more profitable projects (a tactic that's particularly appealing for top tier performers, who may find more income in feature dancing, escorting, licensing deals, or other opportunities that garner a sizeable wage when you're a popular pornstar). Still others – such as WoodRocket – are working to fine tune the ad supported model that's helped to keep other media enterprises afloat, and figure out how to make it function best for the adult industry; while yet another camp (of which Porn.com’s David Kay is a member) hopes that Netflix-style pricing will encourage porn fans to once again open their wallets.

There's no telling which model will ultimately be successful; I'm willing to bet that we'll end up seeing a mix of many strategies. Some porn producers will still attract a paying audience for their hyper niche content, while others will find ways to make a buck without charging consumers. But whatever strategies porn producers develop to survive – and in some cases, thrive – chances are good that they won't involve shaming porn fans to whip their wallet out of their pants before anything else. An industry that's made its millions off of the uncontrollable lust of humankind can't suddenly expect its fanbase to suddenly respond to a forceful scolding. Porn producers who'd like to see their businesses survive would do well to give up the moralizing and get to work figuring out a brand new business plan.

Image via Tax Credits