Enjoy Opus? Become a supporter today.

The Internet Is Killing the Porn Industry

The pornography industry has played a significant role in developing and popularizing many of the features of the Internet that we take for granted today, from online commerce to high-bandwidth streaming video. But now, Louis Theroux — who had previously investigated the American porn industry — finds that the Internet is fast becoming the bane of the porn industry’s existence.

For years the porn industry was dominated by an anarchic anything-goes attitude to sex. Directors competed to see who could stage the more outrageous stunts, pushing the performers to the limit of what their bodies could take. The scenes could be hard to watch, as I discovered for myself when I visited sets for a book I was writing in 2004. The sex acts seemed to owe more to reality shows where people eat live worms and pig vomit than anything conventionally erotic.
But some time around 2007, the ​“business of X” started going into a commercial tailspin. The arrival of free YouTube-style porn sites meant that consumers could download pirated scenes from the vast backlog of old content for free. The phenomenon of DIY amateur sex — part-timers uploading their videos on sites such as clips4sale — also put a dent in the professionals’ pay cheques.
Suddenly an industry that was a byword for easy money, raking in billions by exploiting the anonymity of point-and-click purchasing, was fighting for its life.

One of the results of this is that porn companies simply can’t afford to pay their performers as much as they once did, and so a number of female porn stars are turning to prostitution to make ends meet.

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.

And by all indications, the situation is only going to get worse.

Where the industry will end up is hard to predict. Clearly there is still a market for softcore movies made by companies such as Penthouse and Hustler, available on subscription channels. The parodies may continue for a while, too. But it is difficult to see how a business selling hardcore movies and even internet clips is sustainable when most people simply don’t want to pay if they don’t have to. To many people, when it comes to porn, not paying for content seems the more moral thing to do.
​“The way it is now, within five years I don’t see how there could be a professional porn actor,” Michaels tells me. It’s not easy to sympathise with the porn companies, which made so much money for so long by embracing a tawdry business and a dysfunctional work-pool. But it is worth sparing a thought for the legions of performers, qualified for nothing much more than having sex on camera, who have no money saved, and no future.

The thought of the porn industry being in decline is a nice one. Sadly, its decline won’t result in less porn in the world. Indeed, Theroux writes that one of the reasons for its decline is that porn is now so ubiquitous and widespread, and so easy to produce and acquire, that ​“proper” porn producers are quickly becoming obsolete. While it’s hard to feel sorry for them, what of the performers who are (literally) laying their bodies down for a wicked industry that chews them up and spits them out, and leaves them with next to nothing for their efforts? Even if they enter the industry with their eyes wide open — which is doubtful, going by Theroux’s article — how many of them are truly aware of the future that lies ahead of them, a future that likely contains financial uncertainty, prostitution, or even worse?


Read more about Internet and Pornography.

Enjoy Opus? Become a supporter today.