Too much free porn is bad for business

For today's porn industry, a glut of free content means that, contrary to belief, sometimes sex doesn't sell.

For the men and women working in the adult film sector, porn is more than sex on screen. Day to day, they face many of the same issues any industry has to tackle, whether it’s piracy, social media etiquette, or even government oversight.

When Adult Empire launched the #PayForYourPorn campaign online last year, it was partly a way to "put the human side of the performers out there, who can’t make a living if everyone’s going to watch it for free," says Colin Allerton, director of business development at Adult Empire. He explains that going up against free porn sites means showing consumers that what the company offers is affordable, higher quality, and safe for their computers.

"For us, it’s trying to create a unique experience," Allerton adds. "It’s all about repeat customers."

The #PayForYourPorn effort focuses on driving awareness. "If people continue to exclusively use free porn sites, there isn’t going to be any new content to support it," he notes.

The campaign, which has more than 4,000 followers on Twitter and 1,000 followers on its YouTube channel, was picked up by mainstream media including The Guardian and Vice last year.

Its roots are in comments made by Samuel L. Jackson while promoting Captain America: The Winter Soldier in March 2014. Jackson was asked to name a technological advancement the super hero should be made aware of. His response, free porn site RedTube.

"That really pissed off a lot of performers," says Allerton.

Adam Grayson, CFO at Evil Angel, which works as a porn content cooperative, draws a parallel between piracy in the porn industry and the music industry’s uphill battle against streaming.

An important step for Evil Angel was to "pivot to stay in business," and discover what people will pay for, like iTunes versus a compact disc, he explains.

Evil Angel is an example of a company that’s successfully moved into the online space from the DVD and VHS eras of years past – though it still sells a lot of DVDs, Grayson notes. Last year, the organization had its best year since 2007. In 2014, net profit was up 111% year over year and website subscription revenue saw a 27% boost from 2013 to 2014.

Adapt-or-die landscape
Some competitors, however, have had to make more changes or even fold in what can often be an "adapt-or-die" environment.

"If there’s a screen and a customer willing to pay, we’ll figure out a way to get it there," Grayson adds.

Allerton says the plan for Adult Empire’s campaign is to push on, getting more performers in #PayForYourPorn gear, such as shirts and shorts, at various events and continuing the press junket.

"If you don’t pay for your porn, then no more will be produced – it’s as simple as that," he continues.

The #PayForYourPorn campaign will be visible at the International Video Distributors/East Coast News show in October – where performer Missy Martinez will attend on behalf of Adult Empire – as well as in January, at the Adult Video News Adult Entertainment Expo.

While there’s no single spokesperson representing the #PayForYourPorn campaign, Allerton says performers including Kayla-Jane Danger have been consistent in keeping the hashtag present on Twitter. Heavy demand cleaned out the first wave of gear, but more is on the way.

Don’t expect #PayForYourPorn to ask supporters to call their congressman anytime soon, because "they generally don’t want to support anything that has to do with the adult [industry]," Allerton explains. "The best approach is just the educational aspect."

Erika Icon, who owns The Rub PR and is based in Los Angeles, says as crucial as social media can be to a performer’s career, many don’t initially know how to tweet, Instagram, or post on Facebook to their advantage. It can help performers bolster their career opportunities and fan base, she adds, but Icon advises against fighting, treating Twitter like a "personal psychiatrist," or buying followers.

"They should be using social media to talk to their fans," she adds. "Fans want to know what they’re doing when they’re not on set."

While Icon considers Twitter "the best commercial tool out there," some of the most popular performers run the risk of being ousted from the platform simply because they don’t disclose their intention to post sensitive media on the site. However, she has a tactic up her sleeve to make sure her clients are using Twitter correctly.

"My clients behave because they know I’m watching what they do," Icon explains.

She cites adult film star, model, and dancer Nikki Delano as someone in the industry who is seeing success on social media and building on it. Delano has more than 552,000 Twitter followers; 239,000 on Instagram; and even landed on Playboy’s 50 Hottest Adult Stars on Instagram list. Social success has boosted her workload, too, says Icon – from movies to feature dancing to trade shows.

One place the industry may be treading more lightly is Facebook. An actress’ page was recently taken down and an appeal was denied, she explains.

Icon is aware of how the industry can be "misrepresented." While she’s been misquoted before, interviews in outlets such as Cosmopolitan have helped her share her message.

"There are so many things fighting for people’s attention – whether it’s cable, free porn, Spotify, or phone apps," Icon says. "Everything is about getting attention."

Safer sex
Before the government stepped in to require that all porn actors in Los Angeles County wear condoms while filming, the industry had been taking care of itself, she notes. Now, performers are tested bi-weekly and must present proof in order to shoot.

According to the LA County Department of Public Health, 12 adult film production public health permits were given out around the time the Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act launched in late 2012. As of July 2015, only 5 of those remained active. The Los Angeles Times reported in August 2014 that 20 permits were doled out so far that year, down from 40 in 2013.

While a few companies have moved out of the state and into Las Vegas for cheaper costs and no condom legislation, others have opted to shoot beyond county limits. Both scenarios, though, take revenue out of LA.

"LA County needs tax dollars," Icon says. "The porn industry not only gives a lot of tax dollars to the county, but it also gives people jobs."

Shrinking pie
Despite reports that the exodus to Vegas indicated new stomping grounds for the industry, Grayson notes that has "gone in reverse a little bit," in the last year.

"There was a little bit of a ‘grass is greener’ syndrome," he says. "Anywhere you do fringe stuff there’s going to be issues, especially when it involves chunks of law, employees, and the workplace."

Grayson explains that while the preferred filming location could still change, it was New York once, then San Francisco, "the threat to move hasn’t mobilized, but people will follow the work."

Professionals are also watching what drives the market behind the scenes. "It’s gotten harder and the pie has shrunk. The competition for market share is more intense," he says. "The industry has gotten a whole lot smarter about what it does."

One evolving space in the industry is virtual reality, including subscription-based site VirtualRealPorn. Rachel Dawson, who launched the site with her husband just under two years ago, says that while they have partnerships with adult toy companies and virtual reality accessory manufacturers Homido and Dodocase, porn is still too "taboo" for some companies to sign on to.

"This technology will spread. Everybody has a smartphone, and adding a cheap headset and an app is all you need to enjoy VR content," she says. "The future will focus on mixing real and virtual reality worlds with more devices to make the virtual experience a complement to, more than a substitute for, real sex."

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