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Cory Silverberg

The Future of Porn

By January 13, 2009

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The Adult Entertainment Expo, which is the largest consumer porn convention in the U.S. and closes each year with the AVN porn award show, wrapped up Monday. From what Iíve heard it was a slow year and thinner attendance than in previous years. This makes sense as itís what you hear from almost all trade shows these days (just ask the folks in Detroit).

I was talking today with a buyer from a retail chain about her experience at the show, and we got talking about the future of porn. Not the public policy and politics of porn, which I find dense and generally too simple minded to warrant a response, but the business and informed customer end of porn; the business of providing sexual imagery for people to watch and get turned on by.

So here are some of my thoughts about the possible big changes coming in porn. As always, I donít recommend placing bets on any of this, but if you do and you win, please take my cut and donate it to Scarleteen.

Could We Be Porn-ed Out?
One thing I wonder about is whether or not itís possible that weíre consuming less porn than we used to. Really weíd have no way of knowing. All the stats are juiced by the private companies that profit from the headlines, and then mindlessly reprinted by the New York Times each year which legitimizes the fake numbers for other media outlets and even some academics. We canít trust the industry trying to cure us of porn addiction anymore than we can trust the industry trying to give us porn addictions. So how would we know if porn consumption has gone down? Iím not saying weíll loose interest in consuming sexual imagery. Itís just that 98% of everything put out by the mainstream porn industry looks and feels the same. And weíre inundated with this stuff, so itís not inconceivable that en masse we could actually get sick of the product.

The Porn Portals
Those who control the methods of distribution have always held a lot of power and made a lot of money. Larry Flynt knew this years ago when he bought the distribution arm of the biggest U.S. porn producer as a way of establishing what was at that time a primarily print company as a major player in moving image porn. But the DVD distribution model is dying out. People prefer digital distribution onto mobile, computers, and televisions. One of the most promising products is called FyreTV. Itís a digital box that gives you access to tens of thousands of porn films through your TV. The functionality and user interface seem simple and precisely what viewers want. FyreTV isnít the only player and wonít be the last. Several companies are doing this online already. Consumers will vote with their wallets though, and eventually a few companies will win out. But then what? All the convenience of these services is greatly outweighed by the fact that the choices are overwhelming. How convenient is it to have 30,000 movies to flip through?

The Porn Curators
Thatís where porn curators and critics come in. I suspect that some people will end up making a lot of money (and if itís the right people, theyíll be doing a lot of good at the same time) being the ones that help viewers figure out what theyíll like and delivering it to them. Porn audiences are simultaneously becoming more discerning and more comfortable with their porn interests. I think many will pay a bit extra for a service that means they wonít have to scan through 31 volumes of ďJug MamasĒ just to get to the movie they want. The fact is that most of us donít know exactly what we want anyway. We may know what ďworks,Ē but for over twelve years Iíve helped customers pick porn to match their tastes and I can tell you that most people are surprised by what they end up finding arousing. Being able to take folks through the options and help them find something that doesnít just do the trick but opens new doors will be a valuable service. Also, for the majority of people who wonít ever be comfortable talking to someone about their porn tastes, having a computer mediated interface that does the job without the judgment will be another thing for which people will pay top dollar.

Will Fewer Titles Deliver Better Titles?
Itís inevitable that with the death of the DVD porn producers will change the way they do business. One possibility is that the industry will slow down its output considerably. Itís interesting to think about what would happen if all of the sudden instead of 10,000 releases a year there were only 3,000. Those companies that are sophisticated and diversified in their output; the ones that invest time and money in their productions, probably wonít change much. But what about the majority of those who make porn, the ones that churn out hundreds of titles a year? If someone like Jim Powers only put out 50 movies a year instead of 100, would that improve the quality of his work? And really, do we want to see what Jim Powers would do if he had more time on his hands?

On the one hand porn producers will stop doing what theyíre doing when it stops being profitable. The problem with this (from a quality perspective) is that it costs so little they donít have to make much for it to make financial sense for them.

When Anyone Can Watch Anything
One of the exciting things about digital delivery systems will be how they will, to an extent, even the playing field for smaller producers and filmmakers. Right now if you want to watch an indie lesbian title from Fatale Media, or trans porn that is made by people who identify as trans, or a queer porn that isnít really straight people faking it for the pay cheque you either have to watch it online (and know where to look for it online) or live in a big city with an alternative video store. When companies like Pink and White Productions, Buck Angel, and Fatale Media have their titles up against Vivid, Wicked, and Falcon, more people will have easier access to porn thatís meant to genuinely represent a range of sexual expression. Bigger companies will always have the marketing power, but the independents have already proven savvy in the ways of grassroots porn marketing, and their success, when measured against the bigger companies, may move mainstream porn along in terms of quality and representation.

Comments
January 14, 2009 at 1:09 pm
(1) Jon says:

When it’s time for fantasy and there are no screens turned on, I’m more apt to focus on a story I’ve read, online or elsewhere, or on my own past history, than on images from the porn industry. I’m an enthusiastic viewer of porn (usually gay porn); I don’t know what the future distribution model will turn out to be, but my own preference for written or personal fantasy material must say something about the quality of visual porn that I habitually find. What does turn me on is a scene where the participants, whether two or more, obviously really share something more than need of a paycheck. Watching real affection or even just real arousal at work is wonderful. For that matter, even if it’s solo — when authenticity is there, it’s a whole different experience. Whatever the future of porn, I would wish for more of the “real” thing and less ho-hum commercialism. (However, “real” by itself is no guarantee: just go to some of the reality porn sites on the Web for confirming evidence of that. Sometimes very interesting; seldom really arousing.)

January 25, 2009 at 1:52 pm
(2) Tenga USA says:

This was Tenga USAís first AEE, but it sure didnít feel like a bust for us. Maybe broadband penetration is simply moving budget to alternative marketing channels. It is great to reach 10,000 at a single event, but our digital marketing efforts reach over 10,000 people a day. With a much lower marketing overhead than live events, it just makes sense for mature products to shift their dollars. For a start up like us, it was sure worth it.

We will certainly agree with you that cheap (not inexpensive but low value) products will not survive the economic downturn. People want (pardon the expression) more bang for their buck. We got overwhelming interest from both distributors and the public based on the quality and perceived value of our product line. That is part of G4ís focus when they cover us tonight as part of their AEE review
(shameless plug
http://g4tv.com/AEE/splash2009.aspx).

February 23, 2009 at 2:03 pm
(3) alex says:

any thoughts on startining a multi level markrting to sell market gay porn?

September 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm
(4) Q says:

In my humble opinion (just a fan, not yet in the biz), I think the future of porn, content wise, may be towards 3d animation. There is already some really good stuff out there. It’s different, and I think very arousing. I visit 3d sites often, and I see new work almost every time. This niche could attract more artists, myself included, who will create fantastic stories and images that live action could never hope to compete with.

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