Saturday, 9 June 2012

Kreskin, again

Back in 2010, I made a few predictions about where the pornography industry was heading with the effective death of copyright.

One of these came true last year. I'd predicted that somebody would figure out a copyright litigation extortion scheme where the threat of being publicly named in lawsuits for having illegally downloaded pornography with embarrassing titles would induce people to settle up rather than face public humiliation. I wrote:
An alternative litigation strategy that could work would be use of copyright infringing honeypot sites whose viewers would then be threatened with copyright lawsuits for downloading pirated content, with threat of public disclosure of everything the viewer had been watching. I suspect a lot of viewers would pay up rather than have notice served to them at work and the whole list of viewed videos read aloud, for example.
And that basically came true with the litigation around "Nude Nuns with Big Guns"; Patri Friedman was hit with one of their letters.

I also predicted that the industry would shift away from content that easily fed Tube sites and towards higher end product and bundling with ancillary services:
Longer term, I'd then make the following prediction, albeit with relatively low confidence: a low end market dominated by freely supplied amateur clips that has commodity status, with hosting sites trying to drive click-throughs to higher valued ancillary services; and, a higher-end market where a much smaller number of performers are able to generate fan loyalty for purchase of higher-priced bundles and attendance at touring events.
I refined that:
I still expect that we wind up with a segmented market where the clips sites mostly host amateur or very cheaply produced content, but where a few star performers are able to capitalize on acquired fame by selling props from the set, touring, or providing higher end experiential goods
So, how's that looking? Louis Theroux surveys the porn industry. What's left is going upmarket:
Those movie companies that remain are focusing increasingly on high-end product, trying to beat the illegal sites by providing something like a cinematic experience. There is a flight into "quality". In an uncanny echo of a recent BBC slogan, they are embracing the idea of "Fewer, Bigger, Better". For some, this means more female-orientated scenes with less angry sex. Hence A Love Story. For others, it means parodies – of popular TV shows and recent blockbusters.
And what about ancillary services?
Women supplement their income by stripping and doing live shows over the internet, shot from home on their webcams. One evening I visit one of LA Direct's top performers, Kagney Linn Karter – star of Racktastic and Pound Round – at her house as she prepares for her bi-monthly live show. Her boyfriend and full-time assistant Monte is hanging up her dresses while Kagney bathes and puts on her makeup. Monte and I then retreat to the kitchen where he tidies and wipes down surfaces while Kagney strips on her bed and masturbates in front of the strangers viewing her through her laptop. Forty-five minutes later, she emerges. "Well, I made a hundred dollars," she says brightly.

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.
Theroux is pessimistic that the industry will be able to sustain itself over time.

Think about the category of product that Theroux says seems to be doing well: female-oriented product and parodies. The kind of product that you can imagine couples buying together. Theroux wonders:
And there is also the wider question: do those who use porn not, perhaps, owe it a little something? Should those who download it not be ready to pass on a little cash incentive to the business? And if not, why not? Does the stigma attached to porn make it OK to steal it? These questions underpin a much bigger dilemma being faced by all media: how do you sustain an industry that provides a certain standard of product – be it journalism, music, or mainstream movies, or X-rated movies – when more and more consumers are in the habit of downloading content for free? In the world of porn, the answer is: you can't.
I'd think of it rather as that the stigma increases the full cost of paying for product for those with joint credit cards where one partner may disapprove of the good's consumption. That fixed cost pushes towards piracy. And it also helps explain which sectors of the industry are doing less poorly: those where individuals are purchasing a good more likely to be consumed jointly.

Hit the "pornography" tag for prior posts on this interesting industry. Self-regulation regimes around condom use and partner reporting is particularly interesting.

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