Friday, September 11, 2009

Nina in the Economist!

That's right. The staid and serious biz journal from London, reporting on the sad economic state of the U.S porn industry actually asked the right person what's up and get some straight answers. Journalism lives!

Hard times
Sep 10th 2009 | LOS ANGELES
From The Economist print edition

A big industry in northern Los Angeles is among the worst hit by the recession

EVEN Nina Hartley, who became a pornographic actress in 1984 and continues to be one of its most sought-after performers at the age of 50, is feeling the recession. “Last year I did a scene a week, this year I do a scene a month,” she says. As a sex celebrity, she has not dropped her fees, charging about $1,200 for a “straight boy-girl” scene. But production has collapsed, and for younger performers so have prices.

The adult-film industry is concentrated in the San Fernando Valley—“the Valley” to Angelenos—on the northern edge of Los Angeles, so the slump in porn is yet another factor depressing the local economy. Pornography had been immune to previous recessions, so the current downturn has come as a shock.

Most of the industry consists of small private production companies whose numbers are secret, but Mark Kernes, an editor at Adult Video News, a trade magazine, estimates that the American industry had some $6 billion in revenues in 2007, before the recession, mostly in DVD sales and rentals and some in internet subscriptions. Diane Duke, the director of the Free Speech Coalition, the adult industry’s trade group, thinks that revenues have fallen 30-50% during the past year. “One producer told me his revenue was down 80%,” she says.

If the Valley used to make 5,000-6,000 films a year, says Mr Kernes, it now makes perhaps 3,000-4,000. Some firms have shut down, others are consolidating or scraping by. For the 1,200 active performers in the Valley this means less action and more hardship. A young woman without Ms Hartley’s name-recognition might have charged $1,000 for a straight scene before the crisis, but gets $800 or less now. Men are worse hit. If they averaged $500 for a straight scene in 2007, they are now lucky to get $300. For every performer there are several people in support, from sound-tech to catering and (yes) wardrobe, says Ms Duke, so the overall effect on the Valley economy is large.

The recession, moreover, has exacerbated a previous crisis. Piracy is the main problem. And the internet, with its copious free clips, is an increasingly viable alternative to the paid stuff. Pornography in general has become “like potato chips, everywhere and cheap, to be consumed and tossed,” says Ms Hartley. It’s not the same as in the golden age when she joined. “The industry will shrink and stay shrunken,” she reckons.

Alas, I wish she could have been the bearer of better news, but Nina calls 'em like she sees 'em, and right now the view is not pretty. Nor is likely to get prettier soon, as the so-called "industry leaders" have responded to the multiple problems besetting the business like the captain of The Exxon Valdez, or maybe The Titanic.

Some people, includling some readers here, really don't care much what happens at the core of the commercial industry located out here, but if they think having it collapse will provide openings for something better in the hinterlands, they should pause to consider that probability that the economics afflicting Big Porn with its deeper pockets will probably hit even harder among those trying to start new enterprises and find audiences. Mom and Pop porn sites and non-L.A. based production companies are dying like flies at the moment, and the picture isn't likely to brighten for them until it does so for bigger, more robust entities with greater market access.

Still, it's good to see Nina taken seriously by a serious publication somewhere. Maybe it will start a trend.


  1. Wow, congrats on Nina getting into The Economist!

    Peripherally on the subject of piracy sites, I don't know if you noticed the other day, but I actually did find and link to the Tim Samuels "Hardcore Profits" BBC program had actually been posted to one such site, so I guess they do have their uses, at least when it comes to being able to see overseas TV content. (links here)

    The program is even worse then I had expected, and is quite pro-censorship. I recommend having a look – given that anything anti-porn coming out of the UK tends to echo through the blogosphere, and from there, into academia and the American press, hence, probably a good idea to keep track of this nonsense. One interesting note – Sharon Mitchell makes several appearances, and comes across as anything but the apologist for condom-free, anything-goes porn she's made out to be elsewhere.

  2. The truth about such matters is complicated, mundane and rarely sexy.

    Truth is six inches; fantasy is a foot long.

  3. Yes, I did note the links but couldn't bring myself to watch the thing. There's only so much of that kind of swill I can stomach. Perhaps I'll work up to it later.

    I'm not surprised that Mitch's comments can be cherry-picked to suit an anti-porn, pro-censorship agenda.

    She has always been misrepresented as an "apologist for condom-free, anything-goes porn" simply because of her willingness to work with those who are in order to preserve AIM's harm-reduction work in the very places where it's most needed.

    In fact, she has long been a harsh critic of many aspects of this industry and while vigorously opposing censorship, has never given cover to practices she considers unhealthy or unethical.

    But Mitch's stubbon independence of thought makes her both an asset and a liability to all sides in the debate over porn. Because she has such a nuanced, global view of the business, comments of hers can be taken out of context to support or refute almost any position on the subject, as indeed they have been over and over. I've often seen clips of her in anti-porn pieces in which her remarks were clipped off in mid-sentence so that only the critical part of the original comment got through.

    And yes, the truth about such matters is indeed complicated, mundane and unsexy. That's one of the reasons most people can't be bothered with it.

  4. Some (not-so-)highligts of "Hardcore Profits":

    * The show begins with old footage of Mary Whitehouse, with the insinuation that she was right all along.

    * In the Ghana, segment, Samuels shows a pro-abstinence performance in the same small village, and compliments it for countering the message that porn was bringing to this part of Africa. The fact that its precisely this pro-abstinence (and anti-safer sex) miseducation program that's helped drive the epidemic in Africa is lost on him.

    * His definition of "mainstream companies involvement in porn" includes credit card companies processing payments for porn. That credit card companies will process payments for most products is, I guess, besides the point to him. He then insinuates that if credit card companies should take an "ethical stance" and refuse to process payments for pornographic products.

    * Bashing for selling "illegal" porn videos.