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!
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.