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The Secret Formula for Making Boring Porn, Part 2

Last year, porn legend Nina Hartley revealed the secret formula for making boring porn.. But Nina was talking about the creative side, and no discussion of the creative side is complete without looking at the business side. Like any good detective will tell you, follow the money and you’ll usually find out why people do what they do.

Well as it happens, the same day the New York Times declares that porn is a $13 billion/year business, over at Adult DVD Talk Oren from Anarchy Films blows the lid off the business side of the skin biz. Says Oren:

An average gonzo cost about $13,500. Than editing hard and soft is about $1,200. Design a sleeve is about $600, authoring is about $700, sleeves are about $500, replication is about $1,500 for 3000 pcs. So if you do the math right you looking into a $18,000. A good distributor will bring you back about $19,000 in the first 45 days of release. To keep a company going you need to release about 50 movies a year with an invesment of at least 1,000,000 in cash. (do the math).

Do the math indeed!

If the average gonzo flick (the mainstay of the industry) costs $18K out the door, with 12,000 +/- titles/year, that puts the total annual production, post-production, replication and packaging costs somewhere around $216M/year. The Times is asking us to believe that $216M investment is generating annual revenues of $13B. How’s that for a return on investment! Even with promotion and overhead you’ve got to like those numbers!

The only problem is, the figures that actually make sense and are supported by any evidence are Oren’s. Look at any porn video and it’s easy to see the producers didn’t spend a lot of time or money on it.

But the numbers reported by the Times are complete fabrications that have be reported as fact without the journalist even taking the time to run them through a calculator.

If Americans are spending “90 cents on porn for every dollar they spend on Hollywood movies” where are the $12M/picture stars with homes in Malibu and East Hampton? Where are the the $10K/day cinematographers or the $2000/day steadicam operators? Where’s the craft-services table piled high with an endless supply of Heineken and Perrier? They’re nowhere to be found because there’s not enough money in porn to pay for them.

Yes, I know, I know. The money flows to a secret cabal of ultra-discreet distributors. As PBS reported, “That’s why you don’t see most of them running around in the Rolls they keep that in the garage and take out on weekends.” Talk about a porn fantasy!

The simple fact is, even Jenna Jameson — porn’s biggest superstar ever — doesn’t make as much as an ensemble player in a run-of-the-mill network sitcom, let alone rake in $1M/episode like each cast member of Friends did — for six seasons! “Big budget” in porn means high five figures. The budget for an “epic” like PIRATES still doesn’t top a million.

And if you think porn is making 60-fold returns on these films, just stop and think a minute. Do you think Hollywood (or Wall Street!) is so encumbered by ethics that they could resist a 6000% return? If there was that kind of return on investment in porn, the “mainstream” would get over its squeamishness pronto, and every single studio, including Disney, would have an “adult” division.

So why do the New York Times, and PBS, and the AP keep reporting this nonsense? For the same reason people make porn; because it’s fun to go slumming, because it’s titilating to take an “unbiased” look at the “adult industry” because putting something “trashy” in the business section spices it up a little. And mostly, because no one’s checking the facts.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted January 4, 2007 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I have a friend who works in porn editing for one of those “formula” sites, and he complains that it’s about the most boring thing to do in the world. And the timing rules stated in Nina’s blog are just about the same as what he told me.

    It’s sad, really, that the adult film industry is so overpopulated with what are essentially boring practically identical ‘C’-movies (because they’re even worse than ‘B’-grade) that aren’t worth a dime. I know I’d be more willing to pay for porn if it actually had substance to it (like your films, tony!), and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way.

  2. Posted January 5, 2007 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Tony: Good points, but you say:

    If the average gonzo flick (the mainstay of the industry) costs $18K out the door, with 12,000 +/- titles/year, that puts the total annual production, post-production, replication and packaging costs somewhere around $216M/year.
    When what the Times said (at least as quoted in BoingBoing), I believe, was:

    The sex-related entertainment business grew in 2006 by just 2.4 percent, roughly the rate of inflation, to just under $13 billion (…)

    “The sex-related entertainment business” is a lot bigger than DVD sales. It includes (or should include) website content as well as strip clubs, escort advertising (and therefore the back pages of almost every urban weekly paper in the US), professional dominants, phone sex, and depending on how they define it could include softcore porn made-for-Showtime as well as softcore “underground” companies like Seduction Cinema, adult movies in hotels and motels, private dancers for bachelor parties, etc.

    In the absence of very specific statements about what they are and are not counting, the Times’s referencing revenues of “the sex-related entertainment industry” is meaningless, but that statement does not specifically state $13B in DVD sales; at the very least it would include online content.

3 Trackbacks

  1. [...] So, what’s actually scarce? New porn, fresh porn, different porn. It’s scarce because it doesn’t stay new for long, it’s scarce because ninety percent of everything is crap and so lots of even fresh-made porn isn’t fresh, it’s scarce because (short of stacking fetishes until you’ve got one-legged panty-sniffing midget girls mud wrestling with shaved sheep) it’s tough to make porn that’s new and different. “New and fresh” requires art, craft, skill, all the other things that are in short supply in any industry. And, oddly, unit volumes are so low in porn that art, craft, and skill tend not to be rewarded. [...]

  2. By Why Porn May be Worth $10B a Year | SugarBank on April 25, 2007 at 7:49 am

    [...] The debate about revenues in the adult industry is everywhere and Christ-on-a-dildo is it wrong. Too many smart people with too little experience of major adult websites are dismissing the value of the internet. [...]

  3. [...] time readers may remember my post from early January of 2007, The Secret Formula for Making BoringĀ  Porn, Part 2, and may also remember that it ended up linked to a Boing Boing post entitled “Media [...]

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