Harvard’s Benjamin Edelman latest to be suckered by AVN’s $12B/year Figure

From Professor Edelman’s “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?” published in Harvard’s  American Economic Association’s Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 23, Number 1—Winter 2009 

Table 1 

Adult Entertainment Subsectors 


Retail sales in 2006 

(millions of $) % Growth from 2005 

Video sales and rentals $3,622  15.4% 

Internet $2,841 13.6% 

Clubs $2,000 0.0% 

Cable/pay-per-view $1,745 34.2% 

Novelties/merchandise $1,725 15.0% 

Magazines $950 5.0% 

Mobile $39 11.4% 

Total $12,815 0.0% 

Source: “Industry Stats,” AVN Media Network (2008). 

In Professor Edelman’s study, Utah comes out as the nation’s number 1 downloader of internet pornography, but I can’t help wondering if Prof. Edelman even knows that many retailers in Utah are afraid to carry sexually explicit DVDs, even our own very tame, recognized by health professionals, erotic documentaries. Skimming his article, I don’t think so. I wonder how this information might change his conclusions…

 It’s a pity Prof. Edelman isn’t an “Art & Business of Making Erotic Films” reader, otherwise he wouldn’t have missed my mention four years ago of these two articles:

Forbes Article One

Forbes Article Two

Pity too that BoingBoing.net took down that “Porn Girth” article I fed Xeni Jardin two years ago. Some good info there about the size of the adult industry. Fortunately it’s archived at VioletBlueVioletBlue.org

Prof. Edelman shouldn’t feel embarrassed. Folks are willing to believe almost anything if it’s mentioned in the same sentence as the word “pornography.”

AP reporter David Crary was willing to believe that John Harmer was a Utah-based (Utah?) auto executive and anti-porn crusader, when in reality he’s just a republican hack.

The New York Times and dozens of other media outlets waited with bated breath for the adult industry to throw its weight into the HD-DVD v Blueray format war. (BTW, Sony’s put a very high hurdle on Blueray that very few porn companies will ever be able to leap, and won the war as well. I guess they didn’t care about losing the porn business…)

And of course lots of daring college professors tackle the porn question in books and titillating classes for credulous undergrads. After all, anything that generates $12B/year in revenue is worthy of serious critique, and if you have a problem with that, you’re obviously both a prude and critically unsophisticated.

And lastly let’s not forget those jillizionaire porn magnates that only drive their Rolls Royces on the weekend. Thanks for that one PBS!

Anyway, the $12/B figure is in print again. This time in a journal published by the Harvard B-school. American Economic Association. Never mind the only place the figure has ever appeared as original data is in the ever reliable AVN, and AVN’s source is (when asked by an enterprising Forbes reporter) “a pie chart.”


Okay, I thought I should actually Benjamin’s paper, but I don’t know if I can go on after reading this:

More recently, as studios evaluated competing high-definition DVD formats HD-DVD and Blu-ray, at least some studios chose Blu-ray upon observing that adult studios favored that format 

Umm, no. Porn studio were overwhelming choosing HD-DVD because it had much lower mastering and replication costs. And as I said above, from the start Sony put lisensing hurdles on Blueray that most porn studio will never be able to clear. None the less, Blueray won the format war.

I know, I know. It’s so much more fun to think that the “adult industry” is a cabal of Rolls Royce driving moguls with their tendrils extending into every aspect of our lives. But in reality, it’s mostly a bunch of not very bright, not very good at what they do, and not any good at anything else chumps who think that the word “Negro” is going to be their salvation as sales decline.


A correction via e-mail from Prof. Edelman. The article in question was not published by Harvard/Harvard B-school. It was published by the American Economic Association. My bad. Strike-throughs and corrections made above. Thanks for getting in touch, Ben!


So I got in touch with Anne Norman, editor at The Journal of Economic Perspective. She’s a very nice woman and we had a nice phone chat. I asked her if there was some way I could comment on Ben’s article and she asked me if I was a member of the American Economics Association, and I explained that I was a filmmaker, and gave her my perspective on the deficiancies of the data that Ben cited in his paper. I told her that my interest was piqued when I saw Utah jumping of the map, and about my experience talking to retailers in Utah. (This especially seemed to catch her attention.)

Anyway, long story short, she invited me to submit a response for possible publication in an upcoming edition of the journal, so it looks like I’ll be reading Ben’s paper with a fine-toothed comb. At a glance, most of it looks way over my head, but just reading through the bibliography, I see some of usual suspects, so there’s almost no doubt there are a few more erroneous claims on top of the AVN $12B/year figure and format wars nonsense. Time to take off my trouble maker hat and put on my interested academic colleague mortar board. ;-)

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  1. Posted February 26, 2009 at 4:30 am | Permalink


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