Connecting With Fans… In The Porn Industry?

The same professors who recently wrote on the Freakonomics blog about how restaurant innovation thrives without copyright recently wrote another post about how the porn industry is also thriving despite widespread infringement. Even though there is copyright on porn works, with rampant infringement, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of less porn being made these days. The professors make the argument that the overall porn marketplace will likely adapt and change without copyright enforcement, but it certainly won’t go away:


Here’s a prediction: the porn-tube sites are here to stay, and yet many, many people and companies will continue to produce pornography — even in the face of virtually uncontrolled copying. Like it or not (and we’ll leave the morality of this subject to others), there is huge demand for porn. And although we are not economists, we feel safe in saying that where there is demand, there will be supply….

In short, the porn-tube sites probably won’t kill the porn industry. But they will change it. Production is likely to shift even more from “features” to short porn-tube-friendly clips….

They then try to suggest some business models that the porn industry might pick up in the changing marketplace. One is to go upscale (such as an upcoming 3D porn film) that gives people additional “reasons to buy.” The other is to focus in on specific niches.

The predictions are a bit simplistic, and economist and Techdirt reader Eric Crampton wrote in to point us to his own attempt at applying my “connect with fans + reason to buy” formula to the porn industry. He finds the suggestions in the Freakonomics article not very workable, and also points out that some of the classic “reasons to buy” probably wouldn’t work all that well, at least in some circles. Unlike with musicians, people are probably a lot less interested in wearing a t-shirt highlighting their favorite porn star (yes, I’m sure there are some exceptions, but…).

He then suggests that touring is a possibility — with online clips being used as enticement to come out and see “live” performances of some kind, though, I would imagine that might not fully work either. I would guess that for most — “stripping” and “porn” aren’t quite the same thing, and while I’m not familiar with how licenses for strip clubs work, I’d have to imagine that most don’t allow actual sexual acts between people to happen either. Though, the Freakonomics article does say that some porn actresses use online clips to drive people to come see them strip — which is a higher margin business.

Of course, a commenter suggests an even more obvious (though very illegal, mostly) form of CwF+RtB: prostitution. Though, that’s got all sorts of problems as well.

What surprises me is that one of the more obvious models is mostly left out: straight up advertising. One thing that porn does well is attract a lot of eyeballs. In fact, plenty of online porn sites have supported themselves with advertising for ages. There’s no reason for that to change. And, certainly you could think of interesting “tiers” that some top porn stars could use to attract people to pay for greater levels of access, such as private videos, chats and the like. A few months ago, someone had submitted a story about a porn star who was offering special packages on her website where she would attend sporting events with you (I believe for the Phoenix Suns), but I can’t find that submission any more.

Either way, I have to concur with the initial analysis. Whatever the business model that comes out, it doesn’t seem likely that porn is going away any time soon, even if copyright is totally ignored.

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