Economics

Why is There (Still) A Market for Porn?

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Economist Tyler Cowen wonders, and his readers speculate in the comments thread. An excerpt as to what's tickling his economist bone on this question:

Have you noticed that storage is really, really cheap these days? Have you studied the durable goods monopoly problem? Once you've accumulated a stock of durable material, at some point you will sell off successive units very very cheaply. Have you noticed that costs of electronic reproduction—call it marginal cost—are really, really low these days? Have you noticed there is a massive stock of accumulated pornographic images?

……… Call me clueless, as I have very little direct knowledge of pornography. But I don't understand why buyers demand such a regular flow of material. Why don't they just buy a single dense disc of images and keep themselves, um…busy…for many years? I believe also that fetishes are fairly stable and predictable. You don't need to see "the new porn" to know what you will want to get off on.

As I observe the sector, buyers cough up new money all the time, and they buy relatively small units of output, and at relatively high prices.

Have at it, porn fiends!

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  1. Couldn’t one say the same about comic books, music, movies, novels or anything that there is a ton of that people still buy?

  2. Perhaps its a variation of the Coolidge Effect. After looking at the same image one hundred times, its not as *ahem* stimulating?

  3. This is a question?
    You are clueless.

  4. Let me first say that a guy who goes out of his way to explain how he doesn’t understand porn or have any experience with it is basically a porn hound. Tyler, it’s ok: You’re a porn hound, and you get most of it for free, and you’re worried that new porn might be hard to come by with all the old porn saturating the market. Me too, my friend. It’s a troubling thought.

  5. Why does Hollywood continue to not only produce new movies, but also rehash old ones and why is there still a market for it?

  6. Part of the appeal may be in the act of buying x amount of porn for y dollars at z time. Getting it all in one go may seem a little sterile, even for porn.

  7. There is come economy of scale these days. HVS pron tapes only held a couple hours max. Today, DVDs have 4 hours or more.

    Tastes change over time, so a one time purchase is only good for a few years.

    Part of the fun is the expecation and the search. A bit of download time keeps the pacing better.

  8. Style and affectation.

    I guess you could get all the spank material you want from existing stocks, if you don’t mind anachronistic settings, bad lighting, or the occassional ‘fro or flock of seagulls.

  9. The same reason it gets boring sleeping with the same woman every night. Men like variety.

  10. porn gets old. The same chick you’ve seen 800 times blowing the same guy and getting ploughed the same way after awhile gets old to the point where it is no longer arousing. Old porn can be nice for nostalgia ( like If you have the same tape you happened to find in your dad’s tool closet when you were 13), but that’s about it.

    I want to see new women with different looks and moves preferably doing something with a new partner or partners ( please no Randy West or Ron jeremy, thanks) in a different place or situation,etc.

    I am not big into porn ( no, really) but i have heard of people who have a couple hundred Gigs or more and they are always looking for something new.

    Every once in awhile I say I wont get any more, I even delete my bookmarks, erase files, but eventually I endup seeking out something new. And I’m not even that much into it. I can’t imagine how people are who really like it or “have a prblem.”‘

  11. Brian Doherty,

    I can’t answer that question, but I have an idea of why many members of our species like porn: lots of these really neat brain studies that they are doing these days show that human brains do a very good job of “experiencing” what we see visually (which is also why sports are so popular).

    Anyway, one of the coolest things I’ve heard of recently re: brain studies are individuals who have had the hemispheres of their brains severed. Apparently at least some of these patients have a hemisphere which is an atheist and another hemisphere which is a theist.

  12. Ramon – you looked at 100 images of Calvin Coolidge???? To think that was stimulating once is a little troubling.

    Now, had it been Chet Arthur, that’s another thing, altogether!

  13. The question also implies that it’s only role is a masturbatory aid. To an extent that IS true. However, you could go a step further and ask why does anyone consume any porn AT ALL? You can masturbate with your eyes closed, to kill boredom, whatever. You dont need a vid or magazine to jerk it. But it sure helps the experience.

  14. seriously, what the fuck kind of stupid question is that? go to hell.

  15. I used to think Tyler Cowen was intelligent. Now I’m not so sure…

  16. You people are working too hard. The answer is intuitive. It’s like asking “why is there a market for new music?”

  17. This question seems pretty idiotic coming from someone who calls himself an economist. When does a person’s hunger for material wealth ever cease? Why don’t we all just decide that our cars are all big enough and tell Ford/GM/etc. to close up shop? What about housing? We have more than enough to provide shelter to everyone in the US. I think medical science has advanced far enough so why don’t we just stop right here and end all research?

    Porn is a form of entertainment, correct? So let’s compare it to more mainstream entertainment. Why are people willing to shell out more and more cash every year to buy tickets to see increasingly shitty movies at the theater? Why go to the theater when you can buy DVDs cheaply and can choose from a library large enough to keep you occupied for a lifetime?

  18. Warren,

    Yeah, sorry, I’m on a brain enruochemistry kick these days.

  19. Why? Because it’s hot, man! Totally friggin’ sizzling hot! Totally smoke-rising-from-your-ears hot, man! Don’t you get it?

    Whoops. I thought I was on the 6000-year-old chili pepper thread. Never mind.

  20. i imagine tyler cowen coyly putting his finger to his lip and saying “how naughty” when posting that while similtaneously jerking it to indifference curves between Taco Bell and Del Taco.

  21. I wouldn’t touch that topic with a ten-inch pole. 🙂

  22. I have a similar question: Since so much porn is available freely, why do people buy porn as opposed to filesharing/browsing the free stuff?

  23. Since so much porn is available freely, why do people buy porn as opposed to filesharing/browsing the free stuff?

    Quality. Specific preferences. Delivery mechanism.

    Replace “porn” with “music” in your question, and my answer doesn’t change.

    Warren has it so, so, so right.

  24. There is come economy of scale these days.

    Oh, heh heh heh.

    new porn might be hard to come by

    Heh heh heh heh!

  25. I have a similar question: Since so much porn is available freely, why do people buy porn as opposed to filesharing/browsing the free stuff?

    Great question. For $9.95/month, one can subscribe to Easynews, which has 30 day retention of every USENET newsgroup known to man. There’s plenty of spam to wade through in certain newsgroups, but they are laid out in a nice hierarchical fashion (alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.younameit) and there are so many damn newsgroups that you can change fetishes twice a day and never run out. Hell, going to the article’s question, pretty much the entire damn Playboy archive is already available (except, as far as I know, for the articles) for viewing at any time.

    Um, at least, that’s what I’ve heard. alt.binaries.howard-stern has great stuff for the non-porn heads.

  26. MP,
    Thanks, I was afraid I’d have to go Berserker on the whole thread.

  27. Does ‘Coolidge Effect’ refer to Jennifer Coolidge? Because I still find her hot.

  28. The Coolidge Effect is named after President Calvin Coolidge.

    The President and First Lady were visiting a farm and where in separate groups. Mrs. Coolidge was informed that the rooster in charge of the hen house was able to mate with a hen between 10 and 20 times a day. Mrs. Coolidge said “Tell Mr. Coolidge that little tidbit”.

    When Mr. Coolidge came by the hen house, he was informed of this fact and of his wife’s desire for him to hear it to which he replied “Does the rooster mate with the same hen every time? No?? I thought not. Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge”

  29. Go away, batin’!

  30. “Canned porn !”

    Do you have Ron Jeremy in a can?

  31. Couldn’t one say the same about . . . music . . . or anything that there is a ton of that people still buy?

    Free (and Better) Music this way:

    http://www.farceswannamo.com

  32. Ok, Dave, I’m going to give in and download some of your music. I will listen with an open mind, and let you know what I think.

  33. Simple. We keep buying pictutes because Susana Spears keeps posing for pictures.

    I don’t really get what there is to discuss… heh heh…

  34. I think i stopped paying for porn in about 1995…wtf is this guys talking about? Who pays for porn?

  35. “Why don’t they just buy a single dense disc of images….”

    In my case, it’s because my mom found the disc.

  36. they buy relatively small units of output, and at relatively high prices.

    Can’t you buy porn in bulk at BJs?

  37. I was watching Airplane! the other day for the millionth or so time and it’s the first time I noticed that when Cpt. Over is in the airport looking at magazines the section he is at is labeled “Whacking Material”, and includes such titles as “Boy Love”.

  38. Can’t you buy porn in bulk at BJs?

    Or vice-versa?

  39. Why does Reason Magazine keep printing new articles? Couldn’t you send all the OLD articles that YOU’VE ALREADY READ to your subscribers and keep them busy?

  40. Come on every body! Sing along!

    The Internet is really, really great.
    For porn!
    I’ve got a fast connection so I don’t have to wait.
    For porn!
    There’s always some new site.
    I browse all day and night.
    It’s like I’m surfing at the speed of light.

    For PORN!

    The Internet is for porn!
    The Internet is for porn!
    Why you think the ‘net was born?
    Porn, porn, porn!

  41. Akira,

    At least post a link to that!

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7997646050642417046

    Somebody on the planet might not have seen it yet.

  42. I was thinking more of the original Avenue Q act than the goofy WoW video.

  43. Porn surfers are very strange creatures in many ways. They have a tremendous desire for “new”, such that if you aren’t at least claiming to deliver a constant stream of new material, they will find another site. Yet it apparently matters little whether the content really is new: hardly surprising since they cannot have seen more than a tiny amount of the “old”.

    And regardless of whether they see what they like, most flit from site to site after a few clicks on each: the majority choosing the first few links on which to spend their clicks. Despite that small and predictable selection, unless you offer lots and lots of links from which to “choose”, again most will leave immediately for greener pastures.

  44. spend their clicks

  45. The porn industry is a multi-billion dollar industry simply because it is addictive. When you are addicted to something, common sense is the first thing that leaves. The majority care little about cost.

    When an economist walks into a casino, he immediately sees the millions of dollars of real estate around him, paid for by the people sitting at the tables. While every gambler is wringing his hands, hoping to win the next hand, there’s the owner upstairs who knows where the money will eventually go. His job is to make it that way, and he does his job well.

    So it is with porn. These addictive markets prey upon the weaknesses of their clients. …and judging by the high numbers of income, they are correct indeed.

  46. You know, I find it amusing how many people speak negatively of porn, its producers, and its consumers (hi, james), but at the same time seem to speak with a great deal of authoritativeness about it. I’m sure it’s just an *ahem* academic interest, right?

  47. When you are addicted to something, common sense is the first thing that leaves.

    No! Free Will is the first thing that leaves you! And you become one more drooling automaton, a slave to the skin industry. Only a government rehab program can help you then!

  48. Wow, now I feel like a freak reading all of these ‘usual’ behaviors that I do not do.

    I have not bought porn since getting an aol account in 1994. Before that I did buy magazines from time to time. These days I am ‘faithful’ to Ashley Renee, quite content with her weekly freebie area.

    Then again, I do save most of what I look at and rarly go back and review it. When I do I notice how my tastes have changed over time.

    The point the economists seem to be wondering about is why people don’t just buy a terabyte chunk and look through that until it runs out. Seems like it loses a “surprise factor” that way. They also seem to be wanting to apply their own rationality to a market, which is usually a mistake. Just like those of us in Finance wonder why anybody wants an income tax refund rather than breaking even or owing the IRS.

    When you search things out or have them delivered on a recurring basis there is still that lieel bit of added surprise factor that just seems simulated if you own a ton that you just have not looked at yet.

    Someone mentioned above that we don’t tell car companies to chunk their new stuff, we like our old cars. Well, I am in the old car camp too.

    Now I really feel like such a freak!

  49. Why am I not surprised that a guy with the name of Guy Montag is into S&M?

    This is not a rhetorical question.

  50. So grab your dick and double click for porn! porn! porn!

  51. Why am I not surprised that a guy with the name of Guy Montag is into S&M?

    Apparently that is something from the book because I missed it in the movie.

  52. Personally, my view on this question is another question: Why do we still make any kind of movie or art? Haven’t all the possibilities been exhausted? Of course not. We each get something different out of seeing a new movie, even if we’ve seen a million action flicks or pornos.

    It’s the journey. The surprise. The anticipation of what will come next. Why do people cheat on their spouses when they can have sex regularly? They want something new and unexpected. With porn as with life, it’s about the journey more than the destination.

    – Rick

  53. For some people, free porn is the only way to go. Here is why:

    If deep down, emotionally you have trouble believing that women like sex, and that it is something imposed on them by men, then traditional, marketed, paid for porn just isn’t going to do it for you. It’ll just seem fake or staged.

    However, a lot of times with free Internet porn, you can tell that the woman was paid little or nothing and that she is doing it out of love for sex. Then porn can become interesting and hott.

  54. Dave W.,

    Is that something from Pandagon?

  55. Dave W,

    The operative words are for some people. There are probably just as many who prefer to watch women doing things that those women would not do if they weren’t being paid, because it gives those people a feeling of control.

    For the vast majority of porn consumers, I doubt either concern enters their minds.

  56. I think it is sort of interesting when they negotiate and make the payment right in the porn itself, as part of the show.

  57. For the vast majority of porn consumers, I doubt either concern enters their minds.

    I guess what I was trying to say is that the next generation of porn consumers may be different than the previous generation because the free porn may be attractive to a whole bunch of people who would not otherwise be porn consumers.

  58. Does one “consume” porn ?

  59. One other thing on the free vs. paid porn debate: commercial porn is highly unlikely to include underage performers, since the producers are required by law to keep records of such things.

    With free porn, on the other hand, the girl who looks 19 might be 17, and those pics you thought were free may wind up costing you a few decades in the slammer.

  60. “I think it is sort of interesting when they negotiate and make the payment right in the porn itself, as part of the show.”

    LOL. You think that’s genuine? There’s no way that any porn maker is going to allow an actress to film until they’ve produced proof of age and signed releases. There’s probably more paperwork than that even. Guys going around throwing cash at chicks and filming them is just another element of fantasy.

  61. It’s just porn, something to masturbate to. I suppose you can analyze it’s psychological and sociological implications if you want to. But for crying out loud, please keep this in mind:
    Not everyone is like you.

    In fact when it comes to sexual proclivities, practically no one is like you. Sure there are popular themes, boobs, leather, cheerleaders, and on and on. But the details matter, and they vary widely from person to person. Just look at the variety out there. Don’t think you know anything about a person because of their porn consumption.

    There’s something to be said for all the theories posted here, but none are definitive. There’s just too many things that make a difference to too many people.

    Oh, and one last thought.
    HPPS = High Protein Porn Syrup

  62. I find it interesting that people are making such a distinction between “free” porn and commercial porn. I never pay for porn so everything I have is free but that doesn’t mean that isn’t also commercial porn. Almost everything that I’ve found on filesharing and porn websites was commercially produced. I just got it through a copyright infringing download or through a hacked password.

    Personally, I think the constant pursuit of new porn is just the constant pursuit of new girls. In the porn world, new women show up and “make the rounds”. Eventually that fresh faced girl you saw in some amateurish porn is popping up everywhere and you get tired of her. And of course there is also the desire to see different types of acts and settings. Porn of 20 years ago was a lot different than today and it will probably continue to change as mores and laws and fashion changes. Try finding a porn from more than 10 years ago where the actors are “shaved”. Try finding one now where they aren’t. Or where they don’t have tattoos and piercings. And of course there are plenty of sex acts you wouldn’t have seen in the porn of yesteryear that are pretty common now.

  63. A comment from the thread on this topic at Marginal Revolution:

    Why don’t [commenter] Matt and [commenter] Bacchus give a fuck about women?

    Personally, I love porn and women.

  64. I find it interesting that people are making such a distinction between “free” porn and commercial porn. I never pay for porn so everything I have is free but that doesn’t mean that isn’t also commercial porn.

    Yeah, this can be a trcky distinction. When I refer to “free” porn, I am talking more about the content, rather than whether whether the consumer actually paid money, whether the distributor charged, whether the distributor keeps good records, whether the distributor excercises some kind of quality control, etc., etc.

    Still, I think most people can tell whether money was the real motivating factor in the mind of the people pictured in the photographs and videos or not. I think some pornography distributors use “amateur” as a term of art in this way, and I used “free” porn above as sort of a synonym for amateur. However, the two are related. There is going to be a lot more true amateur porn in a world where porn pictures are cheap to develop and distribute, as opposed to a world where the distribution channel is a pulp magazine requiring shelf space in a special store. It should also be noted that “amateurs” are quite capable of making porn that looks like it could have been in Hustler of the 1980’s, but then that isn’t the kind of amateur porn I am referring to in these threads.

    To Warren: I do not offer these suggestions about porn normatively. If you see the sub-text of these posts it is that I had too many people saying normative things to me about porn specifically, and sex generally, as I was growing up into a sexually mature person and it gets in the way of me ever enjoying things like porn or strip bars, and may have even diminished my joy in the sex act itself. I sincerely hope YMMV.

  65. Damn. Do you guys really have to make a Ph.D. out of wondering why a man likes fresh pussy, even if it’s just a visual aid?

    And incidentally, new technology (photography, photo printing, film, cheap paperbacks, cheap color printing, the internet) always leads with porn.

    Derp!!

  66. The only thing worse than talking about why men like porn is not talking about why men like porn.

  67. Cuz… thinking that those foxy 18 year olds might actually be 25 by now. ugh how gross! Can’t wax off to that!

  68. Woohoo, 69 posts!

  69. Almost everything that I’ve found on filesharing and porn websites was commercially produced. I just got it through a copyright infringing download or through a hacked password.

    What a scumbag. Some of us would rather come by our porn honorably, not by stealing it.

  70. “What a scumbag. Some of us would rather come by our porn honorably, not by stealing it.”

    Hahahahahahaha… good one.

  71. wayne: I was being serious. Think of all the teenage nymphos who would be starving out on the street if upstanding Americans stopped buying porn. Do you want that on your conscience? I don’t!

  72. “Think of all the teenage nymphos who would be starving out on the street if upstanding Americans stopped buying porn. Do you want that on your conscience? I don’t!”

    Bah! Are there no strip clubs? Are there no whore houses?

  73. Bah! Are there no strip clubs? Are there no whore houses?

    Many can’t work there. Many would rather remain chaste than work there.

  74. My question is how, if porn is so popular, it can “outrage community standards” and thus it’s possession and production be prosecuted.

  75. Then they should, and decrease the excess stimulation.

  76. Tyler Cowen […] economist

    He is an economist, yet he “wonders” why people continue to buy stuff???

    Warren is right – this guy *is* clueless.

  77. I can think of three main reasons why you might want to continue buying a stream of porn over time, rather than all at once and be done with it. (My reasoning is, of course, hypothetical; I confess I’ve never seen actual porn myself.)

    1) You get tired of the familiar, unchanging images and want a little novelty. (And by the way, one woman can offer infinitely more variety and novelty than one photo or one DVD, if she’s the right woman.)

    2) There is always the chance that someone, in the future, will come out with something a bit better than what you already own, so you keep an eye out for it. A girl who’s a little more appealing, or is a little bit better actress, or is in a story situation that’s a little bit more interesting. (Some freaky people care about the latter stuff a little bit.)

    3) If you buy all your porn at once, you get embarrassing phone calls like, “Mr. Darkly, this the security department of Visa credit; we’ve just noticed some unusual purchases on your card and want to verify that your card hasn’t been stolen, or misused without your knowledge. On March 5th, did make a $300 purchase from SpankableEmmaPeelLookalikesInBlackLeatherCatsuitsOnDVD.com? And a $200 purchase from ImpertinentRenFestWenchesLockedInStocks.com? Okay, very good. Thank you, very good. Have a good evening, Mr. Darkly.”

    (Theoretically.)

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