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A quarter century ago, home video virtually killed off celluloid pornography, creating a more open and decentralized porn marketplace. Now another technological revolution is upending the business again:

The Internet was supposed to be a tremendous boon for the pornography industry, creating a global market of images and videos accessible from the privacy of a home computer. For a time it worked, with wider distribution and social acceptance driving a steady increase in sales.

But now the established pornography business is in decline—and the Internet is being held responsible.

The online availability of free or low-cost photos and videos has begun to take a fierce toll on sales of X-rated DVDs. Inexpensive digital technology has paved the way for aspiring amateur pornographers, who are flooding the market, while everyone in the industry is giving away more material to lure paying customers.

And unlike consumers looking for music and other media, viewers of pornography do not seem to mind giving up brand-name producers and performers for anonymous ones, or a well-lighted movie set for a ratty couch at an amateur videographer's house.

Here I'll interrupt The New York Times and indulge in the Annoying Blogger Habit of quoting myself:

The more important effect of home video—and, even more so, of the Internet—has been to create a wide and wild array of market segments, a diversity so dizzying it defies the very idea of a mainstream. A couple decades ago, feminists could argue plausibly that porn was partly responsible for the unrealistic body images they blame for bulimia and anorexia. Today, every conceivable body type has an online community of masturbators devoted to it.

Lower entry barriers mean more niches, ever-stranger diversity, and a certain … I wouldn't call it "realism" or "honesty" (we're talking about pornography, after all) but maybe "authenticity" fits. With free homebrewed erotica on the rise, we're entering the era of vernacular porn.

In 2007, that model with a girl-next-door smile might actually live next door. Also, she might not be a girl at all. Caveat masturbator.

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  1. “With free homebrewed erotica on the rise, we’re entering the era of vernacular porn.”

    these are the lines that make my reason subscription worthwhile.

  2. The Internet is the great cost leveler — it has brought us the first free porn site with full length movies, myfreepaysite.com, not to mention a clips and erotic stories search database, askjolene.com.

  3. I think this sort of market ultrasegmentation will eventually take place across all entertainment media.

    This is a “good thing” for all the slogan-y reasons in this post. The only market segment that will not be better served, however, is the market segment that wants to consume entertainment that can only be made on the big-budget, mass-market model.

    To use porn as an example, since that is what this specific article is about, because of the fact that the technological barrier to entry is now negligible, the amateurs will in fact probably drive the professionals out of business – and that’s OK unless you actively want to buy the professional product. It may be that there is a market segment that wants the professional product, but it’s too small to support that product on its own.

    I think it’s possible that a day may come when there are two tiers of entertainment material avaiable across all media – the big-budget professional material of the 70’s – 00’s, still preserved like digital dinosaurs and still producing a revenue stream, and a tsunami of amateur garbage made for 2 cents.

  4. Speaking of Annoying Blogger Habits, there is the only slightly less annoying habit of including “I blogged about this” or “I almost blogged about this” or “I was thinking about blogging about this” in one’s comments.

    I almost blogged about this. Alas, all I could come up with was the parallel between the internet’s impact on professional pornographers and its impact on professional pundits. Seemed too obvious to bother.

  5. “With free homebrewed erotica on the rise, we’re entering the era of vernacular porn.”

    these are the lines that make my reason subscription worthwhile.

    Ironically, I was able to enjoy that line for free…make of that what you will.

  6. this sort of market ultrasegmentation will eventually take place across all entertainment media

    To some degree. But I don’t believe we’ll ever reach a point where amateurs with home equipment, or even semi-pros with better gear, will present serious competition for the major media companies. Some, sure, and there will be breakout stars. But on a large scale? Nah.

    Porn is way less quality-sensitive than most other types of media. It ‘does its job’ pretty much whatever its production values, once you pass a certain (low) threshold.

  7. the amateurs will in fact probably drive the professionals out of business – and that’s OK unless you actively want to buy the professional product.

    Not gonna happen. There will always be people willing to pay for better product*–and as a bonus, their Inbox doesn’t get crammed with penis enlargement offers.

    *Think bloggers vs. MSM.

  8. Pardon my foray into fantasy meta-land, but I think that this is a metaphor for how Marx was kinda right, but not in the way that he thought, and may be a sign of things to come for all or most profit-making ventures. Human efficiency (in the developed world) as it applies to information systems has grown to such a degree that what used to be so time consuming that you only did it if you could make money at it has now become possible for hobbyists.

    For another easy example, consider open source software. In terms of market share and man hours, open source software is on course to overwhelm profit-based software in due time. Of course things will likely happen to alter the current function, but what are the odds that they will reverse the current trend rather than steepen it?

    It isn’t difficult to see how, despite government efforts to enforce the status quo, this type of revolution might become clear in other information heavy industries, like insurance or banking. It might not be long before we live in a largely not-for-profit world of our our making.

  9. “Caveat Masturbator”

    That is so totally the name of my next band.

  10. Martin Amis says similar things about “authenic” porn & its consumers.

    “Porno services the “polymorphous perverse”: the near-infinite chaos of human desire. If you harbour a perversity, then sooner or later porno will identify it. You’d better hope that this doesn’t happen while you’re watching a film about a coprophagic pigfarmer – or an undertaker.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4153718,00.html

  11. “we’re entering the era of vernacular porn”.

    The LAST thing I want to see is ANYBODY’S damn, nekkid vernacular. For gawds sake, cover that thing up!

    CB

  12. Caveat Masturbator

    It’s cheaper to wash the sheets than feed the kid.

  13. Duck, Rhywun –

    Oh, there will definitely always be a market for a quality product. The question is whether that market will be large enough or coherent enough to allow producers of quality content to spend the resources necessary to make that product.

    Consider television. The budgetary considerations for a potential new show are much different in an environment of 500 channels than they are in an environment of 3. I think we’re already seeing a dramatic shift in television content away from expensive programming and to cheap programming. The quality relationship isn’t necessarily 1 to 1, of course, but the cumulative impact may be. And what happens when there are 1000 channels? Or if content delivery shifts to the internet, and there is in theory no limit to the number of channels? I like Robot Chicken as much as the next guy, but I can very easily envision a scenario where that is the only type of programming possible, because producers see no realistic chance of aggregating enough eyeballs to pay for anything more expensive.

    It’s not a matter of having the market for big-budget entertainment products disappear. It just has to fracture – or the existing means of aggregating that market just have to fail or be technologically overwhelmed.

  14. It might not be long before we live in a largely not-for-profit world of our our making.

    That’ll suck for everyone who doesn’t know a trade or doesn’t farm. So much for the new information economy…

  15. I can very easily envision a scenario where that is the only type of programming possible, because producers see no realistic chance of aggregating enough eyeballs to pay for anything more expensive.

    Then again, the price of quality entertainment is also dropping. Most of the videos on YouTube, for instance, would have cost big bucks to make 20 years ago.

    The one thing that’s going to oppose that trend is union rules for professional entertainment, which is one reason reality shows are so cheap to make. Writers, actors, and directors are far more expensive than they would be in a free market.

  16. “Ironically, I was able to enjoy that line for free…make of that what you will.”

    that i enjoy helping the reason foundation pay the writers of reason magazine, due to phrases like the one above?

    hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm?

  17. How long before congress pushes its “Internet Gambling P0rn Prohibition and Enforcement Act to serve the interests of the p0rn industry while claiming they’re doing it for “moral” purposes??

    Speaking of “morals”, based on the lack of comments regarding how immoral p0rn is, I am assuming Dan T regards it to be more acceptable than gambling. Remember, he’s quick to play the “morals” card on gambling threads…Caveat masturbator.

  18. All this talk of quality media…quality–in something as subjective as ‘media’ or ‘entertainment’ is in the mind of the beholder. It’s just the long tail wagging the porn dog.

  19. gaijin: I believe the discussion is around the objective quality of the production values, not the subjective “quality” of the content. Because, let’s be honest, “quality” isn’t what I’m looking for in porn.

  20. Gaijin –

    I will concede that. The argument is much more clear if I specify that what I am talking about is expensive media. It’s expensive media that’s really at risk here.

    At the point of ultimate decentralization, I don’t see how the market would support the production of Star Wars. And that’s OK, unless you’re a consumer who really wants Star Wars. And it is in fact imprecise to call that “quality” entertainment and call everything on Youtube non-quality. I can go down and film a college production of something by Euripides and post it on Youtube and in some respects it will be of higher “quality” than Star Wars – but that’s not the quality I’m talking about.

  21. At the point of ultimate decentralization, I don’t see how the market would support the production of Star Wars.

    Well, they might have to cut a few corners here and there…

    (Seriously, I don’t see that particular market disappearing. As other commenters have noted, while amateur porn is an acceptable consumer substitute for expensive porn, el cheapo summer popcorn movies are not necessarily an acceptable consumer substitute for George Lucas pictures. Indeed, the effect could conceivably work in the other direction: With the cost of special effects etc. dropping so radically, we could end with an increase, not a decrease, in the number of Star Wars-quality adventure movies.)

  22. Uh…far be it for me to flaunt my geek cred, but is no one else here familiar with the subculture that’s sprung up around Star Wars fan films? Many of them are fairly high-quality, even if they don’t have the ability to build entire epic sets all swathed in blue and green cloth.

  23. Mediageek: There’s a local-amateur-theater quality to a lot of those fan films — not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it isn’t necessarily the same sort of experience that Fluffy is describing. But your point is still well taken.

  24. While purusing the porn universe to enlighten myself as to the debauchery out their, I clicked on a link while on the “big booty ghetto whore site” which took me to “Crackwhores” It was remarkably pornographic – poor pathetic souls baring their souls – (seriously, like a documentary – so, is looking at human suffering voyerism?)
    I immeidately scampered back to the booties

  25. There’s a local-amateur-theater quality to a lot of those fan films

    Of course, the hallmark of the last three Star Wars films was the dinner-theater quality acting that George Lucas got out of his performers, so that “local-amateur-theater” thing may be more homage than anything else.

  26. As someone who works in animation, I’ve noticed the decline in quality due to proliferation of choices. While the number of venues for animated cartoons increases, the amount of money available (and the amount of time viewers have for watching) remains the same. Thus fewer viewers, and less ad money, per show. While we have the technology to create something on the level of “The Flintstones” a lot faster and cheaper than they used to do it in the 50’s, the demand is for something even cheaper and faster than that. So you get technology that older animators would have killed for being used to produce basement-level stuff.

    There’s also a feedback loop, as people get used to watching super-low-budget animation like “South Park” and “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” their expectations are lowered.

  27. Like I could give a crap what JESSE thinks about online porn.

    THE MONEY is reading the COMMENTS thread to Jesse’s post because it’s chock full o’ good links.

    Off to the see the Wizard……

  28. Mark-

    Are you sure about that? Look at the quality of a lot of animation from the 1980’s and ’90’s- The Transformers, GI Joe, etc. all were abysmally animated.

    I’d take Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends over that stuff any day.

    But, you do make a good point. When high-end tools are cheap enough for everyone to acquire, don’t be surprised when they get put to low-end use with mediocre (or worse) results.

    So it seems that there are still plenty of choices available.

  29. “There’s a local-amateur-theater quality to a lot of those fan films — not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it isn’t necessarily the same sort of experience that Fluffy is describing. But your point is still well taken.”

    Jesse-

    True enough. Also, I’d be curious to know how many falm film types go on to have actual professional careers in video/film production. IIRC, the movie Trekkies and it’s sequel highlighted a young Trek fan working on a fan film who later went on to get a gig in the special effects industry.

  30. Sorry for splitting this quote up:

    The online availability of free or low-cost photos and videos has begun to take a fierce toll on sales of X-rated DVDs.

    Oh no, even porno vids now have more competition from lower barriers to entry!

    Inexpensive digital technology has paved the way for aspiring amateur pornographers, who are flooding the market, while everyone in the industry is giving away more material to lure paying customers.

    Amen to that. On the other hand, inexpensive digital technology has also lead to more production value in mainstream porn vids. Things like SFX, digital animation and whatnot that were once reserved for “traditional” movies are now evident in porn flicks like Pirates(NSFW).

    IMDB link here

  31. Caveat masturbator.

    And with that, Mr. Walker, you totally shot your wad.

  32. What we’re talking about here is:
    more people are willing to expose themselves, physically, naughty bits and all.
    That’s a good thing.
    Whoever is continuing the work of Julian Simon should accept this as one additional indicator that life is good and getting better… like fewer infant deaths, longer life expectancy, etc.

    Note to Smaaaacky!
    I’m willing to expose myself, if I just knew how to put images on-line.
    (Is Smacky in rehab/jail? Will she be hazing Lindsay/Paris?)

  33. “Mark-

    Are you sure about that? Look at the quality of a lot of animation from the 1980’s and ’90’s- The Transformers, GI Joe, etc. all were abysmally animated.”

    Yes, and yet somehow the shows on Adult Swim manage to look worse. Not all of them, certainly.

    “I’d take Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends over that stuff any day.”

    Craig McCracken made his reputation with “Powerpuff Girls” and can throw his weight around. Same with Genndy Tartakovsky.

    There was a period when Disney got into TV animation (“Duck Tales”, “Chip and Dale, Rescue Rangers”) when the quality went way up. The Simpsons followed. Then came Beavis and Butthead, South Park (really funny show, and at least the crude animation is there for a reason, but still…) and 3D animation, which is mostly crap. I may be exaggerating, or maybe I’m watching too much Adult Swim and not enough other outlets, but I’m seeing a downward trend. And it’s exacerbated by the web. I see a lot of amateur animators who think putting actual work into an animated cartoon is for losers.

  34. daniel k says: “While purusing the porn universe to enlighten myself as to the debauchery out their, I clicked on a link while on the “big booty ghetto whore site” which took me to “Crackwhores” …”

    “The” big booty ghetto whore site? Typed that phrase in at askjolene and got 16 sites … purely in the interest of scientific fact-checking, of course.

  35. I’ve always liked that New Hampshire motto, “Live Free Porn or die” – my kind of state. Now, if we could only convince Washington DC bureaucrats that nudie bars help single mothers

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