It's hard to recall a worse time to jump into the porn business.
Piracy continues to run rampant. Studios are folding at a pace similar to the implosion of the dot-com bubble. And even the future of the industry’s trade show and biggest annual awards show are in jeopardy—as insiders wonder whether the Adult Entertainment Expo and AVN awards will be held next year.
But the lure of the industry also remains strong for some.
Jason Thompson, co-founder of Wet Leopard Studios, a burgeoning porn company attending this year’s show—says he recognizes what he’s up against, but feels he can defy the odds and build a successful company.
“What’s happening now is in following with the music industry,” he says. “Sony Records, Capital Records and the rest were too big to change the format of their business. They weren’t willing to settle for less for what they were producing. They wanted that huge profit margin. That’s true of [the big players in porn] too.”
Rather than the $50 some studios charge for their top titles, Thompson and crew have a $20 maximum price, since they have found a way to streamline shooting costs through technological advances.
In the current, becoming a true porn star is an uphill battle, but
Chanel Preston is one of the exceptions. In the past year, she has become the industry’s fastest rising star, but she notes that her late entry in the industry has actually given her a perspective that a lot of veteran performers don’t have.
“I value that I got into it now, rather than then,” she says. “I see so many people that were making tons of money but are now having to downgrade their lifestyles because they spent it. Now that I know how hard it can be to make this money, I won’t waste it. And will value it because I know how hard I worked that first year.”
Ultimately, Preston says, porn is a stepping-stone of sorts. True stars can command substantial feature dancing fees at strip clubs, see a notable boost in the number of paying members at their Web site and can strike licensing deals for sex toys.
“My goal is to set myself up so I don’t have to perform, so that I don’t rely on performing for a living,” she says.
Bibi Jones, 19, is another newcomer to the industry with a slightly different strategy. She was recently signed as a contract star with Digital Playground, which is often the first step towards fame in the industry. She says she plans a ten-year career—and is having her father assist with all of her finances to avoid running into issues down the road. But for her, performing on camera is the appeal.
“It’s not all about the money to me,” she says. “I get the pleasure of [having sex] with people watching. That turns me on.”
Thompson, meanwhile, thinks the industry is about to undergo a fundamental shift in how it delivers content.
“All physical media is going way,” he says. “I ultimately see it moving to something like an ‘xTunes’ —an iTunes for porn. You’re going to buy what you want a la carte. It won’t cost $1 – maybe $2 or $3.”
On top of the piracy, there’s also the issue of looming legislation in California that threatens to make condom use mandatory in adult films. To skirt that, Wet Leopard relocated to Florida—even though it is technically illegal to do so there.
Despite the many challenges the industry faces, Thompson says he’s still optimistic about the future of porn.
“It’s never going to go away,” he says. “Hell, they were etching it on the cave walls. It’s not going to go anywhere. The question is: What’s it going to do [next]?”