Porn Industry Looks For New Money Spinners

Sex might sell, but someone still needs to sell it.

Behind the scenes at the Adult Entertainment Expo 2011 in Las Legas, Nevada.
Behind the scenes at the Adult Entertainment Expo 2011 in Las Legas, Nevada.

At the Adult Entertainment Expo, selling sex is the name of the game —and the customers are everywhere. Buyers from adult stores and boutiques, wholesalers and fans of adult entertainment mingle together to meet the stars of the sex industry and see what’s new.

The conference—held every year with the nearby Consumer Electronics Show—is where the adult entertainment industry sets the tone for the year to come. Yes, fans are welcome (and the show certainly is an enticement for the gadget hounds who grow weary of the plethora of gizmos on display at the Las Vegas Convention Center), but for the pornography industry, AEE is where deals get done and major products (and talent signings) are announced.

But as the porn industry—thought to generate about $14 billion in revenue a year—struggles with increased Internet piracy and spiraling DVD sales, AEE is a show in transition. The 2010 show consumed significantly less floor space of the Sands Expo and Convention Center than previous years. Several companies which attended oin 2010 said, on the condition of anonymity, that they were teetering on bankruptcy.

In 2011, though, the Expo is hoping to turn things around, in part by focusing on the true growth area of the adult industry: Sex toys.

As the rest of the industry struggles, adult novelties have seen a sales boom. And as a result, some companies that have historically been better known for their films—such as Digital Playground—have recently branched into new areas.

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As a result, the AEE will this year, for the first time, host the AVN Novelty Expo. Formerly a separate show held in the summer, Adult Video News, a porn trade magazine and the host of AEE, decided to change the date to coincide with AEE to give a more complete picture of the adult industry.

AEE is hardly just a show for business, of course. On the show’s last three days, the doors open to the general public, who get the chance to mingle with the industry’s superstars and meet the women behind the fantasy. In most years, it’s a celebration of an industry that mainstream society often relegates to the shadows.

This year is different than recent shows, though. The news that a performer had tested positive for the HIV virus in October put the industry on the defensive. Most major studios shut down as a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of their actors and actresses.

Industry leader Vivid Entertainment was dark for almost a month, while Digital Playground stopped filming for two weeks. (Ultimately, no other performers were found to be infected.)

The incident occurred right as a push was underway to make condom use mandatory in all porn films show in California, however. In mid-December, AVN reported that four Los Angeles City Councilmembers had been persuaded to support a motion denying film permits to porn companies unless condoms and other protective devices were used for all sex acts.

Porn company execs, including Vivid’s Steven Hirsch, note that performers are tested for HIV every 30 days and condoms are available on all shoots. It’s generally up to the performer whether they are used. If condom use becomes mandatory, they say, the porn industry would likely move out of the state – shooting instead in Europe, Mexico or other states.

Red ink and mandatory condom use aren’t likely to be discussed openly at the show, though. Porn, after all, is an industry that has more in common with Las Vegas’ thriving magic shows than it does with Hollywood: It’s all about illusion.

The business troubles might be discussed behind closed doors during the shows’ business only hours – but once the fans walk in, the industry will come together to paint a world where any fantasy can come true.