Making Porn Worth Paying for
If you pick up just about any market research report on the adult industry today, you’ll find a tired story that goes something like this: Porn used to be a thriving industry. Then tube sites and pirates invaded and made everything free. Now, fewer people are paying for porn, and the industry has shrunk.
Indeed, according to IBISWorld, the industry shrank at about 0.9 percent per year between 2008 and 2013. And we know that, during this time, free porn proliferated. But we shouldn’t automatically attribute the first fact to the second.
One of my prior and longest-running gigs was in pharmaceutical marketing on Madison Avenue. There, a recurring challenge was to promote a new brand drug against an older generic. Basically, I had to motivate physicians to prescribe a drug that cost $100, $500, or $5,000 a month over a similar drug that cost $10 or $25 a month. Very rarely were the new drugs major breakthroughs; they generally offered small, incremental improvements or just a newer mechanism of action. How did my team succeed? Not by promoting incremental improvements but by creating a feeling, by finding and filling a hole in the customers’ emotional needs. I helped doctors feel confident, in control, or accomplished — and this benefit was something that transcended pricing.
Most pornography these days offers instant non-gratification. Instant, because we can turn on our computers and start watching it right away. Non-gratification because the content is rarely what we actually want. We are all so particular about our porn. We can search for hours for it, because we are all unique when it comes to our sexual cravings. Cocks, pussies, mouths, assholes, asses, feet, thighs .... We each sit back on our little desert island of masturbation as the body part flotsam washes ashore, and we look for bits of treasure in the tide.
My belief is that slightly delayed gratification — what you can get, say, by signing onto a well-constructed, well-targeted member site — is more preferable to most porn viewers than instant non-gratification, and that these porn viewers are still willing to pay for such gratification. But to get them to pay, we need to create a feeling in their heads that generic porn can’t create, a feeling of fresh excitement and arousal. We’ll never create such feelings by thinking in terms of traffic. With the exception of some civil engineers, no one gets excited about a highway or rotary; people get excited about the cars.
The future of porn is exceedingly bright. For one thing, people are becoming more digital, carrying devices capable of displaying porn wherever they go. So porn viewing is becoming more ubiquitous, creating a greater need for porn to be delivered. For another thing, the younger generation is far more engaged in porn than the older generation. In a 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center, just 12 percent of U.S. adults admitted to watching Internet porn; and in a 2005 study by Timothy Buzzell, 14.5 percent of adults claimed to have watched porn within a 30-day period. But these percentages rocket upward when we focus on younger adults.
In his 2009 book on pornography, Michael Leahy reports that 62 percent of college males and 17 percent of college females admitted to watching porn. A 2007 study by Brigham Young University reported that 86 percent of college males and 31 percent of college females watched porn. As the newer generations displace the previous generations, the market for porn will grow. According to the U.S. Census, the prime population of 18-64 year-olds is expected to remain relatively stable for the next 5 years, 10 years, and beyond. There will be just as many adults, but they will be from a newer, more porn-friendly, and more connected generation.
In addition to the proliferation of viewing devices and the changing nature of the audience, we also find new technologies emerging.
Live cam shows have already become popular, generating revenue outside the realm of prerecorded content. Dating apps, which offer users real hope of interacting with the person on the screen, arguably function as a sort of softcore porn — and may offer room for further exploration by the adult industry.
And beyond cams and apps, the future promises a host of tools to help virtualize the sexual experience and bring viewers closer to their fantasies… that is, to create the fresh excitement and arousal that people will undoubtedly pay for.
I believe that the development of these tools will eventually render much of traditional pornography obsolete and will create a massive new market that ushers in a new golden age for adult entertainment.
But returning to more contemporary times, how can we reclaim that center of excitement and arousal in the customer’s mind with porn-for-pay? I believe there are several things we can do.
First of all, we can make it new. There’s just not a lot of reason for experienced consumers to pay to see a hot girl get fucked on a couch in an affluent suburban home when there are thousands of such scenes available for free. And there’s no reason for to pay for another BDSM site set in a shabby warehouse presided over by the Porn Men in Black.
We can also make it look better. 4K is here and will soon be everywhere.
That content is very hard to stream for free and impossible to stream at all without a significant degradation in quality. Offer customers 4K content that they can’t find elsewhere. Or find other ways to please the eyes with a premium experience.
Even more important than presentation is the action. Too often a great scene disappears from memory when the viewer orgasms and moves on. We can build on scenes by giving viewers additional ways to relate to the activities they see. For example, we can add performer commentary to the scenes and invite viewers back for another go, we can add opportunities to interact with the performers or even participate remotely in the scenes, and we can invite viewers to help plan follow-up scenes.
Finally, we can make it real. Amateur sites are becoming increasingly popular in part, I believe, because people are moved by authentic feeling. Just as great Hollywood actors can save a mediocre script by creating an authentic and/or intense emotional experience for the viewer, porn can really stand out when the actors actually feel something and the viewers can live vicariously through them.
No doubt, there is more the industry can do as well. But this is where I rest my keypad. It’s going to take a whole lot of us to rethink and reinvigorate the porn marketplace. But the demographics, the technology, and even the regulatory climate are all in our favor; so this is something we are well positioned to do.
For a very long time, porn will be worth paying for, because in porn there is so much more to come.
Lawrence Neil is the founder and CEO of Two-Flame Media LLC, the company behind Assylum.com and DerangedDollars.com. Neil was previously a creative executive on Madison Avenue, where he managed writing teams responsible for the branding and advertising of several billion-dollar brands.