"Free porn" just might be the two most exciting or frightening words in the English language, depending on your point of view.
And they're especially threatening to the adult film industry, which has made billions through the sales of DVDs, videos, and sex products.
After two decades of phenomenal growth in profits, the porn industry is facing some major challenges as its X-rated DVDs and Internet content lose out to free videos and photos distributed by amateurs on the Web.
Sales and rentals of adult DVDs fell 30 percent in the last two years and sales of Internet-based porn, while still growing, have started to plateau, according to Adult Video News, an industry trade publication.
"The DVD market is a battle that we're losing," says Drew Rosenfeld, the creative director of Hustler Video Group. "Looking back historically, we're at less than half in numbers. Even a line like Barely Legal, which is our hero brand, used to be off the charts and it's gone down to a third of what it used to be a few years ago."
But pornographers will keep trying to adopt changes and hoping to make a buck. "I don't really think that there is less money to be made because of free content," says Drew Rosenfeld, the creative director of Hustler Video Group. "We're making important changes, from hard DVDs to video on demand and we're focusing a lot of production for Internet purposes first. In the past, we've put it online 90-100 days after we sell it on DVD. Now we're shooting it for the Web, which is less expensive for us and the consumer."
Longtime observers of the industry are more pessimistic about its prospects. "Why buy it when you can get it for free on the Internet," says Luke Ford, an industry gossip columnist, comparing pornography to the plight of newspapers losing readers to the Web. "There is less and less reason to pay for porn because there are plenty of free two to three-minute clips out there."
Although many of the big companies, such as Vivid Video and Wicked Pictures, offer free clips to entice viewers to buy the full movie online, Ford claims that only one in a thousand viewers actually whip out their wallets.
Ford thinks that some of the changes planned by the industry, such as video-on-demand, higher-quality design of the DVD boxes and mobile phone cybersex, will not make any difference to their sagging profits. "It doesn't matter what the industry does -- it's screwed in terms of profitability," he say. "There is a ton of free stuff floating around and the amateur stuff -- people filming themselves in their bedrooms and posting it online -- is not going to go away. It will just keep growing."
One of the entrepreneurs taking advantage of those changes is Steve Yagielowicz, a columnist for industry newsletter Xbiz and a porn Webmaster. He runs several Web sites with free content, including Amateurs Guide, which features free thumbnail photos and movie galleries of amateur porn video. Yagielowicz earns money by driving traffic to his wife's amateur site, which features paid content. And as an affiliate of larger porn producers, he earns commissions by featuring their content on his site.
"There must be 50,000 affiliates out there," explains Yagielowicz. "They get free content, usually free hosted galleries or 15-second teaser clips, from Vivid or another big company and post it on their site. And if someone likes that gallery and they click through and join the Vivid Web site, the affiliate gets a cut."