A friend of mine recently told me about a Forbes article, titled, "How Big Is Porn?"
It's probably smaller now than it was then, and by the time you read this, well... you get the idea. There are people working on saving it. There are niche markets. There are things to look forward to. But also: Maybe not.
Do you care? Probably not. It interests you, though. At least admit that.
Our Fortress is Burning (A Blatant Parable)
One does not often look upon it.
Well, let's start over. I'd rather not begin with a lie. During the day, when one is out in public, working, greeting others, eating food, and traveling from one place to another, one does not often look upon it.
But it's there. Turn around and you'll see it. Search your neighbors' closets. Look under your own bed. The evidence is there. Go outside and train your eyes. It won't take long to catch a glimpse.
It looks massive from afar. Perched upon a mountain top, the outer walls are looming. Smoke billows from within. The plumes seem proof of ever-lasting feasts.
“I'd never want to live there,” most will say. “If not outright terrible, it doesn't strike me as a respectable place. I've seen what they do inside. And it's... Well, can I tell you a secret? I'd really like to visit. But just visit. Peek my head inside, and... I'm sorry. I've said too much already. Did I mention it's not a respectable place?”
“Yes you did,” I answer. “But I live there, behind those walls, kept safe in the fortress known as...”
“Oh, don't say it out loud,” whispers one in particular.
“The Adult Industry.”
“Now, I'm an adult and I have a job. I'm what you would call an 'industry laborer.' But I have nothing to do with 'that.'” I'm not entirely sure to whom I'm speaking with, but he points to my home, my fortress. “Let's not beat around the bush. You're a...”
“Pornographer,” I say. “I make smut.
“Ah, okay. That's 'interesting.' You must be doing well for yourself. I hear the 'industry,' if I may use your language, is bigger than major league sports and maybe even Hollywood. You know, 'real' movies?”
“Yes, I've heard that too. But can I show you something?”
He looks anxious. But I don't know him, so I can't be sure of his mannerisms. The expression on his face could mean something else entirely. “What is it?”
“Take a hike with me,” I say. “We'll climb the mountain. I'll show you the outer wall. We could even go inside.”
“Oh, I don't know. I suppose it couldn't hurt. I'm a curious being after all, and last time I checked, curiosity only killed cats.”
“Then let's get going. We don't have much time.”
“I live alone,” he tells me. “No one's waiting up for me.”
“You've heard of Forbes magazine?” I ask as we ascend the rocky path.
“Yes,” answers the anonymous guest. “They're up on another mountain. The building's called Mainstream Publishing. You see them over there?”
“I believe it,” I say. “Don't need to look.”
“It's an interesting structure,” he replies. “You should visit some time. I hear they have some fascinating material coming out of that place.”
“Back to my point. There's a journalist who's written some articles for Forbes. His name's Dan Ackman. One of his pieces; it's called 'How Big is Porn?'”
“Big,” he says. “I mean look at the size of that wall.”
“It's the name of the article,” I remind him.
“Ackman writes, in his article, 'The idea that pornography is a $10 billion business is often credited to a study by Forrester Research. This figure gets repeated over and over. The only problem is that there is no such study. In 1998, Forrester did publish a report on the online “adult content" industry, which it pegged at $750 million to $1 billion in annual revenue. The $10 billion aggregate figure was unsourced and mentioned in passing.'”
“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. Stop throwing out numbers,” says the man. “They don't mean a thing to me. All I know is that pornography is bigger than Hollywood. Bigger than a lot of other things too.”
“Ackman says Hollywood rakes in about $31 billion annually. Even at porn's most inflated numbers, Hollywood's still making three times as much.”
“Who's this Ackman guy again?”
“He writes for Forbes.”
The man scratches his head.
We arrive at the outer wall of the fortress. “This is pornography,” I say. “Up close and personal.”
“What's that smell?” asks the observant stranger.
“Wood,” I answer. “Maybe plaster. Whatever else they built this facade with.”
“But where's the scent of meat? The ripe odor of your decadent feast? Even now I see the smoke rising overhead.”
“See for yourself. Why don't you come inside?” I gesture towards a guard, and the mechanical door rises. My feet lead the way.
“It's so small,” says my guest. “Where are the piles of money, the lavish homes, the jumbo jets? You do have jumbo jets, yes?”
“Can we head to the news stand?” I ask him. “I'd like to pick up a copy of Forbes.”
“I suppose that's alright with me.” The man's focus is diverted a number of times on our short journey. “I recognize that one,” he says, pointing to a young woman getting fucked in the ass. “Admittedly, I've shaken my knob to her more than a few times. I can say that here, right? No one will take offense?”
“Certainly. You're free to speak as you wish.”
“So where does that whore live? I'm guessing you've concocted some new technology? Her mansion must reside underground.”
“No,” I reply. “She lives right over there. Shares an apartment with two other girls. It's not a bad place. I wouldn't mind moving there myself.”
“Hah,” says the man. “I've got myself a house. What do you think of that?”
“I think it's great. I'm sure you've worked hard for it.”
“What I've done is save my money,” he says. “Not waste it like some filthy slut. I don't have to live amongst other filthy sluts because I am responsible. With the money she's making...” He points at the ass-fuckee once more. “...she'd be wise to do the same.”
We arrive at the news stand and I quickly spot an issue of Forbes. “If I may redirect our conversation to where it was before,” I say, “I'd like to read something from that Ackman article.”
“Do you remember what I told you about Forrester Research?”
“I think so,” he replies.
“Well, Ackman writes, 'Its rival research outfit, Net Ratings, tracks the number of visitors to porn Web sites. It says that in April 2001, there were 22.9 million unique visitors to porn sites. This says nothing about how long each visitor stayed or whether they spent a dime. In any event, the number of visitors is less than the number who visited news sites (41.1 million), finance sites (34.2 million) or greeting card sites (25.5 million). When was the last time you heard anyone talk about how greeting card sites dominate the Net?'”
“What's your point?” asks my guest.
“Maybe we're not what you think. Maybe what you see is all there is.”
“Preposterous!” he exclaims. “The internet is huge, sure. But that's not all your revenue. What about DVDs, magazines? What about pay-per-view?”
“Let me have another look at this Forbes article,” I tell him. “Oh yes, here it is. 'What about pay-per-view? The entire legitimate "a la carte" movie business, including satellite and cable pay-per-view, was just $642 million last year, says Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research, which tracks video sales for the industry. If sex movies get 20% of the legitimate movies, that adds $128 million to pornography's gross.'”
“You're getting that extra money from somewhere? You gonna tell me the secret? I mean, how much do you make a year?”
“Let's not address that quite yet,” I tell him. “I want to ask some questions first.”
“Go for it.”
“Have you seen the flames?” I ask.
“You keep mentioning the smoke, but where are the flames?”
“That's a good question,” he says.
He takes my advice and nearly jumps. “You've set the goddamn outer wall on fire! What are you? Imbeciles?”
“Not me,” I say.
“Well, one of you lit the fire.”
“I'm not so sure. You see that big hole in the wall?”
“Right there,” I point out. “It's gaping. The perimeter's a ring of fire.”
“Who are all those people standing there?”
“They're just watching. They didn't feel like paying, so they just came up here to take pictures and beat off.”
“Let me tell you, that's your problem right there,” says my guest. “You gotta chase 'em off or at least do something. Look! They're throwing matches as we speak. The hole's gonna keep getting bigger.”
“We try,” I tell him. “We go after them, but it's hard to keep track. They all look the same. They're all wearing those hats.”
“The black ones with the skull-n-crossbones?” He looks confused at first. “Oh, I get it. Because they're pirates.”
“You're not the only ones that have to put up with 'em, you know?” He appears to be teaching me a lesson. The look on his face is real pleasure. “I've heard the Music Industry – they're on the mountain south of here - is getting full-on pummeled by these pirates.”
“What are they doing about it?”
“From what I hear,” he says, “coming up with a new plan. They tried reinforcing the walls, but that didn't work. So I think they're just letting 'em in, but handing 'em fliers first, maybe some advertisements. And you know what I heard?”
“What's that?” I ask.
“Once inside, these pirates will buy plenty of t-shirts, posters, hats, you name it. They'll even fork over good cash to see some rockers going at it live.”
“Who're those boys on your shirt?”
“Oh.” He looks down smiling. “The Jonas Brothers. My daughter bought this shirt for me, with my money I might add. She's in love with all three brothers. I can't say they do too much for me, but I'm a casual fan by proximity.”
“Would you buy your daughter an Evil Angel t-shirt? They're the ones filming the girl you like. The one you said you've 'shaken your knob' to.”
“Are you out of your mind? My daughter's eleven years old!” He looks about ready to slug me.
“What about you?”
“Just who do you think I am?” My guest is fuming. “I wouldn't display such crass behavior on my chest.”
“You think any of your friends might by some porno swag?”
“I would certainly hope not. But I know what you're trying to do here. You're trying to prove a point that you're worse off than the rest. Well, what about advertising? Lots of people watch you guys do your thing. What company wouldn't want to get in on some of that demographic?”
“Let me ask you this,” I say. “If you found out a company advertised on a pornographic site, which by default means this company supports pornography, would you buy their product? What if your wife found out?”
“Okay, no” he mutters. “But lets get back to the resources you've already got at your disposal. You haven't said a thing about DVDs in that little magazine of yours.”
“Forbes? Well, let me have a look.” I browse the text. “Ah, here it is. Ackman refers to that Tom Adams guy again. He writes, 'No one tracks the adult video business with any rigor or precision, Adams says. But his "most generous” estimate is that sales and rentals combined are no higher than $1.8 billion.' The mainstream video business, or 'real movies' as you've so eloquently stated, pulls in $10.3 billion in rentals and $10.8 billion in actual sales.”
“I give up,” says my guest. “Suppose you're right. Suppose things aren't so great in porno-land. Why the big wall? Who are you keeping out?”
“We're liars, and we're not keeping anybody out. May I point you to the gaping hole-in-the-wall once more?”
“Hold on. You just admitted you're a liar.”
“Yes, well I'd like people to think I'm doing alright. And I guess I am.”
“So are you lying now?”
“No,” I say. “I'm getting by. Most of us are. Well, it's been more of a struggle lately, but...”
“But you want something more? Real money? You want to get rich?”
“That's the American Dream,” I tell him.
“Listen buddy, the American Dream isn't smut, and this isn't even America. What part of America looks like this? When was the last time you saw a bunch of mountain-top fortresses in America?”
“I'm being figurative,” I say. “We're in a parable, so I'm allowed to be figurative. But I can still dream about money despite where I live. What would you call this place anyways?”
“I've lived here all my life and I still can't figure out the name of it. But would you look at that fire? It's almost comforting. 'Cozy' is a word I'd use.”
“It's a nice source of warmth when I can't pay my heating bill,” I say.
“Let's throw another match on,” he suggests. “Just to see what happens.”
“Be my guest,” I tell him. “Be my guest.”
The Forbes Article