YouPorn stiffs the pros
DIY porn stars are stiffing mainstream studios, says Charles Laurence. But the pros could have the last laugh
Porno king Steve Hirsch, the man who brought a multi-billion dollar industry to California's San Fernando Valley, is being ruined by his own success.
Hirsch, 46, made porn mainstream, developed his own Hollywood-style studio system with the Vivid Entertainment Group, and groomed the first international porn-superstar Jenna Jameson (pictured on page 3). At its peak, San Fernando was pumping out videos and DVDs worth $12bn a year. That is more than all the Hollywood studios combined.
But so much porn unshackled lust from shame and the customers took Jameson's bestseller How to Make Love Like a Porn Star a little too literally. Her sales, and those of Vivid's rivals, have plummeted by 50 per cent as the fans make their own porn and beam it to the bedrooms of the world via the web.
To make matters worse, enthusiasts put clips of the professional stuff on 'file-sharing' sites so everybody gets it free. So Hirsch (above) and his confreres are being socked with the same crisis that file-sharing brought to the music industry.
At the top of the free porn heap is YouPorn, an 'adult-rated' copy of the runaway hit YouTube. All you have to do is type YouPorn.com and everything imaginable, straight, gay, home-made and studio, simply pops up on the computer screen.
YouPorn already gets more hits than CNN.com and the weather channels, and while Vivid's own tease-and-pay website is ranked 5,061st in 'adult' sites, YouPorn is number one. An investigation by Portfolio, a business magazine, found YouPorn getting a whopping 15m 'unique' visitors a month, which makes it the 51st most popular website of any kind.
There are a couple of snags to all this. The first is that while traffic is great, advertising revenue is not. The second has been pointed out by Hirsch himself. He tells Portfolio that a mysterious Silicon Valley entrepreneur named Stephen Paul Jones offered to sell him YouPorn for just $20m. Google paid $1.65bn for YouTube.
But Hirsch turned him down: with amateur porn, he explained, you can't regulate the ages of performers or users, and that is courting a 'legal exposure' that can land a porno-king in jail.