The Business of Pornography
Most of the outsize profits being generated by pornography today are being earned by businesses not traditionally associated with the sex industry
Lake, whose real name is Farrell Timlake, was raised in Fairfield County, Conn. He attended prep schools in New Canaan and Kent, studied literature at the University of Washington, became a performance artist, met his wife at a rock club, and followed the Grateful Dead with her for years. The two have been together for more than a decade and have a young daughter. Lake was a porn star in Los Angeles before buying Homegrown, as was his wife. Lake's brother, who attended Exeter and Stanford, is now Homegrown's head of sales and has performed in its films.
In much the same way that hard-core films on videocassette were largely responsible for the rapid introduction of the VCR, porn on CD-ROM and on the Internet has hastened acceptance of these new technologies. Interactive adult CD-ROMs, such as Virtual Valerie and The Penthouse Photo Shoot, created interest in multimedia equipment among male computer buyers. The availability of sexually explicit material through computer bulletin board systems has drawn many users to the Internet. Porn companies have established elaborate Web sites to lure customers. But these new technologies have not yet become a major source of income for the sex industry. Most of the adult-film producers in Southern California--like their Hollywood counterparts--have been disappointed with their multimedia sales. Despite the vast quantities of porn available on the Internet, the revenues being generated are minuscule compared with the video trade. Nevertheless, distributing porn via the Net may yield large profits one day. Playboy's Web site, which offers free glimpses of its Playmates, now averages about 5 million hits a day.
Larry Flynt imagines a future in which the TV and the personal computer have merged. Americans will lie in bed, cruising the Internet with their remote controls--and ordering hard-core films at the punch of a button. The Internet promises to combine the video store's diversity of choices with the secrecy of purchases through the mail. The best example of how such "non-face-to-face transactions" will take place can be found in any recent issue of Hustler. Most of the ads, which cost $15,000 a page, are selling telephone sex.
Tough call. Telephone sex--considered simply one more form of "audiotext" by executives in the trade--became a huge business in the 1980s despite government efforts at regulation. Every night, between the peak hours of 9 p.m. and 1 a.m., perhaps a quarter of a million Americans pick up the phone and dial a number for commercial phone sex. The average call lasts six to eight minutes, and the charges range from 89 cents to $4 a minute. According to the owner of one of America's largest "audiotext providers," three quarters of the callers are lonely hearts seeking conversation with a woman. The sexual content of the call is often of secondary importance. Some calls reach a recorded message, but most are answered by "actresses"--bank tellers, accountants, secretaries, and housewives earning a little extra money at the end of the day. The ease, anonymity, and interactive quality of phone sex explain its commercial success and its relevance to the future of the Internet. Last year Americans spent between $750 million and $1 billion on telephone sex.