Why is porn so expensive?
March 13, 2006 6:28 AM   Subscribe

Why is porn so expensive?

It seems that to rent porn from Pay-Per-View usually costs at least $10, with most movies running $15-$17.

It seems that the DVDs themselves cost upwards of $30.

To rent a non-pornographic PPV movie costs about $4, and most non-pornographic DVDs cost $15-$17.

I realize porn flicks don't bring in millions of dollars of revenue from movie theater showings like conventional movies do, but those movies cost millions of dollars to produce--you got big-name actors, high-end special effects, gotta pay to transport equipment for shooting in several locations, gotta pay the screenwriter/storywriter, etc.

Porn actors seem to be a dime-a-dozen, with individual actors shooting at least one movie per year, the movies utilize bargain-bin special effects (if any), most shooting locations typically revolving around a bed, and let's not talk about whoever comes up with the story.

I do realize that all movies have a relatively high cost of production due to all the other overhead (lighting, cameramen, etc.), but why does porn cost SO much more for the consumer than conventional films?
posted by Ziggy Zaga to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Because people will pay that much more.
posted by grouse at 6:30 AM on March 13, 2006


I'd say it's kind of like a self-imposed sin tax -- porn is a substance like alcohol and cigarettes that a lot of people disapprove of, so it's kind of illicit, and people who want it are willing to pay extra for it. The same could be said for illegal drugs, I suppose. If there weren't societal disapproval and/or stringent laws against these things, they'd be cheap, mainstream, and widely-available. Like, I don't know, potato chips, or butterscotch candy.
posted by Gator at 6:36 AM on March 13, 2006


I would guess chargebacks.

Lots more people complain to their credit card companies when their spouses see the bill at the end of the month, claiming they never authorized those filthy charges. This is how the production/distribution companies make back the difference.
posted by bcwinters at 6:46 AM on March 13, 2006


If you look at some of the industry sites, you can see filmographies for actresses which usually span only a few years but with a ratio of 1 or 2 movies a month. Very few would last a year on the payment for one movie at the rates they get. Especially if they specialise in porn rather than whoring or dancing.

But I suppose there are 2 big reasons why the sticker price is so high. The first is that customers who do pay for it, will pay big money for it. The second is that the producers have to recoup their costs from only a small segment of the read/viewership. P2P networks and usenet are bulging with pirated porn and much of the legitimate stuff is also passed around and handed down. Although I can think of counterexamples (like the recent Google v. Perfect 10 case), pornographers don't seem so aggressive in enforcing their copyright privileges when compared to the **AAs and mainstream producer advocates. Instead of milking every single consumer for revenue, they seem content to allow the sharing and charge the initial buyers a hefty premium.

*On preview, I just realised how laden with unintentional double entendres and smutty innuendoes that second paragraph was.
posted by Jenga at 7:00 AM on March 13, 2006


What grouse said. Where's the rule that says the price you charge for a product should be in line with the cost of production?
posted by pmbuko at 7:00 AM on March 13, 2006


Where's the rule that says the price you charge for a product should be in line with the cost of production?

Because if it's not, someone else can undercut your prices while remaining profitable?
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:14 AM on March 13, 2006


When I worked at a video store, back in the late 80's/early 90's, we rented porn, and I got a pretty solid economics lesson from it. The cost of the average porn VHS tape at the time, wholesale, was about $20; we rented the film for $5 per night, and late fees were equivalent to a night's rental. In about three days we paid off the purchase price of the film, and the rest was pure profit. About 40% of our store's profit margin was tied up in porn.

A "regular" film cost anywhere from $35 to $70 wholesale at the time, which could take weeks to pay off. In other words, porn costs what it costs because people will pay what it costs to get it.
posted by pdb at 7:16 AM on March 13, 2006


This is economics in its simplest form. As people have already stated, porn is expensive because people will pay.
posted by jdroth at 7:25 AM on March 13, 2006


I think pay per view is also skewing those numbers somewhat. At our local rental place, adult movies costs maybe an extra buck a day over new releases (and the DVDs are not new). BUT you have to check them out with a real person which may be too big a hurdle for some people. PPV is in your house, relatively anonymous and has that quick-fix aspect to it, similar to online porn sites which also seem to have very high one week subscription fees and lower monthly fees. They're assuming they'll see a lot of cash from horny people looking for a quick peek. I bet if there were a Netflix like (similarly easy, similarly priced, does such a thing exist?) outfit for just porn you'd see PPV prices plummeting.
posted by jessamyn at 7:58 AM on March 13, 2006


I bet if there were a Netflix like (similarly easy, similarly priced, does such a thing exist?) outfit for just porn you'd see PPV prices plummeting.

BlueCine, a division of GreenCine.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:03 AM on March 13, 2006


Because if it's not, someone else can undercut your prices while remaining profitable?

Only if your customers are interested enough in cheaper goods.
posted by grouse at 8:09 AM on March 13, 2006


The PPV and rental of porn is dying because of the availabilty and price of Internet porn. You can get memberships to porn sites for $10 a month and receive new content every week or every day in some cases.
posted by Ateo Fiel at 8:10 AM on March 13, 2006


I'll field this one-- I used to work in the marketing department for a cable company designing flyers and I've even been through the Spice product training:

PPV porn is an impulse buy. It's hardly marketed beyond mention in the chanel line-up and the bumpers that run constantly on the porn channels when you don't have an active purchase. And you don't need to risk offense by advertising it-- everyone knows it's there just from the light advertising it gets because it's porn and you notice it.

As such, the price can be higher than standard movies-- families plan evening activities around regular pay-per-view and will go to the video store if the price is too high. But PPV porn is generally purchased by men who have recently ecided that they are horny and want to watch something while they masturbate. Therefore, PPV porn is priced just below what the industry thinks will prevent horndogs from ordering it.

(BTW, most PPV porn is purchased in the middle of the day, not at night. And regional customer service operations know a few customers by name who consistently order porn and then call 10 minutes later to try and get it removed from their bill. Supply your own narrative.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:34 AM on March 13, 2006


People pay for porn? *boggle*
posted by kindall at 8:47 AM on March 13, 2006


I heard that average length of time a PPV movie is "on" the motel tv is 12 minutes. Which explains pretty much everything I need to know about the price.
(Cue Bill Hicks rant about "bobbing hairy man ass.")
posted by muddylemon at 8:48 AM on March 13, 2006


When I worked at a large video rental chain I got an employee discount on all videos purchased. I could get anything in the store for a few percent more then our price. I bought porn dvds for less then 5 bucks very often and turned a nice profit on ebay.
We also had a guy that would come in routinely and rent 10-12 of them at a time and return them all the next day. He had been doing it for years and did it my entire time there. Sometimes having us check his account to see if he had rented each title before, sometimes re-renting titles he had gotten many times before. Only once did I see him rent a non-adult movie, and it was from the kids section.. creepy.
posted by JonnyRotten at 9:30 AM on March 13, 2006


Because if it's not, someone else can undercut your prices while remaining profitable?

That's assuming a perfectly competitive market, which porn is not. Higher barrier to entry = higher prices.
posted by muddgirl at 9:38 AM on March 13, 2006


Porn store clerk stories (hilarious......bit off topic but you're doing yourself a disservice not reading them)

http://www.improvisation.ws/mb/tpcs1.php
posted by Vroom_Vroom_Vroom at 10:14 AM on March 13, 2006


People are willing to pay more for their favorite fetish/actors/actresses/brand name, etc... Same reason people pay more for Nikes or Harry Potter books.
posted by Skwirl at 10:28 AM on March 13, 2006


This has been a very interesting spectrum of responses. Some confirm what I thought, others took me by surprise.

I just wanted to see if there were some specific reason porn was so costly but it appears there are a range of things that make the cost so high.

Thanks :)
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 10:59 AM on March 13, 2006


I think porn is not expensive, but rather PPV porn is expensive, and possibly some- but not all- video rentals are more expensive. The only reason the prices are high is because they can be- people inexplicably pay for PPV porn, and will pay the extra dollar or whatever that puts adult titles at the video store on the same rental price as the video games. They are in no position to complain, and certainly aren't going to start a visible campaign to lower prices the way people would be willing to do with mainstream CD prices for example! Most online porn is actually quite cheap even when obtained legally. By comparison, there is no service for Miramaxonline.com that lets you download and save all the movies you can from their library at only $19.95 a month.
muddgirl: Higher barrier to entry = higher prices.
Uh- I don't understand what you're trying to say... Isn't porn about the lowest barrier to entry you can make in the entertainment business? Something like Deep Throat was shot for a pittance and made millions... while that's the extreme exception, you can shoot a decent enough movie by porn standards for a couple of thousand dollars and very quickly make back your stake and realize pure profit on every sale/rental after that. Lots of people have started incredibly profitable sites in their own homes for little cost beyond some cheap webhosting and a digital camera; other than their time to be stars of the show, they put possibly less time and money into those sites than many might put into their vanity blog website. Yet with a little success, they can start raking in the dough and easily upgrade to better hosting and film quality just from the profits. Someone like Danni Ashe went from stripping in Seattle to newsgroup prominence to a popular individual site to "the most downloaded woman on the internet" to a huge professional site that was I think sold off for millions of dollars, all because she had a really fantastic pair and a good head on her shoulders. She needed very little cash to get started, and was able to build the rest with basically no reinvestment, only using the immense profits from her initial tiny investment.

Even with the P2P world (and sadly, I feel bad for people who pay for porn... but I guess their honesty or technological naivete is what keeps the companies in business so the rest of us can watch it free), there is a proliferation of online porn sites, many of which are tied to existing production companies. They'll shoot a scene, and release it to several different sites, and on DVD as well as part of a compilation, and while any one outlet is relatively inexpensive to the consumer they make it up in volume, when 500 people subscribe to this website, 500 to that website, 2000 DVD sales, etc... it adds up pretty quickly!!!

Once the sunk costs of video, editing, and lighting equipment are in place, the "talent" can be paid for a few grand to keep fresh content- and often they'll shoot several scenes on the same day/weekend to get the most out of that particular woman (the guys don't matter). Even if the video editing or camera work is shoddy and amateurish, no one watches porn for the special effects- at least, not the ones done with lenses and computers...
posted by hincandenza at 11:41 AM on March 13, 2006


muddylemon - I watched a show >somewhere< and evidently PPV porn at hotels is a huge revenue stream. With the expense accounts, unobtrusiveness, lonely travelers, etc. In fact, according to this report, 5 minutes was the norm. Either way, I wonder if hotels are putting porn filters on their internet connections, in lieu of recovering revenue lost on PPV.
posted by AllesKlar at 12:12 PM on March 13, 2006


hincandenza: (the guys don't matter)

Dude, I thought better of you. Some people don't require any females at all in their porn. Then the guys do matter, quite a bit.

I've paid for porn, but in recent times, only for Jean Claude Cardinot (director). No one else I ever heard of was really worth paying for. Mild annoyance it's only in French, which I don't speak at all. Sometimes, actions speak louder than words.

As for costs and entry issues: Starting a web-based porn provider is one thing. Making movies is another. In the latter case, making the film isn't the issue, rather, distribution is the difficulty.

Then there are legal issues. Legal or not, the govmint loves to erect barriers of the legal kind. Files must be maintained, even after a company goes out of business, to prove the legal age of everyone who appears. 40 years ago, there as also the problem of police raids and paying lawyers to get your people out of jail (a regular problem in LA, for one. I have an ex who worked in the industry). I don't know how much that still happens.
posted by Goofyy at 6:44 AM on March 14, 2006


I was obviously referring to the mainstream porn industry, the plethora of straight-oriented porn. Gay is still a niche, and a small one at that. For example, are there even gay titles on in-room hotel porn?
posted by hincandenza at 3:47 PM on March 14, 2006


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