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Joe Pinsker: You mention in the book that some people have estimated that the porn industry brings in more money than Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Yahoo, combined. But then you note that that's totally wrong. Why is it so hard to estimate the size of the industry?
Shira Tarrant: It's hard for several reasons. Official records are hard to come by. Many productions don't even keep official records, and there are very few researchers looking at the economic side of porn, because a lot of times for academics and researchers, pornography is viewed as a sort of LOL, to-the-side kind of thing, rather than the very serious financial and economic matter that it is. This is true for the industry's revenues, but also for pay rates for individual actors. So those numbers get a little fuzzy, even though the industry is willing to say that it's suffering from piracy and after the Great Recession, and things like that.
Pinsker: One thing I think many people might be surprised to learn is that many of the big-name porn sites are all owned by this one company, MindGeek. Do you have a sense of how much of the industry that company controls?
Tarrant: No, I don't. Those figures are really hard to determine because porn is mostly online, as opposed to DVD sales or magazine sales, which you can track more easily. Tube sites—such as YouPorn, RedTube, Pornhub—are hugely popular and it's estimated that MindGeek owns 8 out of the 10 largest tube sites.*
Pinsker: A distinguishing feature of tube sites is that a lot of their stuff is actually taken from other places—it’s pirated content. Is that a fair generalization?
Tarrant: Yes, and it's a huge problem within the industry because it's stolen, basically, and the tube sites are aggregators of a bunch of different links and clips, and they are very often pirated or stolen. So then the folks who made the content can go after them, and they do, but you have to have a lot of time and money and resources to stay on top of that.
Pinsker: Just to make sure I'm understanding how a significant portion of the industry is set up: There's this big company, and if you can imagine a building they own that says MindGeek at the top, there are all these front doors that have different labels, and the things that everyone is entering the building for is just a lot of stolen stuff. Is that kind of how this works?
Tarrant: That's exactly it. I don't think it should be a total surprise that there's a monopoly, because that mimics the way that other large corporate interests scoop up smaller companies. So yeah, those doors on that building, like you say, would include YouPorn, RedTube, PornHub, Xtube, and then, their business model, much like any other media-business model, features vertical integration and horizontal integration, so they're really monopolizing the industry.