Kate Darling on Tech in the Adult Industry
NO TWILIGHT FOR THE PORN INDUSTRY by Jon Tribb of http://elexismonroefanclub.tumblr.com/archive
After watching Louis Theroux’s pessimistic portrait of the porn industry it was refreshing to listen to Kate Darling give a more balanced and optimistic perspective . I was also pleased to find that there was another young academic who was prepared to treat the industry with the respect that it deserves and as a serious subject for study rather than demonizing it with the same trite platitudes. Kate just gives an outline here but we’ll post a link to her article when it’s published.
1 Kate can you please introduce yourself?
I’m an Intellectual Property researcher. Currently, I’m employed as a Research Specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab and am finishing a Ph.D. at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH).
2 How did you become interested in doing research in the adult industry?
I’ve always been fascinated with copyright policy and economics, in particular the relationship between law and innovation. The adult industry is notoriously innovative, and it’s going through the same technological disruption as other entertainment industries in the Internet age. So I wondered how it was dealing with the issues. When I looked for research on the subject, I couldn’t find very much, so I decided to do it myself.
3 What were people’s reactions when you said you wanted to do this?
Mixed. In my academic field, many were supportive of the idea from a research perspective, but I was repeatedly warned that I may not be taken seriously (or could even ruin my career) because of the subject matter.
4 Why do you think there are few academics that that want to research this subject?
Probably because of social stigma. There’s been some academic work on the societal issues surrounding adult content, but only few have looked at the industry from a more value-neutral, economic perspective. Some might shy away because they worry about being labeled as endorsing porn (which is not always socially accepted), or being seen as consumers.
5 Was it easy to make contact with people in the industry and who did you speak to?
It wasn’t very difficult. People were willing to talk to me and most were very supportive and helpful. Because I was interested in content production, I spoke with many of the large producers and some of the middle-sized and smaller companies. I also talked to lawyers and industry specialists.
6 Can you tell us some of the industry’s technology and new media firsts?
The adult industry is said to have driven the adoption of many new media formats, including the paperback book, cable television, VHS, the Internet, and more. It also pioneered important online technology, such as secure payment systems and high-definition streaming video.
7 Why is the industry always in the forefront of technology?
I think it’s for a variety of reasons. Adult entertainment has always been in tremendous demand. Also, many new media formats have increased privacy and convenience, which is something that consumers value highly. Another reason may be that the adult industry has never really had the option of fighting technological change. Despite being such a large business, it receives very little support from legislators. Experienced players in the industry are so accustomed to dealing with restrictions and red tape that they waste very little time complaining about new realities and instead focus their energy on adjusting to them. So while the market incumbents in other industries traditionally turn to law enforcement and lobbying to try to prevent new technologies from disrupting their business models, the adult industry has been more likely to take the other path: adaptation.
8 Can you tell us about some of the early attempts to fight piracy?
So far as I can tell there were a variety of different attempts, but using the legal system was generally difficult, especially in the early days of online piracy. Many adult companies did not have the capacity to comprehensively track down violations and engage in legal action. But even those that had the means felt that relying on litigation was not a good option. Back in the 90s, companies like Playboy started coming up with creative ideas on how to harness piracy as a marketing tool, using it to strengthen their brand and generate traffic to their sites. While there have always been attempts from the industry to enforce copyright protection through the legal system, many realized early on that this would not be enough and that they would need to come up with new business models in order to survive.
9 What can you tell us about consumer habits for porn?
I think they’re slightly different from consumer habits for other entertainment goods. For example in that consumers value privacy more. Or in the different ways that people consume. Someone might visit the iTunes store to download a specific music album that they will listen to later, whereas for porn they may be more likely to want to browse non-specifically, and then consume immediately. Demand for porn is also said to be more inelastic than for other entertainment goods. I would love to see more research on this subject – especially now that there are new ways to track and collect relevant data.
10 What new technologies is the industry moving into and what are the advantages and disadvantages?
A lot has yet to be seen, but the industry will probably explore any new technologies that offer experience and convenience to consumers, such as the mobile market, cloud services, games, interactive experiences, etc. For example, adult companies Pink Visual and MiKandi have just reported to be brainstorming uses for Google’s Project Glass. The advantages are that experiences are difficult to “copy”, and that consumers are willing to pay for convenience. But while demand for porn is high, the industry is at a comparative disadvantage when it comes to legal and social restrictions. Bans of adult-themed content (for instance from Apple apps or social media platforms), and being prevented from using mainstream marketing channels are just a few examples of the challenges that adult companies face.
11 Why is innovation better than the lawsuit and lobbying strategy?
I wouldn’t say it’s better in every case – sometimes a combination is optimal. Right now we’re experiencing a massive technological disruption: Because the architecture of the Internet is specifically designed for sharing digital files, it is at odds with our copyright system. People are breaking the law left and right and the legal system is struggling to deal with it. Trying to fight this as a content producer may be an uphill battle. As with previous technological disruptions, the companies that figure out ways to use this new architecture to their advantage rather than spend all of their resources trying to stop it are more likely to win in the end.
12 Whilst the demand for porn may be fairly recession proof the industry is suffering on a lot of fronts. Would you agree or disagree with Louis Theroux that we’re seeing a twilight of the porn industry?
I agree that there has been a lot of struggle and a lot of suffering, as tends to happen when worlds shift. Belts are clearly being tightened, and those clinging to old business models are dying, as well as some of those who unsuccessfully invest in new ideas. However, I don’t agree that the industry is “twilighting” – I think the industry is changing. In his Guardian piece, Theroux speaks of declining DVD sales and trying to beat illegal sites, but fails to note that many of the sites he is talking about are actually owned, curated, and monetized by large corporations that also deal in content production. There’s currently a lot of consolidation, vertical integration, and cross-subventioning within the business. The industry not only has a few beacons of hope in new ways of capitalizing on online technology, but also in the increasing social acceptance of sexual content. As the divide to mainstream entertainment diminishes, there may soon be new markets and opportunities to explore. Theroux is certainly right in that it’s no longer an industry flooded with new entrants that can “get rich quick”. But once the current dust settles, I think we will be left with some highly professional, smart, competitive players, and I think that they have a good shot at surviving, and even thriving.
13 I know that you’re also interested in robots. It’s predicted that in 50 years we’ll have the first robot sex workers. How do you feel about this?
It seems a fairly foreseeable development, and we should definitely begin discussing the societal implications sooner rather than later. Personally, I’m fascinated with all of the directions that social robotics is taking and truly hope we manage to develop sophisticated sex robots in less than 50 years!