Gay porn is an industry in recession

Since the internet totally happened, adult film studios are cutting back on expenses and actors are finding it hard out there

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Adam Russo
Adam Russo: "When I got involved it had already started changing. The golden era of porn was gone at that point and it was just dwindling down. Nobody is making money like they used to.”

Gay porn isn’t as profitable as it once was. The internet may have made accessing porn more convenient for viewers, but for studios and stars alike its arrival has proven costly. Both are struggling against the proliferation of free online content, budget videos and piracy, as well an influx in social media-savvy amateurs, ready to do more work for less. Studio budgets are dwindling, the rates of stars falling. For those involved in the production of professional gay porn, it paints a grim picture.

“I almost feel like it’s a recession-type thing where it will filter down and there will be no money left for porn and a load of studios will shut up shop,” says JP Dubois, porn star, award winning director and co-owner of UKHotJocks. “It’s definitely a tougher world for everyone – the performers and the studios – in that nobody makes as much money as they used to, as there is so much free stuff going around.”

The industry is a very different beast to the one Dubois entered even seven years ago, when he first filmed for Eurocreme after applying through their website. He may have risen from humble performer to co-founder of a new studio, but the story now for most models is one of slashed rates and less-glamorous work.

Exclusive long-term contracts with studios are less common, while the competition for work has risen. Social media sites like Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram have made it much easier to get noticed, and as a result, the industry has been flooded with amateurs looking for a way in. With more models on the market, there’s less work going around.

“We may pay the guys the very best but if we don't have the scenes to give them then it’s not beneficial,” says Dubois. “Genuine porn consumers who want the latest stuff with the latest guys and the best quality will still pay for porn. But the fact that less people think that way means there’s less money to hand out to the guys.” Porn stars are having to compete internationally for work, too. In a bid to further cut costs, many studios no longer shoot in expensive locations such as New York or Vegas, instead preferring to relocate their operations to continental Europe.

“They’re going to Europe now because the boys are cheaper over there,” says Adam Russo, a Los Angeles-based porn star who’s been performing for over six years. “They’re going to Prague and places like that where the boys are apparently willing to work for almost nothing. When I got involved it had already started changing. The golden era of porn was gone at that point and it was just dwindling down. Nobody is making money like they used to.”

The allure and international prestige may still exist for a select few stars, but most now work more, for less. For some it’s no longer even their main source of income, with many treating it as a marketing exercise tool for escorting – an opportunity to add a premium to their fee. Russo started escorting slightly before getting into porn and having now established himself in the industry, he’s been able to raise his escorting rates. “I consider the porn as a promotional tool,” he says. “People want you more. People want to see me because now I am Adam Russo. People were like, ‘I watch you all the time’ and they had to see me in person.”

“There used to be a time when you had a make-up person, when you had lighting, when you had several camera people. Now, a lot of times I go into a place and it’s just the director with a camera and a model or two”

But, like porn, even this has become a more competitive space, with many hoping to use it as a way into the porn industry. “I see a lot more guys escorting in general,” says Russo. “They tell me they’ve been writing to the studios and haven’t heard anything back and I’m like, ‘Good luck with that.’ There’s a lot of people that try to escort in the same way that people try to do porn. Just because you think you can do it does not mean you can.”

For the established stars that have made it in the gay porn world, the work is still there, but the demands have increased. When Ashley Ryder first rose to fame in the industry he was a ‘DVD boy’ and would film around four scenes a year. With everything now uploaded instantly and streamed online, many studios now hope to provide their members with new scenes weekly, putting pressure on stars like Ryder to perform.

“It depends on the year I was working, but you can now condense that work into two or three months,” says Ryder. “Nowadays you have to do a lot more work for a lot less money. If you’re not 100 per cent suitable for an exclusive contract you have to jump from studio to studio. There are more websites available too, though they’re not always as high-budget as porn actors would want it to be.”

Just as the models are struggling, so too are the studios that employ them. Before the digital revolution, circulation was primarily through DVDs. Naturally, this involved higher production and distribution costs, not to mention limited availability to consumers, with most having to order through catalogues or sex shops. When the internet arrived, many studios failed to adapt to a web-based model.

“The reason why studios struggled is because they didn't have the infrastructure for it,” says Ryder. “So when everything went online and DVD sales figures dropped, studios that were only DVD-based struggled to keep up with the ones that were making shit-loads of money online at the beginning.” Like other media industries, many gay porn studios have struggled to cope with increased piracy. For the authorities, though, porn just isn’t a priority.

“One of the main problems is our intellectual rights are completely compromised, but nobody seems to care,” says JP Dubois, who often comes across UKHotJocks’ content on video sharing sites. “If there’s a big Hollywood blockbuster that gets leaked, they’ve got the power to have that taken down efficiently. But people just don’t care about porn. It’s still piracy, it’s still fraud and theft of content. People tend to laugh at it a little bit, but a movie might cost me £5,000 to make. I don’t think it’s very funny that somebody gets it for free.”

Though the actors are now paid less, they remain indispensable to the industry. But with production budgets getting slimmer, ‘nice-to-haves’ such as professional lighting, additional cameras and make-up teams are now deemed expendable. Studios like Treasure Island Media have gotten around this by producing videos using handheld cameras, eliminating the need for more specialist equipment, while providing content that appeals to consumers who prefer their porn less ‘produced’. Not all actors are comfortable working in this environment, though.

“There used to be a time when you had a make-up person, when you had lighting, when you had several camera people,” says Russo. “It was like a regular production studio. Now, a lot of times I go into a place and it’s just the director with a camera and a model or two. That’s it. Sometimes there’s more cameras, sometimes there’s maybe a person who could help me with lighting. But it’s very rare.”

Though the internet has certainly taken money away from stars, in some ways it’s also empowered them, allowing them to diversify their portfolios. Social media has allowed actors to build up huge followings, market their merchandise, attract commercial sponsorship and direct followers to their own sites with affiliate advertising. For those able to canvass online fanbases, they’re less reliant on the diminished rates offered by studios.

“You can kind of be your own PR manager, which is what most porn actors have to be,” says Ashley Ryder. “We are our own publicists. We don’t rely on anybody else. The studio side of it is very much a billboard advertising who you are. I don’t have to fully rely on a studio-based income or worry that just because you’re not under studio lighting with 12 people on a set all camera crew, that it is any less honourable work as a porn actor.” For the talented actors who’ve just started, it also allows them to fast-track their careers, helping them to convince other studios that they’re not a risk, that they come with a pre-existing fanbase.

“As soon as I started shooting for my director they told me to get Twitter immediately,” says Kayden Gray (see above). “At the beginning, I didn’t have any scenes to share, but I was marketing myself just using a particular kind of selfie that would get people’s attention. Social media is very empowering and an absolutely amazing way to get yourself noticed.”

Since starting in the industry three years ago, Gray has gone on to become an award-winning performer with a huge following. His success is a mark of how, even in such austere times, the industry still has a place producing both quality porn and international stars. Whether that continues to be the case remains to be seen.

“The availability of free adult videos has definitely changed the dynamics of the porn industry already and that will no doubt continue to happen,” he says. “Realistically, though, as long as studios continue adapting to the demands of their audiences and keeping up with the newest trends, the production of professional porn will continue.”

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