Whether you consider yourself a sexually enlightened person or not, chances are you’ve come across a piece of pornography in your daily, weekly or monthly affairs. It used to be you had to seek it out – inconspicuously venturing inside a convenience store or XXX bookstore to purchase a slice of erotica that got your juices flowing. But today, it’s as simple as logging on, and getting off.
According to estimates from Scandinavian research centre Sintef, 90% of all of the data that the human race has ever produced has been generated in just the past two years alone. Of that digital imprint, 37 percent of everything left behind on the Internet is related to the field of pornography.
Whereas 20 years ago we began worrying about our carbon footprint, when historians look back on the new millenniumour legacy will focus on what we littered the Internet with.
With the news that Playboy was ditching their revolutionary stance on nudity which had been in play for over 60 years, to Penthouse’s decision to shutter their physical printing of magazines, the timing for each – despite existing during the downfall of print – still seemed surprising given their fields of specialty and human beings unquenchable thirst for watching total strangers do the nasty.
So what gives? How did two legendary entities who specialize in sexuality fail to thrive in an era that wants it now more than ever?
According to lead researcher Gilbert Wondracek, who presented his findings in a paper at Harvard University about the economics of porn, 9 out of every 10 visits to porn sites across the whole internet is “free,” and makes money by directing traffic to pay-for-use sites (or even to one another).
In disecting Wonracek’s findings, the Massachusetts Insitute of Technology (MIT), noted, “Unlike online ad placements by Google and affiliate marketing schemes by Amazon, adult sites do not rely on code that resides on the sites sending them traffic that could help verify that traffic is generated by humans and not click bots. As a result, the researchers found that it would potentially be quite easy to defraud not only users, but the traffic brokers and for-pay porn sites that enable the vast ecosystem of free adult media sites.”
The current pornographic strategy is a direct response to how the industry began to shift in the mid 200os – peaking at roughly $13-$14 billion USD in 2005 and falling to just over $5 billion USD in 2013, according Dan Miller, the executive managing editor of XBIZ, a publisher that focuses on the industry.
The so-called “changing of the guard” is a reflection of the speeds consumers began to expect when it came to Internet connectivity. Although dial-up speeds aren’t completely dead yet – thanks to a dedicated 3 percent user-ship base in rural communities who lack the financial resources to switch to broadband – that eight-year period saw 97 percent of all Americans abandoning modem technologies for faster speeds.
Gone were the days where you had to let a sexy picture unfurl down the page like you were getting flashed by someone stood behind horizontal mini-blinds, twisting them open one slat at a time. To borrow a signature porn trope, with the increase in Internet speeds, a person could skip from the pizza delivery man, to the tip, at rates never before experienced.
In addition to the speeds at which people could access movies and images, so to was there in a shift in what connectivity itself could allow. The new millennium was marked by the newfound legal battle regarding peer-to-peer file sharing — a debacle headlined by legal cases against the likes of Napster, Limewire, KaZaa and others.
It should come as little surprise that the porn industry’s all-time fiscal sales high took a steep downturn after a reported 70 million people admitted to using file-sharing. What’s more, only 16 percent of those people between the ages of 16 to 28 thought they were doing something morally wrong.
By 2009, a CBS News poll found that 58% of Americans who followed the file sharing issue considered it an “acceptable” behavior.
When Playboy announced its new direction in October 2015, Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive, said “that battle has been fought and won. You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”
The numbers would support his assertion – as Playboy‘s subscription base had gone from 5.6 million in 1975 to about 800,000. In turn, the United Stated division of the imprint was losing $3 million USD a year.
The move to remove nudity from their magazine was not without proof that they were on to something. As The New York Times noted, “In August of last year, its website dispensed with nudity. As a result, Playboy executives said, the average age of its reader dropped from 47 to just over 30, and its web traffic jumped to about 16 million from about four million unique users per month.”
Whereas Playboy and Penthouse centerfolds used to be how people fed their voyeuristic tendencies, the rise in social media sharing across Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat has given everyone the ability to be fawned after. People are no longer satisfied being a third party participant when it comes to sexuality; they also want to be the prize as well.
According to Pew Research, 34 percent of adults aged 25 to 34, and 22 percent of adults aged 35 to 44, have sent or received sexually explicit material on their cellphones. Additionally, 17% of the recipients forward the image to someone else. Thus begins a new cycle of porn viewing where there’s actually a narrative element attached to the appendages in question.
Sure, the success of Kim Kardashian’s sex tape and infamous PAPERMAG photoshoot is proof that people are still very interested in seeing recognizable celebrities in the buff – a hallmark of the Playboy business model during their glory years – but even Mrs. West’s best attributes were mostly flaunted in a free.99 manner despite physical copies of both the DVD and magazine available for purchase.
If any additional proof is needed that the Internet figured prominently in Playboy’s decision to change their aesthetic, look no further than their first non-nude cover featuring model Sarah McDaniel which seems to both be an ode to Snapchat and selfie culture.
In the past, legendary Playboy centerfolds like Pamela Anderson gave you a glimpse at what a person could never have. Everything was bigger; the hair, the breasts, and certainly the production value of the spread. It seems that Playboy is trying to fight the pervasiveness of porn in our society with a little bit of restraint. While the rest of the world is fighting to “free the nipple,” Playboy has abandoned a weapon that isn’t so secret any more.