January 9-11, the Venetian convention facilities will play host again to the Adult Entertainment Expo. This year organizers expect to bring 30,000 porn professionals and their fans to town. The culmination of the convention will take place January 10 at Mandalay Bay Events Center, where the AVN Awards is held. Billed as porn’s Oscars, the show has grown over the years from a private industry dinner to a ticketed stage event that is taped for broadcast as a cable special. In fact, the continued growth and popularity of the convention and the AVN Awards has become one of the more visible symbols of the mainstreaming of adult content.
But this year, the usually frivolous and party-filled convention is faced with a series of shadows that the adult industry will try to discuss and address (in seminars that are far less popular with the fans) during the convention. These days, porn professionals are once again worried about being prosecuted, facing a recession while at the same time being hit hard by Internet piracy, and all of this has increased dramatically over the last 12 months.
As it has almost everyone else, the economy has hit the adult industry hard. Adult talent agent Mark Spiegler, who has been coming to Vegas for AEE/AVN for more than 20 years, notes: “There are less companies that have booths this year. There are going to be less people there. In the past year, a lot of the businesses I’ve dealt with before are either gone now or going. There are new Internet companies coming up. But I think the Internet companies are being impacted, too.”
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And it isn’t just the economy; there is a wave of Internet piracy of adult content. Where once porn companies were known as the cutting edge at selling their content on the Internet, now they are hurting like the music industry, thanks to various offshore sites that offer free bootlegs of adult content. Joone, a director and owner of the company Digital Playground, created one of the best-selling adult titles of all time with Pirates two years ago. This year he has Pirates 2 out, and the movie is nominated for a bunch of AVN awards. But even though features like Pirates and Pirates 2 are hours long and thus slower and harder to download than the plot-free sex scenes that other companies put out, only to discover their product instantly bootlegged, Joone, too, is noticing the download difference: “I think the recession is hurting us less than free porn on the Internet. That is affecting people’s business more than the recession. We have reports that track how many downloads are pirated, and I am looking at numbers like 150,000-200,000 illegal downloads a day for our titles. It is depressing. We are in the same position as the music industry. It is a losing battle. For Pirates we created a four-disc set so that it will take someone awhile to download that on the Internet. But we are still losing a lot to piracy.”
Of course, unlike the music industry, which was able to sue music pirates, the adult industry is far more distrustful of the courts caring about pirated porn. John Stagliano won an $11 million award from a jury in a piracy case trial. But the victory turned out to mean nothing. When Stagliano learned the next step toward collection would be another round of protracted litigation which, for technical reasons, would have had to take place in Canada, he wound up settling for a pittance. Meanwhile, this year Stagliano was charged by the United States government for adult-to-adult obscenity. His trial takes place early next year. Another AVN/AEE regular, Max Hardcore, was convicted and sentenced last year. There is a great hope in the porn world that the Obama administration will have less interest in these cases than the Bush administration, whose attorneys general have focused on bringing adult-to-adult obscenity cases for prosecution by the Justice Department at a level not seen since the days of People v. Larry Flynt.
But a horrible year and an uncertain future have not dampened porn actress Belladonna’s anticipation for the 2009 convention. “I am really excited for this year, and I get bored easily,” she says. She has reason to think this convention is special. The top-tier adult star owns a film company distributed by Evil Angel and appears in a scene in the movie Pirates 2, as well being a co-hostess this year for the AVN Awards.
Still, she is very aware of the problems the adult industry faces and how tenuous her future is. And that excites her even more.
“I’ve noticed the dramatic change since January 2008. It has to do with the economy and pirating. Our sales are down. But that just inspires me to find other things to do. I am glad this is happening. To me it is exciting not to be comfortable.”