Mr. Grey and the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise have been whipping up a media storm and lustful frenzy in recent weeks. Controversy has saturated social media. From outcries of subsisting gender inequalities highlighted by the film, to some extremely (and I mean, extremely) excited women in cinemas across the globe, the film adaptation of E. L. James’ saucy revamp of the Twilight saga is hot news.
The film remains the biggest bow of all-time in 13 markets: Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Paraguay, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela. Also for an R-rated film –or an equivalent abroad — Fifty Shades touts the biggest opening abroad ever for an adult film, beating the previous record holder The Matrix Revolutions at $117M.
Clearly, 2015 is the year of sexual expression. So, what does this mean for the sex industry more generally?
Globally, porn is a $97 billion industry, according to Kassia Wosick, assistant professor of sociology at New Mexico State University. At present, between $10 and $12 billion of that comes from the United States. Revenue from traditional porn films has been shrinking for the past several years, though. Businesses like live webcam models and adult novelties have helped fill that gap—but Wosick notes that most of the industry’s financial information is less concrete numbers and more estimates.
The retail industry has definitely benefitted as of late. Market research company IBISWorld estimates the adult store industry in America is now worth $633.8 million US, more than doubling sales since 2007. It notes that the growing influence of sex toys in popular culture have helped them “shift from taboo toward more of a social norm.”
With growing mainstream acceptance, sex toy shopping is no longer relegated to dim and tawdry stores selling porn and outrageous gag gifts in more questionable parts of town. Notably, Amazon carry vibrators plus a wide assortment of lubricants. Retailers have been offering Fifty Shades spinoff merchandise including a No Peeking Soft Twin Blindfold Set.
IBISWorld notes that as the adult store industry grows, so does the competition. Small-time sex novelty shops face increasing competition from the big online-only outlets, which can charge cheaper prices due to lower overhead costs.
Furthermore, Hollywood is set to adapt a slew of softcore erotica novels for the big screen as producers vie to capitalise on the blockbuster success of Fifty Shades of Grey, according to the Hollywood Reporter. After, a series of fan fiction ebooks pitching One Direction’s Harry Styles as an irresistibly cruel lover, was first reported to be in development in October last year. Studio Paramount has optioned the online smash, which was made popular after Texan author Anna Todd released her work chapter by chapter via Wattpad.
However, is the sex industry a globally bullet proof business model?
“The industry is imploding,” the director of a pay-per-view adult television channel says. “If there was less free porn around, my business would be stronger.” Jerry Barnett, an industry lobbyist, and founder of Sex and Censorship, thinks the UK business “has shrunk by over 90%” in the past seven years.
In the US, piracy and condoms continue to be the porn business’ chief battlegrounds. While the push for a controversial bill that would have criminalized the production of porn without condoms anywhere in California died in committee last year, a circuit court upheld an existing, similar law in Los Angeles County (where 60 to 70 percent of U.S. porn films are shot).
And piracy, which costs the industry millions of dollars per year continues to run rampant. In 2014, Nate Glass, owner of Takedown Piracy, a copyright enforcement service, estimates he sent out 24,716 copyright law notices to sites—and expects to send more this year.
Ultimately, despite the stimulus provided by commercialised, sex-orientated marketing ploys, such as The Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, a brutal irony remains. Despite the thumping thrusts of sexual expression conveys the increase of sex toy sales, the painful reality is that the sex industry will always have it’s rough patches.
By Garry Caprani