Explaining Southern California's economy

Could a condom ballot measure drive the porn business into bankruptcy?

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Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

An empty condom package rests on a table during the shooting of a porn scene for the adult film production company Vivid, 18 May 2004, on the set in Canoga Park, California, about 40 miles west of Los Angeles.

UPDATE: Last year at Minyanville, Susannah Breslin explored allegations that the porn business, contrary to popular belief, is actually a terrible business that barely rises to the description.

Earlier today, my colleague Tony Pierce posted on the LA City Attorney office's lawsuit against a proposed ballot measure for June 2012 that would require all male porn actors on sets in Los Angeles to wear condoms in order for productions to be permitted. The measure is supported by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has been advocating to take this issue to the voters for a while:

The foundation was only required to get 41,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. They gathered approximately 71,000. [AHF Executive Director] Michael Weinstein said they had no trouble getting enough people to sign the petition.

"It was not difficult at all," Weinstein said. "The overwhelming majority of people - liberal and conservative, of all ages and genders - understand this issue as an issue of fairness and worker protection."

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What's hard to get? The numbers on the porn business, that's what

When I recently blogged about the struggles of the California porn industry, I cited a figure of $12.6 billion in yearly sales. I'd seen figures in this general ballpark before. But there's also a…let's call it a feeling out there that the porn business' numbers are unreliable. 

So is it really a $12 billion-plus game? Ten years ago, a somewhat smaller number — $10 billion — was being questioned by Forbes:

The idea that pornography is a $10 billion business is often credited to a study by Forrester Research. This figure gets repeated over and over. The only problem is that there is no such study. In 1998, Forrester did publish a report on the online "adult content" industry, which it pegged at $750 million to $1 billion in annual revenue. The $10 billion aggregate figure was unsourced and mentioned in passing....For the $10 billion figure to be accurate, you have to add in adult video networks and pay-per-view movies on cable and satellite, Web sites, in-room hotel movies, phone sex, sex toys and magazines--and still you can't get there. 

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Freebie Nights: Why the porn business in California is struggling

If you check in with porn-industry advocates, they'll probably tell you that the last thing the pornography industry needs right now -- from a business perspective -- is an HIV scare coupled with a 2012 ballot measure that would require condoms to be worn by performers. But an HIV scare it has gotten, one that's temporarily shut down porn production in LA, the nation's smut capital and creator of a reported $12.6 billion in yearly sales (the totally SFW map at right shows Chatsworth, the center of the region's porn industry).

This is happening at the same time the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is rounding up signatures to put a ballot measure in front of voters next June that would require condoms in porn media permitted for production in LA. On balance, this doesn't sound outlandish, but certain groups within the porn industry argue that mandatory condom use will create an underground non-condom trade that will be less safe. 

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