fbpx Skip to main content
Blog

How Does the Porn Industry Make Money?

There is so much free porn on the internet, so how does the porn industry make money today? The answer may surprise you: advertising.

There is so much free porn on the internet, so how does the porn industry make money today?

Whatever device you’re reading this article on, hardcore porn is literally a one-second search away. But porn wasn’t always this accessible, and it wasn’t always free.

Now, it seems like porn is more difficult to avoid than to find, and you can access the most extreme, hardcore material with simple search terms in your favorite search engine.

It wasn’t always that way, so let’s break down the basics.

The porn industry is worth an estimated massive $97 billion dollars, globally. But since the shift of power within the industry, and the new business model based on free content for consumers, it’s important to understand the economics of it all is constantly evolving.

RelatedPopular Male Porn Star Talks About The Difficulty Of Being A Part Of The Industry

In the industry today, how do porn companies make money? Especially those behind the massive sites that post millions of free videos but only offer subscriptions on the side?

To understand this question, here’s a brief overview of the last couple of decades in porn history.

The porn industry used to function similarly to the rest of the media-entertainment world before the internet. There was money to be made from print magazines, and film studios made big money selling VHS and DVD movies and pay-per-view services via hotels and adult cable channels. These traditional content producers made a lot of money, but when the internet came along, the whole media industry changed—including porn’s business model.

Become A Fighter

Early days of the internet

Unlike other media outlets, like newspapers who were slow to see the web as a tool to be utilized for survival, the porn industry saw an opportunity and was quick to jump online.

Since porn was previously a service the consumer only paid for, the majority of sites in the early 2000’s were subscription-based. And as it turns out, it wasn’t difficult to make money from online porn. There were only a couple thousand sites and they were pretty basic: a large image gallery (explicit, of course) and billing software attached to the steadily rising bank accounts of this content’s creators.

But as more and more new sites were created, each site started to feel the pressure to reach more consumers, to be competitive.

The thing is, porn isn’t advertised in the same way as a new pair of shoes in a sidebar ad on any website, it’s a complicated system of paid advertising and selected sites. But paid posts are regulated on main social media outlets, and even Google banned paid search results that lead to adult content.

Related: Does The Porn Industry Have Ethical Business Practices?

So instead of relying on sidebar ads alone, early porn websites gave away “teasers,” bits of free carefully curated content to act as a breadcrumb trail leading consumers to pay for a subscription.

And in fact, we’ve heard stories around the world from Fighters, from when they were younger, getting pop-up ads on their computers and stumbling across these “teasers.” For many, this is often their first (but often not their last) exposure to porn.

And then, videos took over in a big way.

After the launch of Youtube, the video uploading and sharing model was quickly mimicked for porn and the “tube” sites were born.

Today, it’s the tubes that attract the largest audience in the porn industry. The biggest player is MindGeek, whose branches include Pornhub, RedTube, and YouPorn (among other huge players in the industry like Playboy).

Podcast

These tubes are massive databases of free videos, and as we know, are hugely popular. They began with pirated copies from the traditional content creators—the film studios who have now shrunk in number and profits, leaving performers more pressured to perform extreme content for more money—and began to encourage the creation of amateur porn videos.

Many tube sites allow users to upload content, and this content is rarely moderated. This means there is an untold amount of abusive, underage, exploitative, and nonconsensual content on any given porn site with user-generated content.

So while the “porn industry” used to refer to big adult film studios, it’s now predominately MindGeek and its various tube sites, mixed in with a couple of competitor sites like XVideos and xHamster. It is safe to say that MindGeek now owns a majority of what many people consider to be the “mainstream” porn industry.

Related: Are Porn Sites Protecting Victims Of Nonconsensual Content? We Investigated, Here’s What We Found

The alternative sites used primarily for porn like subscription-only OnlyFans and supposedly “ethical porn” site Bellesa would be exceptions.

The tube sites take over

As the free tubes increased in popularity, it begs the question: how does anyone make money when everything is “free?”

One simple answer to that is that not everything is free. There are still plenty of sites that function off subscription fees, but they’re struggling to compete with free content. The reality is, advertising runs the porn industry.

Some specific sites specialize in offering fetish porn, so-called “ethical porn,” higher quality videos with no ads or pop-ups, live video performances, and the beginnings of virtual reality experiences. In other words, more extreme and more hardcore stuff, just to keep the edge, and keep consumers coming back. But the vast majority of “free” porn sites these days profit from converting their huge, global target audiences into advertising dollars.

RelatedWhich Is Better: Paying For Porn Or Watching It For Free?

With “free” tube sites as with other online industries, clicks are king.

Huge sites owned by MindGeek command a massive amount of traffic— like Pornhub that received 42 billion visitors in 2019—and those numbers reflect potential consumers for those paid content sites who want more subscribers or other sites who can profit from advertising.

On any other website that offers free content to readers, they make money through advertisements and data gathering, but as many consumers have noticed, a lot of the ads on free tubes are to other porn sites. That’s like driving the customer’s attention away to another competitor, isn’t it? Not in MindGeek’s case, where they can endlessly promote their own sites and keep the consumer on content owned and profited from by them.

Since porn sites are often blocked from traditional advertising outlets, the tubes are the place to go to sell another hardcore, explicit site. A tube accepts payment from a subscription-based site to post an ad that redirects to their homepage. When a consumer subscribes, the tube also takes a cut of the commission. And again, since many of the tube sites and subscription sites are owned by MindGeek, it’s like double advertising opportunity for them and double profit.

Not only that, MindGeek actually owns its own advertising service entity, TrafficJunky.

BHW - General

How MindGeek profits from its own advertising portal

As The Globe and Mail has reported, “MindGeek’s operations extend beyond content. It runs an ad network called TrafficJunky across its properties, and serves up 4.6 billion ad impressions every day. A recent tagline for TrafficJunky asks: ‘Your customers are on Pornhub, so why aren’t you?'”

Related: How The Porn Industry Quietly Fought To Stop Keeping Official Records Of Performers’ Ages—And Won

Here’s how the National Center on Sexual Exploitation explains MindGeek’s business model with TrafficJunky through one of its more popular tube sites, Pornhub:

“As a ‘freemium’ pornography ‘tube site,’ one of Pornhub’s most significant sources of revenue is advertising on its platform. You see, MindGeek positions Pornhub to offer ‘free’ pornography for two primary reasons.

One reason is that, yes, MindGeek wants to funnel consumers of its free offerings into paid subscriptions… But subscription transactions are likely not the more lucrative reason for MindGeek to offer ‘free’ pornography through Pornhub.

It is incredibly lucrative for MindGeek to use its proprietary algorithms to keep the tens (and hundreds) of millions of users who consume the ‘free’ content on Pornhub watching and coming back for more. As users do that, MindGeek captures and harvests their data. That data and user profiling is then monetized by MindGeek as it sells advertising opportunities which are processed through…TrafficJunky.

So, using Pornhub and TrafficJunky together, MindGeek is able to rake in massive ad revenue from entities who are willing to pay to target the massive flow of users on Pornhub. (This is similar to the way websites like Facebook and YouTube generate much of their revenue as ‘free’ platforms.)”

See how tube sites can profit from offering “free” content?

Related: The Porn Industry Isn’t Just Selling Sex, It’s Selling Violent Abuse Of Women

Store - PKL

How do porn sites profit from abusive content?

In December of 2020, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof published an investigative column in The New York Times, detailing how MindGeek and its most popular site, Pornhub, have allegedly flagrantly profited from child sexual abuse material and nonconsensual content for years.

MindGeek has denied these claims.

In the aftermath of the article, during a hearing with a Canada Parliament ethics committee, it was further exposed exactly how Montreal-based MindGeek allegedly profited from abusive videos. MindGeek executives revealed that roughly 50% of MindGeek’s revenues come from advertisements on their sites,https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/43-2/ETHI/meeting-19/evidence?eType=EmailBl%5B%E2%80%A6%5De%3DEmailBlastContent&eId=d7f7768d-008f-4ea0-bb95-9eb551121c94#Int-11122449COPY  but they also confidently claimed MindGeek has not profited from illicit material. 

But how could this be? If MindGeek has never profited from abusive or nonconsensual content, that would mean there would be no ads positioned on the same page as such videos; however, it has been reported in the past that ads have been present next to abusive content.

RelatedBy The Numbers: How Porn And Sex Trafficking Are Inseparably Connected

When pressed, the executives finally said they actually did not know if MindGeek has received money from specific cases of nonconsensual content.https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/43-2/ETHI/meeting-19/evidence?eType=EmailBl%5B%E2%80%A6%5De%3DEmailBlastContent&eId=d7f7768d-008f-4ea0-bb95-9eb551121c94#Int-11123352COPY 

Note that over 50 trafficking and exploitation survivors identified as “Jane Doe” filed a lawsuit against MindGeek in December 2020 for allegedly knowingly profiting from images and videos of their sex trafficking nightmares and failing to properly moderate MindGeek-owned sites for the abusive videos. Pornhub ended up settling with them for an undisclosed amount.

Why this matters

Whether people know it or not, the porn industry is one of the more influential industries in the world.

It shapes how countless kids and adolescents learn about sex and relationships, and due to its profitability, the porn industry is a driving force of sexual exploitation.

Related: The New York Times Exposé That Helped Spark The Possible Beginning Of The End Of Pornhub

The modern economics of the porn industry are extremely concerning based on the record and potential of profiting from nonconsensual content, but it’s not necessarily something that regulation can solve. There is no perfect way to ensure nonconsensual content does not get uploaded to porn platforms, and there’s no reliable way for viewers to distinguish between what’s consensual and what isn’t.

It’s up to us to fight to stop the demand at the source—the consumer. And we can do that through education and awareness on the harmful effects of porn.

Support this resource

Thanks for taking the time to read through this article! As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we're able to create resources like this through the support of people like you. Will you help to keep our educational resources free as we produce resources that raise awareness on the harms of porn and sexual exploitation?

DONATE