‘Treating it as a normal business’": Researching the pornography industry. Sexualities 15:3-4. 2012.

Much contemporary pornography research invokes the apparent economic prowess of the pornography industry as justification for its work, yet focuses on the product and its reception rather than on the industry that produces it. This peer-reviewed journal article examines how stigma shapes not only the industrial dynamics of the pornography industry, but the lack of research on the subject itself. Drawing on my experiences of doctoral research, I explore the institutional challenges around conducting research on the business of pornography and possibilities for engagement. (Email me for full text).

 The October 2009 special issue of Sexualities  focused on teaching and researching the sexually explicit (Attwood and Hunter, 2009), exploring the concerns, challenges and reflections of academics involved in studying sex media, notably pornography. Yet despite the broad scope of the theme, contributions were notably restricted to media and cultural studies both in terms of teaching (McNair, 2009; Smith, 2009; Waksul, 2009), and research methodologies and analyses (Albury, 2009; Jones and Mowlabocus, 2009). The means and challenges around studying the pornography industry itself remained unexamined, indirectly supporting McKee’s (2009) observations in the special issue that social scientists find it more difficult to research pornography than humanities scholars.

Academic work has followed this trend: a wide body of research has arisen in the past three decades that is devoted to examining various facets of pornography. Yet this work primarily focuses on the nature of the product itself and its effects on both individual consumers and wider society (Attwood, 2002). Current work explores aspects of participatory taste culture (Attwood, 2007) and new economies (Mowlabocus, 2010). However, the commercial aspects of the industry – industrial dynamics, strategy, technological capabilities, organizational structure – have been given less consideration and critical examinations of the industry are notably absent in business studies. As Cronin and Davenport (2001) note, ‘in the literature on the information society and the information economy, the subject of sex, and by extension, pornography, has been undertheorised’; and they also highlight how ‘despite its powerful brand, Playboy Enterprises is not spoken of in the same breath as new entrants like Internet Entertainment Group’.

 Moreover, the economic dimension of pornography is often cited as a key reason why scholars must engage with it. This is particularly problematic, as the claims made about the impressive size of the industry’s profits are unreliable. Roberts (2006) notes that ‘the lack of accurate data makes it nearly impossible to gauge market size’. Tanner (2005) cautions against trusting figures generated by the pornography industry itself, noting that ‘the only optimistic figures come from adult content providers, and that’s only to be expected’