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How Big is the Pornography Industry in the United States?

Last Updated: March 31, 2014

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by Sam Spencer

Determining the size of the United States pornography industry is no simple task. A perfect picture of how large the pornography industry is would require accurate revenue reports from every entity which produces and distributes pornography. Unfortunately, this specific information is not readily available. Instead, we must rely on statistics and information gathered from a variety of sources over several years.

How Big is the Porn Industry in the United States

It should be noted, therefore, that the data which follows is not definitive. Prejudice on the part of porn opponents and pride on the part of proponents can lead to false inflation of the figures. However, we can ascertain a general understanding of the size of the United States pornography industry.

We will begin with two rather conflicting figures recorded in 2001. The New York Times quoted a 1998 Forrester Research study which estimated the combined revenues of pornographic networks, pay-per-view movies on cable and satellite, Internet websites, in-room hotel movies, phone sex, sex toys, and pornographic magazines to have been no less than $10 billion. In that same year, Forbes magazine published an article stating that the pornography industry could not have been more than $3.9 billion. The Forbes article pointed to the lack of published methodology used by Forrester Research to come up with the $10 billion figure. Additionally, it used well-documented data on the revenues of all magazines, video sales, rentals, and pay-per-view, and then generously assumed pornography made up one-fifth of those sales. It concluded that even this liberal estimate placed adult video sales and rentals at no more than $1.8 billion, Internet at $1 billion, pay-per-view at $128 million, and magazines at $1 billion.

Fast forward several years to a detailed meta-analysis done by Covenant Eyes. Their study shows that in 2005 and 2006, the United States pornography industry generated $12.62 and $13.33 billion in revenue respectively. This encompassed video sales and rentals, internet, cable, pay-per-view, in-room, mobile, phone sex, exotic dance clubs, novelties, and magazines.

So what about now, in 2012? Very little research has been done recently into the size of the pornography industry. For instance, a 2012 Time article quoted an estimate by the Adult Video Network done several years ago for the U.S. online adult entertainment industry at $2.8 billion. Note that this does not indicate what exactly was included in the study, only noting that it was the “online” adult entertainment industry.

Keeping these studies in mind and the massive amount of free internet pornography available, let’s conservatively estimate the U.S. pornography industry at around $8 billion. Comparatively, this estimation would place the pornography industry at the same size as the $8 billion U.S. bottled water industry. Additionally, pornography would make as much as eBay expects customers to buy and sell in merchandise in 2012. Finally, the pornography industry would equal the amount of digital merchandise iTunes is on pace to sell in 2012.

Although the precise size of the United States pornography industry is unclear, pornography certainly generates substantial revenue. When these revenues are taken in tandem with the massive availability of free pornography, the magnitude and impact of pornography is truly staggering.

Photo credit: jackbetty