31 Dec 2017

Jon Ronson: the cost of free pornography

From Up This Way, 9:06 am on 31 December 2017

Writer and journalist Jon Ronson has made a career out of investigating unusual characters. He explores the porn industry in his podcast series The Butterfly Effect.

Jon Ronson.

Jon Ronson. Photo: Supplied

*Discusses adult themes

Ronson was delighted when the audio entertainment company Audible gave him free reign with the series content, he says.

"Part of me wonders whether they thought 'Please not porn', but kindly they let me go ahead with it."

Princess Donna in 2011

Princess Donna in 2011 Photo: CC BY 2.0

His curiosity about the porn industry was sparked by an interview conducted for his 2015 book So You've Been Publicly Shamed

Ronson had arranged to meet porn actress and director Princess Donna in the lobby of the exclusive LA hotel Chateau Marmont.

"As I walked towards her, I noticed the hotel receptionist looking at her with a look of total contempt. The look said 'You are a sex worker, you're probably in porn… and I find it disgusting that you are in my vicinity'. I started thinking 'I don't know anything about porn people, I know nothing.'"

He started reading porn stars' blogs and kept seeing the name 'Fabian' over and over again.

"Basically a huge number of porn people were very upset about a man named Fabian, so I became curious about Fabian … Fabian, essentially, is the man who gave the world free streaming porn on sites like Pornhub … His idea was very simple – 'Let's give the world a YouTube for porn'.

In 2007, a group of Montreal techies launched the video-sharing website PornHub. Fabian Thylmann's company Manwin (which has since had its name changed to MindGeek) took it over in 2010.

When Thylmann moved his company headquarters from California to Montreal, the tech sector there began to get rich on the pirated content fans illegally uploaded to Pornhub.

"All the mom-and-pop porn producers down in the San Fernando Valley were like 'My god, everyone is watching our porn for free on PornHub, we're screwed'."

As these companies panicked, Thylmann got a US$362 million loan from a hedge fund and bought them up at a discounted rate, Ronson says.

Now his company MindGeek owns both free pornography websites like Pornhub and pay websites.

"If you want to pay for porn, you're most likely going to pay for it on one of Fabian's sites and if you watching porn for free you're going to be watching it on one of Fabian's sites, and you'll see all these banner ads linking you to Fabian's paid sites".

Fabian Thylmann

Fabian Thylmann Photo: Facebook / Fabian Thylmann

Ronson discovered many porn actresses in their mid-20s are now "unemployable" because they can no longer pass for teenagers and aren't yet MILFs.

The answer for some of them is performing in 'customs' – bespoke porn films made to order for individuals by professionals, he says.

One such film was commissioned by a depressed stamp collector who became known as Stamps Man.

Over 40-plus years, Stamps Man had ammassed a valuable ten-album stamp collection, before a pyschologist told him stamp collecting wasn't a good hobby as it was too isolating.

"He sends [the stamps] to the San Fernando Valley and porn women destroy his stamp collection by stamping on it with high heels, throwing it into a fire while chanting 'Burn burn burn'."

This stamp collector is the stuff of legend in the porn community, Ronson says.

"What has happened in Stamps Man's life to compel him to do this?"

There is real stigma attached to people who work in porn, but while making The Butterfly Effect, Ronson's team met only 'delightful, charming, heartfelt people" and never saw anyone forced into anything they didn't want to do, he says.

You can listen to The Butterfly Effect here.