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The porn industry is a lot less lucrative than you might think

Performer pay rates are at an all-time low, and stars are increasingly relying on alternative revenue streams

Carrie Weisman
January 31, 2016 6:00AM (UTC)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetBeing a porn star isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure, most of us can point to a few big names who have made it mainstream, but working in the industry isn't quite as lucrative as movies like Boogie Nights would have you think. In fact, performer pay rates are now at an all-time low. Increasingly, stars are starting to rely on alternative streams of revenue like product endorsement deals, snapchat requests, camming platforms and escorting to get by.

According to a recent report by CNBC, the average male porn actor earns around $500-$600 per scene. More established stars get around $700-$900. "Superstars” can expect wages around $1,500. Some say gay scenes pay better. Popular performers can make upward of $5,000 for a shoot, which might help explain the “gay-for-pay” phenomenon.


It's one of the few industries where women generally start out at a higher rate. Steven Hirsh, owner of the hugely profitable Vivid Studios, told CNBC, “When the girls first get into the business and they’re new, I think they can command additional money for different sex acts."

“Initially they make more money, then it depends on how popular they become,” he added.


According to the report, the average actress gets paid somewhere between $800 and $1,000 for “traditional” sex scenes (aka between a man and woman). Big-name actresses can reel in around $1,500, sometimes $2,000. Newcomers with a “bad reputation,” however, might earn as little as $300.

Those looking for higher wages are often encouraged to participate in more trying scenes. According to the report, the “most extreme” stunts can go for $1,800 to $2,500 (double anal, anyone?). For those with a large enough fan base, feature dancing might be the way to go. One actress/dancer told CNBC that she regularly earns $7,000 to $10,000 per appearance, which can last two days.

Then there’s the behind-the-scenes staff, which includes the directors, camerapeople, sound technicians, producers, writers, photographers, makeup artists and all the other people it takes to put a scene together. Out of this group, the directors come out on top. In general, a director of a porn film will earn $1,000-$1,500 per day. In the event they are “required to do dramatically more than direct,” that rate can jump as high as $3,000, though CBNC notes that few studios are actually willing to pay that amount.


Writers earn considerably less. Their paycheck falls in the ballpark of $250-$400 per day, and most shoots only last a day or two. Tentpole porn films can take just four to eight hours.

Camerapeople generally make around $500-$700 (those with their own cameras are more likely to fall on the higher end of that scale), Sound technicians earn $300-$400 while production assistants can expect to take home $100 to $250 per day.


Makeup artists do fairly well, earning around $500 for working a full day on set. Those who don’t feel like hanging around all day can charge between $100 and $150 per person.

The report reads, “Ultimately, assuming they have a decent agent, a performer’s salary comes down to three things—two of which are in their control: Their work ethic and frequency, their entrepreneurial spirit and their popularity.”

There is, however, another factor to consider: their longevity. The report adds:


“Porn is an industry that regularly chews up and spits out performers. Many quit after just one scene or after a few months. Some stick around for a few years, but then disappear. But a select few have chosen to make this a true career — and as in the mainstream world, those are the ones who tend to pocket the most.”

Carrie Weisman

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