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There's a well-worn porn cliche about the college student-turned-actress who decided to have sex in front of a camera in order to pay off her student loans. Like many cliches, it's rarely true — but it's worth wondering: How big are paychecks in the porn business, anyway?
Money is a topic that's shrouded in mystery in the adult entertainment world. While it's widely presumed to be a multibillion dollar industry, there's no real firm accounting to back that up. Companies regularly inflate their numbers when speaking publicly and may deflate them at opportune times as well. The same is true of performers. While that report breaks down average salaries among several careers, there is no data about adult performers.
So to determine who makes what, CNBC spoke with a number of individuals who work in all aspects of the adult world to get a sense of what sort of money trades hands.
While there's no way to say with absolute certainty that the figures are correct, they were supported by enough people to at least seem roughly right. Women are, of course, the main attraction in mainstream porn — and, as you might expect, the amounts paid to actresses span a wide range. A superstar performer — one who has name recognition that extends beyond adult entertainment — earns considerably more than a newcomer or someone who is well-known only among porn enthusiasts.
There are a number of top agencies, such as LA Direct and Spiegler, whose actresses again, excluding the top stars earn what could be called the industry average. But some naive or desperate performers will associate themselves with fly-by-night individuals or agencies, who ask a much lower rate, often in hopes of earning a quick buck. The determining factor is the sex act performed and whether the actress has done that act on camera before. Here's how things break down.