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This Is How Much Money Porn Stars Really Make

Mia Khalifa famously earned just £9,000 over her entire career. But how much can the average star charge for a scene? And which kind of scenes pay the most?

by Niccolò Carradori
14 January 2020, 9:52am

Luca Ferrero and Martina Smeraldi. Both pictures courtesy of the interviewees.

This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.

The porn industry as a whole was worth £75 billion worldwide in 2014, with the US the most profitable market. When it comes to the average actor's salary, though, the figure is harder to pin down.

In an interview last August, Mia Khalifa – one of the industry's most famous performers – said she made less than £9,500 over her entire career. But more recently, Italian actor Max Felicitas told radio talk show La Zanzara that he makes €15,000 (£12,850) a month. On one hand, the explosion of free porn sites has squeezed profits; on the other, social media has allowed performers to build a following, produce content and go out on their own.

To understand how much porn stars are really making, I got in touch with four Italian adult actors who've had very different careers – some have worked in the US, others in Europe, while one has been working since the 1990s, which was supposedly the golden age of porn.

If you’ve been dreaming of quitting your nine to five to become a porn actor, read this first.

Valentina Nappi

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Photo curtesy of Valentina Nappi.

VICE: Do you think people have the wrong idea about how much porn stars really make?
Valentina Nappi: Think about it: how many people pay to watch porn online? Most don’t, so production budgets are usually low. Thinking porn actors are rich is absurd. Perhaps this misconception has to do with visibility: we're probably the least-paid public figures if you consider how popular we are. I have 1.5 million followers on Instagram, but my income is nowhere near what an influencer with the same audience makes.

Can you tell me how compensation works in the US?
These days, you're paid per scene. Getting an exclusive contract is quite rare and your fee depends on many factors – how famous you are, the type of scene and so on. A lesbian scene is paid less than a scene with penetration, and anal is paid more. When I went to the States, I was already quite well-known, so my starting fee was higher than what you'd normally get as a beginner. I made €1,070 (£915) for a regular hetero scene.

How many scenes can you do in a month?
An actress is booked the most when she’s between the ages of 22 and 26. During that time, she'll probably do about 100 scenes a year.

What expenses do you have to factor in?
There's taxes, then a 10 to 15 percent agency fee. And accommodation – Los Angeles is a very expensive city; a regular flat can easily cost more than £3,000, plus bills. Then there are STD tests, which you usually pay out of pocket. The quick ones cost about £150 and you have to take one every two weeks to be able to work.

What advice would you give a young actor?
Build a following on social media first and upload self-produced videos on the main platforms. The internet may have shrunk the industry's traditional income streams, but it allows actors to make themselves known and make money off their own content. It's a bit like YouTube: I have my own site and my channels on Pornhub. I film amateur scenes with some partners, then we share the rights. In the long run, it's the best way to make money.

Luca Ferrero

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Photo courtesy of Luca Ferrero.

VICE: What were your financial expectations when you started working in porn?
Luca Ferrero: I didn’t have any expectations when I first started, it was just for fun. I had another job, which was really important at the beginning. In the European market, beginners don’t get a lot of money – you're often just reimbursed for your expenses, and there are even people who pay for their own shoots to get noticed.

How much money does a pro actor make in Europe?
Actors' fees rarely go over €500 (£430) a scene, usually less. If you’re well established, you can ask for more, but the problem with the European market is that it is full of new actors willing to be paid peanuts. A lot of young people have to quit because it’s not financially sustainable. Productions that pay well rarely book new actors, so getting noticed by them is really hard. A new actor might have a huge penis, but if there's even a small risk he won’t perform on set, they’ll get someone more experienced.

Is it true that porn is one of the few sectors with a "reverse" wage gap?
Yes, but only in part. Actresses are paid more per scene and can charge more for certain acts – for example, anal and double penetration, which are paid separately – but they also have shorter-lived careers. A male actor can work a lot longer if he's good. The secret to living off of porn is branching out: it's unrealistic to think you can be an actor forever. There’s self-production, you can start directing, you can become a producer. You have to be smart.

Martina Smeraldi

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Photo courtesy of Martina Smeraldi.

VICE: Hey Martina, you’re the rising star of Italian porn. What did you think you’d make before you started?
Martina Smeraldi: Compensation in porn is definitely lower than people think. I do it because I like it and it makes me happy. That's more important than the financial aspect to me.

How did you get your break?
I got in touch with an actor I followed, Max Felicitas, and we started shooting together. The rest kind of fell into place. I gained visibility, and other productions got in touch with me, including Rocco Siffredi and the producers of Fake Taxi [a reality porn website staging scenes in the back of a taxi]. So far, I’ve filmed around 20 scenes.

As an up-and-coming actress, would you consider producing your own videos?
Honestly, no. I'm still at the beginning of my career and I prefer working with other productions. Although, eventually I'd like to have my own website and monetise my videos.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into porn?
My advice is to only contact professionals who’ve been working in this sector for a while and have no ulterior motives, and ask for their help. That’s what I did, and it’s working for me.

Franco Roccaforte

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Franco Roccaforte with Apolonia Lapiedra, a Spanish porn actress. Photo courtesy of the interviewee.

VICE: Hey Franco. You’re a real veteran – you started your career in 1989. How has the industry changed?
Franco Roccaforte: It’s been completely turned upside down, and not just because of the internet. At the end of the 1980s, in my early days, the real struggle was starting out, but once you started filming you were in. You worked for big productions with famous actors and you could travel the world. Viagra marked the first financial crisis for male porn stars, because all of a sudden hundreds of budding actors who couldn’t perform were able to work – and fees plummeted.

How much did you make in the 1990s?
A lot. If you were part of that small circle of actors who could have sex for hours in front of the cameras, production companies wanted to sign you because you were reliable. You could make the equivalent of £13,000 a month, even more if you were at the peak of your career.

How much do you get for a scene now?
I never go below €1,000 (£855), but very few productions can afford that fee in Europe. I have my own company and I mostly shoot by myself.

What’s the secret to such a long career?
The ability to reinvent yourself. Porn is a fast moving industry: genres change, styles change, income streams change. Today, for example, you have social networks instead of big companies. Right now, the best way to work in porn is to market yourself.

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