miakhalifa

Mia Khalifa Saying She Made Only $12K Doing Porn Is Entirely Unsurprising

Allow me give you an economics lesson in porn — from newbies like Mia to legends like me

Yesterday, ex-porn star Mia Khalifa left millions of her followers speechless when she revealed in an interview with life coach Megan Abbott that during the entirety of her short-lived but incredibly high-profile career, she only made a paltry $12,000.

 

I stand by Mia and completely empathize with her, but for someone who was once the “most searched porn star in the world” as well as Pornhub’s second highest-ranked performer last year, a $12,000 payout out does seem unthinkably low. Is it really possible that porn stars — even the most legendary ones to ever grace the internet — could make less money per year than minimum-wage fast food workers and Walmart employees doing a job that’s a hundred times riskier and more universally consumed?

In short, yes. It’s completely possible — and not at all surprising to me — that a porn star like Mia could make that little money doing something that had that big of a cultural impact.

Allow me to explain. Porn stars get paid all sorts of different rates depending on how well-established they are, what kind of scenes they’re doing and what kind of rate they set with their agency — and the way these amounts are determined is far more nuanced than the average viewer could ever know. In fact, it’s so nuanced that I can’t even tell you how many scenes you have to film, how many times you have to perform or how long you have to stay in the game to make a viable living for yourself. It’s all dependent on a number of factors that either work in your favor or don’t, and unfortunately for Mia, it seems like it was the latter.

If after fees, taxes, expenses, Mia was only making $1,000 per scene, and she hadn’t fully established her name, then that $12,000 price tag she mentioned does sound about right. She only ever shot a handful of scenes over the course of three months, after all. Why would people expect her to be making more than that if she only performed for such a short amount of time? I’ll answer that: Because the general public seems to think if they’re consuming your content off a free, pirated tube site, then the entertainer is somehow getting paid for it.

Not so much.

You get paid for performing the scene as a model that day, and that day only. Similar to the modeling industry, the actress gets paid for the art she created that day on set. Now, you do have the choice afterwards to create affiliate links and profit off of traffic you send to the site. You can also make money off of content you own and never have to pay anyone but yourself. You can profit off of your social media accounts and candid videos as well. You can even partially own content you shoot for other companies and strike sex-toy deals and do appearances.

In other words, you could feature dance, create a brand and make millions. Or you could simply show up to set and get paid for whatever you negotiated that day and leave it at that.

Or you could be like me — a 16-year-old MTV reality star — and make only $10,000 a year for a role on a series that raked in obviously a ton more than that. (I was on the third season of Laguna Beach.) I spent every single weekend shooting for them and got a $10,000 contract. So if it’s possible to make that little money on a show millions of people watched and continue to watch today (and its various spin-offs), the fact that Mia has made pennies on what’s turned out to be billions of views isn’t actually that outrageous.

That said, the economics of pornography are changing, and while there’s now more competition than ever, there’s also more opportunity for performers who want to take it. That, however, requires becoming more of a CEO than an actress, something I learned early on in my career as I figured out how to make money off of porn and live comfortably in this cutthroat industry.

When I started shooting in 2010, all the cards were in my favor. The porn world was just on the cusp of being bought up by a large conglomerate called MindGeek, and there were still a ton of independently owned companies looking for the newest, hottest models to hire. Fortunately for me, I had a relentless agent and a pretty face, so I got to shoot a lot of content in my first few years. That helped me save up and start a life for myself. My first year I made well over $100,000 and I’d say that’s normal for someone who’s going to be successful in the business — basically, someone who people want to book and who works hard.

How often I got booked and how high my rate was was aided by the fact that I was absolutely, 100 percent committed to porn. Early on in my career, I made the conscious decision that porn was going to be a long-term gig for me; one that I’d take pride in, and because of that, I was able to hustle hard. I dedicated my life to performing, started my own company and worked every day to promote both it and myself. Eventually I was able to turn my career into a brand by producing my own content, and now I can profit from it without even having to perform.

In fact, I haven’t even shot a movie in a couple of months and I’m still able to comfortably live off my own content, most of which comes from Snapchat, OnlyFans.com, TashaReign.com, custom videos and lingerie sales. Camming, affiliate links, social media, writing articles, feature dancing, sex-toy deals and appearances help, too. Digging that deep and multitasking between all these undertakings is overwhelming, but it’s how I’ve been able to make $12,000 many times over.

It’s also how I’ve been able to supplement my income with other jobs. Mia talks about having a hard time finding a job post-porn, something many performers face (though she’s now a very successful sports commentator and host). I differ from her there, too. My story is my own, but I can honestly say that the day I applied to be a writer, I got hired, and I owe that to porn. The moment I realized I could use my star power in the adult industry to transcend it, I knew porn wouldn’t hold me back.

That said, I love porn. Mia, as she’s said, does not. She strikes me as someone who should never have done porn in the first place, and I think she’d agree with me on that. In the interview, she mentions that she’s still suffering from a great deal of shame around performing, and that she’s struggling to accept herself in the wake of her brief career in porn. I’m so sorry to hear that, but it also makes sense to me why she might have difficulty finding work outside of it — she wants to move on from it, so she’s not using it to find work in the same way I’m very privileged to. That’s completely understandable, and I support her decision there.

My experience isn’t everyone’s. Very few performers, including Mia, share my experience, background and passion for porn, and I’ve been extremely lucky. At the same time, it’s also true that the whole “porn doesn’t pay well” thing everyone’s talking about on the internet isn’t necessarily true. A more accurate read would be: “Porn doesn’t pay well when you don’t dedicate your entire life to it for years on end until you’ve built an empire from nothing more than a couple of XXX DVDs.” Something else I want to mention: I’ve been a producer myself, and it’s difficult to profit off of adult content. So although Mia’s videos have gone viral, the producers most likely had no idea that when they shot her that they’d be so successful. It’s a real hit-or-miss.

Unfortunately for us, though, we don’t make as much money from the hits as, say, a songwriter or showrunner. Unless, of course, you’re your own songwriter or showrunner. Which has been my plan all along.