This was the year the music industry officially became the blue whale of the information age: big and beautiful, but seriously endangered. Just consider the band that the U.K.'s Guardian and Slate, just to name a few, say was the biggest in the world: Mumford & Sons. Indeed, the English folk rock boy band posted some gaudy stats this year, including a near-record 600,000 first-week unit sales for an album called Babel.
But the far and away winner for what was not working in webonomics in 2012 goes to the Web's oldest profession: adult entertainment. Data in this sector are always murky. But I really have to hand it to Extremetech, which this year reliably pegged the shocking scale of porn sites such as Xvideo and YouPorn, which can fetch 4.4 billion page views per month -- about triple CNN's traffic. But according to published accounts, nobody's making that traffic pay. According to the 2012 XBIZ Research Report from Los Angeles-based XBIZ, which tracks trends among 6,000 adult industry members, a full 44.2% said this sort of free online content was their biggest concern. Stephen Yagielowicz, an editor at XBIZ, posted a slide for an upcoming SXSW panel that should be awfully familiar to those in the publishing and movie businesses: a diagram on how the industry must adapt to fewer paying customers and more Web freeloaders. There is talk of live Webcam services that resist digital commoditization -- it was a hot topic at what was likely the first virtual adult entertainment convention, held back in February -- but this was the year pornographers got intimate with the reality of life in the digital age: doing more for less. "Stars that used to make $1,500 a scene are now making half that," is how Michael Stabile described the practical effects of the technology on Salon.com. "But the small-time producer, a ubiquitous part of the industry during its boom years, is almost extinct." The Playboy Mansion it ain't.