Economy

YouPorn Founder Jailed: A German Geek's Fast Track To Dominating Internet Pornography

By some calculations, Fabian Thylmann is the biggest porn king of all time. But right now, he's stuck inside a Belgian jail.

Fabian Thylmann, geek turned porn king
Fabian Thylmann, geek turned porn king
Johannes Boie

MUNICH - Glasses. Hoodie. Bulky body. No gold chains, mink coat or oversized sunglasses. This guy is a pale-faced nerd -- a geek. His name is Fabian Thylmann, and he just happens to be the biggest porn king of all time.

The German multimillionaire changed the porn sector worldwide by coming up with a totally new business model. On his website Youporn, millions watch sex videos on a daily basis. Thylmann is just 34 years old.

But for a couple of days now, the man German magazine Focus dubbed the “ruler of the kingdom of pleasure” has been in jail. He is awaiting extradition from Belgium, his adoptive country, to Germany where he faces charges of tax evasion.

Assertions that his company empire was evading tax on a grand scale were first made by journalists from the German newspaper Die Welt. Thylmann sued, and won. But prosecutors opened a case, and a Düsseldorf regional court is now hearing it.

Thylmann’s arrest has put a dampener on what has been so far an extraordinary career. Born in Aachen, in the state of North Rhine-Wesphalia, he wrote his first computer program at 18. By the time many are just finishing college, he had already bought several pornographic websites.

Today he heads the company Manwin, which he founded. Driven from hubs in Canada and Luxemburg, the company owns over 35 subsidiaries and brands such as Youporn, Brazzers, Pornhub, Tube8 and Mydirtyhobby.

Their products – sex videos catering to every imaginable fetish – may be filthy, but the business is lucrative. This is less because of that old saying "sex sells" than the fact that Thylmann has developed an effective porn business model for the Internet. This is the very thing that people in the music, film and news sectors are still trying desperately to figure out.

Users can consume all the pornographic content they want for free on the Manwin empire’s many web pages, a number of which rank among the 100 top-visited sites in the world. They are visited more often than the New York Times, for example, and are in the same league as Facebook, Google and Twitter.

How do the sites make money? The many millions of users watching the free movies are also seeing ads for paying porn sites that belong to the Manwin network. It is estimated that only one in a thousand users click on these. He or she then pays either a fee for one-time use or signs up for a porn subscription that offers better-quality, longer films than what is available free.

Sixty million users

Because of the millions of users on the free pages, one in a thousand is enough to make the Manwin concept pay big time. While the company doesn’t release exact figures, it is perfectly clear that over a half dozen of the world’s biggest free porn sites belong to it. These alone have around 60 million daily visitors.

Thylmann is said to have gotten 277 million euros from a hedge fund to finance his venture. The name of the fund has not been revealed.

Click by click, the young nerd from Germany has captured a whole sector. One result – marginal in the face of wider repercussions – is that urban customers who used to haunt local sex shops now prefer to spend their time surfing Thylmann’s websites, thus driving many of these small outlets out of business.

But more significantly: Manwin subsidiaries have for a long time been involved in every aspect of the porn business. From making movies to marketing them, they command the market and dictate the terms to the detriment of existing major producers in LA. The Manwin network and its 1,000 employees even manage classic erotic websites like Playboy -- which by comparison with the rest comes across as almost conventional.

For various reasons, Thylmann has until now maintained a low profile. He doesn’t believe in being a public figure. However, he does tweet regularly under the handle @ftyl, weighing in on such issues as the much-discussed law on mandatory use of condoms by American porn actors. He does not support the law.

He also has public Twitter exchanges with his brother Oliver Thylmann, also an Internet entrepreneur, about subjects such as how much content on an Internet page can be free and how much can be available only to paying users if the site owner wants to make a good profit.

Thylmann’s press spokeswoman Kate Miller, who works out of Canada, refuses all questions and requests from journalists for interviews with her boss. Our questions about the court case in Germany remained unanswered.

The structure of the Manwin company around the world is highly complicated and impenetrable for anybody on the outside. Along with a presence in Luxemburg and Canada, the network also works out of Cyprus, Germany, the United States, and Great Britain. German tax investigators have a mountain of work ahead of them – Thylmann’s sex videos may be widely available, but what’s behind them certainly is not.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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