I’m coming to the end of my summer sabbatical, feeling a lot better after my burnout. My head is re-filling with kinky ideas. I’m rolling up my sleeves for our next location mega-shoot. I’ll shortly be booking for our autumn and winter shoots with a bunch of new models and some of your customer faves as well.
I’ve done some thinking about the website and the business over the last few months and I thought I’d write it up while I am still on vacation. I really want this to be my job until I retire! I’m very motivated to make sure I can.
I saw a tweet this week in reply to a model asking people not to pirate her stuff. It alleged that performers and producers were stuck in a failed old business model and should move on.
Now let’s be honest, when I see comments like this my usual translation is “What you mean is that you think you should be able to watch all of our porn for free, forever, that we’re all millionaires anyway and if we’re not we’re dirty sluts who don’t deserve any money, and anyway we get paid per view when I watch you on Tube site so you should be grateful for my attention” (memo to reader- no, we don’t get paid when you watch us on tube sites, especially not if the work is stolen, which it almost invariably is).
In short, I often conclude that the poster is an asshole.
But I wondered- what if he’s right? I’ve been in the business getting on for twenty years now, and I *think* I know what business models are working for people, but what if I am missing something huge?
So this post is my high-level overview of business models for fetish and porn producers and performers, addressed mostly to other industry folks. What am I missing? What is working for you?
The Basic Ingredients of Our Business
Main Products We Offer
- Customs (as opposed to producer/performer funded material).
- Group Online Personal Contact (e.g. OnlyFans).
- Direct Personal Contact (e.g. webcam, sessions, private chat, Snapchat).
- Social Media Feeds (free, on large platforms like Twitter).
- Physical Items (worn panties, signed photos).
Main Sales Channels
- Personal Website (for performers, primarily fronted by one performer. The BoundHoneys/Jasmine Sinclair/Chloe’s ToyBox model).
- Producer Websites (multiple performers, primarily fronted by one producer. The Restrained Elegance/Northern Spanking/Models Tied model).
- Niche Websites (multiple performers, primarily focussed on a narrow niche, a producer will typically have many of these. Hucows, Metal Bondage, Chastity Babes – the FoToRo model).
- Aggregated “Web 2.0” websites (OnlyFans, Clips4Sale, ManyVids, Customs4U. Typically, a performer/producer will use the same material across many of these).
- Individual “pay me this and I’ll send it to you” transactions (most custom videos work this way).
Main Sales Models
- Subscription-based service (the Netflix model – pay once, see the current selection. Was once the dominant model, has been in decline since 2008 crash despite gaining in popularity in other industries, such as Apple Music or Amazon Prime Video).
- Pay-Per-Clip service (The Amazon Kindle/iTunes model – buy something, download and keep. Clips4Sale. Dying in other industries, but seems to be sustained and popular in ours).
- Pay-per-view streaming (as far as I know not big in the fetish industry as our customers like to keep stuff they’ve bought, but I gather was big in mainstream porn for people who didn’t want any evidence of porn purchases. Webcam is still this, of course).
- Crowdfunding (Patreon, Kickstarter. Was growing in popularity but Patreon’s terms of service change had a big chilling effect on what was a very promising avenue).
- Advertising-funded (The Facebook model. You pay nothing directly but the big company sells all your personal data to whoever will buy it. You might think this is the P!rnHub model but you’d be mistaken, see discussion below. Most advertisers won’t touch us with a barge pole).
Main Transaction Methods
- Direct Payment (Bank transfer, cash, amazon vouchers, wishlist purchases. Also amateur photographers hiring models for shoots, bondage or photographic tutorials, events, etc.).
- Credit Card Payment direct to producer/performer (never popular, is now almost unheard-of. Good luck getting a merchant account, and good luck surviving your first big chargeback).
- Payment Processors (CCBill, Epoch, etc. all producers to spread the risk and provides infrastructure for memberships etc.).
- Third party web 2.0 (CLips4Sale, OnlyFans – customers pay them and they pay performer/producer on commission).
- Trade (was once very popular – performers and producers would work for each other for free then sell the footage, either both doing so, or taking half each. Has massively declined in popularity as sales patterns have changed).
I’m sure there are many frills and twiddles I’ve not included (e.g. audio-only porn, Babestation TV channels, etc.) but as far as I know those are the main ingredients for most producers and performers.
Combined Elements: Business Models
How do those ingredients combine into the true “business models” we see in the industry today? I think most full-time professionals, of necessity, now have mixed business models which include every element above. We can’t really afford not to.
Nonetheless, I think a lot of people will probably recognise the following basic patterns.
Produce primarily video.
The cost of production is underwritten by individuals commissioning videos and paying the producer directly for that. Many will not shoot if no customer is willing to underwrite.
Producer then sells the clips, primarily through Clips4Sale and other clip stores.
Producer may have an associated membership site but this is not the focus of the business – it is more “mopping up” customers who don’t purchase through clip stores. Their clip store usually came first.
Notably, to succeed this requires a high volume of production to stay visible on Clips4Sale. A video a day is almost mandatory. You can use each clip twice (eg 4K, 1080p or 1080p, 720p) so that’s three and a half videos per week. Of necessity, then, these clips have to be quick and easy to produce, shoot and edit. Disfavours longer form, slower to shoot narrative stuff in favour of wham-bam-into-the-action 20 minute one rolling take clips. (Clip4Sale always has branded itself as being “amateur-made clips” which very much suits this aesthetic, which is great business for them).
Old School Website Producer
Produce a mixture of stills and videos.
Some funding by customs but traditionally more producer-led and producer-funded, using the profits from the last shoot to fund the next.
Sales is primarily focussed on their own brand via a website, but that’s no longer sustainable as a pure endeavour these days so pretty much everyone also sells on Clip4Sale, BentBox, and any other channel that gives enough return on time invested to do the data entry.
Traditionally funded by membership sales – a small monthly fee covering access to the most recent X months’ content plus some archive. Works very well when hundreds of people are willing to chip in, but fewer are willing to commit to ongoing payments these days, even though this model is experiencing huge growth in other industries (eg Adobe software ONLY works on this model now, Netflix and Amazon Prime are huge).
Individual clip sales direct from the brand website is now pretty much mandatory (and liked by producers as it is typically a much better payout percentage than Clip4Sale, even though Clips4Sale has the traffic).
Magazine and VHS sales
Just to show how fast things change, I wanted to include this as it was the dominant business model when I started in 2001. VHS was replaced by DVDs, then fell of a cliff. Magazines fell off the same cliff around the same time. The ones that survive (eg Paul Raymond/Mayfair etc.) are now online businesses supporting a print side-line, to my best understanding.
A good illustration that business models really do get old and die, taking some producers with them. Are we at such a cut-off point today?
While the producer side of the industry has been in long-term decline, business is booming for performers if they play their cards right.
There are now multiple low-barrier-to-entry ways to make and sell content. Notably, the combination of OnlyFans, Clips4Sale, ManyVids, MV Crush, a phone to film, Twitter to promote, and customs and wish-lists to get stuff directly commissioned or paid for by fans.
This means that performers can now launch themselves into a self-contained career with little need for technical expertise and relatively low expectation on technical quality (people will accept much lower technical standards in exchange for the personal connection when they know a model is self-shooting on her phone).
Which is not to denigrate the awesome art that people make with their iPhones and a ring-light, or to say that it’s easy to make a success of this. Just that you no longer need to know a good dose of HTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL or spend $5000 on a camera and light setup to get started.
The massive advantage that performers have is that they are the product and they can connect directly with people who like them, then choose the sales channels and working patterns that suit them.
They haven’t cut out the middle-men, but the middle-men are no longer producers taking photographs of them. The middle-men are now the Web2.0 platforms like OnlyFans and Clips4Sale.
Performers can now get residuals as their old stuff sells, in exchange for giving 40% of the gross sales to the middle-men. The old model used to be that the performer got paid up-front, the producer took the risk, but also kept all the residuals. Swings and roundabouts.
The great things is that right now performers can choose how heavily they weight guaranteed payment up front vs. speculative shooting, by taking on a mix of paid shoots, customs, and self-shot stuff on spec which costs only their time.
It’s a pretty good time to be a performer if you’re a bit entrepreneurial. Let’s call this the Sophia Smith/Ariel Anderssen model.
One thing that’s not so great is performers being their own product are also very much at risk if that product breaks.
A lot of performers hire other models, producers, camera operators, etc. to work with them, but that still relies primarily on customers liking the performer’s look, and if she breaks a leg or wants to take time off to have a baby or whatever, it can be tricky to sustain the business.
So an alternative model is the performer whose brand is based on themselves but who tries to pull in other performers to work for them in more like the traditional producer role.
My impression is that this never really works out as well as the performer hopes. I’ve heard a few people say that they’d hope to gradually transition to behind the camera, but it never works, because their business was build on them personally as a brand. They always seem to end up having to be in at least 50% of what they produce in order to sustain sales. And it is always going to “feel” cheaper not to pay out $$$ to another performer up front if you could do the job yourself, regardless of the long-term economics.
Artists and Personalities
An alternative approach is to sell everything you do as an artistic venture, from vanilla through to fetish, from selfies through to personal appearances, activism and teaching at workshops.
This eclectic mix of activities is often supported via crowdfunding platforms, typically Patreon for regular offerings, Kickstarter for big one-off things like collected works being put into a coffee table book, with a component of customs and sales via the usual Web2.0 channels supplementing this.
The main problem is that you’re always one junior muppet decision away from losing your business when Patreon’s team decide you are the wrong side of the art/porn line this month. And one CEO decision from complete exclusion for being a naughty pornster, of course.
Lots of Little Sites
A variant on the website models above is the model some very hard-working producers have of running many small sites, each in a tight niche. They don’t update as often as big old traditional sites, and the set-up for each site is typically very restricted: every single set might be shot in the same room with the same lighting and the same props, for example.
Typically each site features a wide range of performers placed into the niche situation, whether that be wearing satin, taking off their panties, placed in metal bondage, or getting exactly 12 strokes of the cane. Each clip or photoset is identical in almost all ways except that the performer and her reactions change; this is often enough variety to satisfy the small but faithful customer base, and it is cheap to shoot because every shoot has the same set-up.
Performers typically go and work with the producer and shoot for a dozen or more of these niche websites, often at break-neck pace.
You may not realise it, but at least in the fetish niche, a lot of production is done by hobbyists who are holding down a full-time job. They often underwrite the overheads and capital costs themselves (e.g. buying the camera kit, paying the mortgage, heating the house) and sell what they produce as a way to defray the costs of paying performers.
I started this way, and many people are still doing this. In some ways it’s a pain that there are people like the-Hywel-of-2001 around because they undercut full-time professionals who have to cover overheads.
But of course I cannot criticise! To do so would be massively hypocritical of me! In many ways the hobbyist producers deliver work of maximum purity and clarity and artistic integrity, because they’re following their inner artistic vision or bringing their own fantasies to life, not chasing the market, which is a siren temptation for those of us trying to make a living this way.
Hobbyist producers pay the performers, support a generally vibrant artistic and social scene and don’t have to pander to production schedules or put off working with performers until they can get enough custom videos to underwrite the shoot, and if I have to go back to a vanilla day job I will definitely go back to being one of these myself!
Up until this, I’ve been outlining what I think are viable strategies and I’d love to hear other performers’ and producers’ and fans’ thoughts.
This last section turned into a bit of a rant.
The elephant in the room is the new business model represented by the tube sites and most of all by MindG**k, the company being P@rnhub. I’m censoring the names because they don’t need any more damn traffic.
On the surface, their business model is the Facebook one. Offer a service of value to visitors, in this case free porn, in exchange for showing adverts to visitors, which are paid for by the actual customers, who are the advertisers.
This business model might have stood a chance a decade ago if a large company with skin in the game had tried to build a site based on paying out performers some percentage of their ad revenue – Kink.com could potentially have had the muscle and the traffic to make this work in say 2008. Like Apple Music and Spotify, we could then have gently transitioned into some mix of advertising-supported free play and subscription-based premium service which paid out to performers via some reasonable algorithm depending on plays/views.
Unfortunately, that chance has gone because now you’d have to compete with MindG%%k, whose business model is altogether more rapacious.
Their business model is this.
- Steal as much porn as you can from anywhere and everywhere.
- Post it so people can watch it for free, outside a paywall.
- (Don’t give a flying fuck that this includes under-age people visiting your site).
- Create a gamified interface to encourage visitors to your site to steal more material for you, and post it on the site.
- Put adverts on the site, and sell visitor eyeballs to the advertisers, your actual customers.
- Get venture capital investment on the basis that you’re going to get a monopoly.
- Suck all the traffic from the performers and producers whose work you have stolen.
- Ensure that performers and producers cannot profit from their work, because within 24 hours of a clip being posted even on pay-per-clip channels like C4S, the work appears pirated and to view for free on your site, with NO return to the original performer or producer.
- Having sucked all the oxygen out of the room, put the production studios out of business.
- Buy the production studios at fire-sale prices, including all their back catalogue.
- Start selling the back catalogue in higher resolution for pennies on the dollar compared with the original production company’s prices – easy to do when you didn’t have to pay for the productions.
- Restart production using that production company’s good name. Police rigorously so that only trailers and free samples go up on your free site, just the same as every other producer ever, so that you can charge premium membership to see everything else.
- Rinse and repeat until you have a monopoly.
- Now even the few remaining indies will be desperate to put trailers on your site, as you have all the traffic. Allow them to do so, with promises of a share of ad revenue. Pay them cents for stuff that cost hundreds of dollars to produce.
- Continue to pirate their work on industrial scale, so the full versions of all the clips the indies are producing are on your site for free anyway. Promise to put “stringent measures” in place to prevent this. (You could if you wanted to- you do it for your own in-house production companies). Do nothing.
- Express great sorrow. Offer a paid service to get pirated copies removed for your oh-so-special production partners. Ensure that piracy inexplicably continues.
- Indies go out of business. Make sad noises. Their footage obviously wasn’t all that great. If it actually was (you know because you have all the REAL viewing stats, not the gamified likes and lies you’ve been publishing to marks and mugs on the website), buy the studio and their back catalogue for pennies on the dollar. Consolidate your monopoly.
- Encourage governments to legislate for the problem you have created with minors accessing porn.
- Lobby government to get the sort of rules you want.
- Volunteer to provide the solution to the problem in the form of age verification which lets you put names and addresses to porn viewing habits of millions of people, ready to sell to any corporate psycho willing to pay. Blackmail’s not your problem anyway (see lobbying, above, which means no statutory duty on you to protect privacy. Ka-ching!).
One thing I always wondered about P$rnHub – why are the adverts so fucking crap? MAYBE these lame adverts are really lucrative when you can rip off the one sucker in a million to the tune of thousands, but I don’t think so. When I visit (something I have to do with tiresome regularity to get my fucking pirated stuff taken down) the adverts are NEVER something I would buy, and never have done. And I’m not sure vanilla advertisers are going to be keen to have their precious brand image tarnished by being shown next to a page full of (say) gay fisting piss porn or hard caning BDSM ball-gagged naked erotica, however beautifully shot, are you?
I think the truth is more in that venture capital deal to achieve monopoly. Without being privy to their accounts, I think the advertising claim is a scam.
I think the real deal was to underwrite making a loss on all the free porn bandwidth in order to put the competition out of businesses, suck up all the traffic, and buy up the production houses. Then restart production under monopoly conditions. The venture capitalist vultures gave them a big enough chunk of money to operate at a loss for years in order to do that.
If this is the business model we need to adopt, we’re fucked, for several reasons.
The first is that I don’t believe for a moment that MindG^^k has any intention of paying out fairly based on their premium or subscription services. Their whole business practice over the last decade or more has been an exercise in corporate psycho fucking the little guy, to an extent that would make Apple or Facebook blush. I have every confidence in that fucking worsening as they consolidate their monopoly. They will carefully calculate the exact minimum they need to pay out in order to get people to produce for them, and that amount will be less than minimum wage because of amateurs and hobbyists.
Well, what about setting up a grand competitor to P%rnHub and taking all the traffic away from them, paying producers fairly, etc. ?
It’s a nice idea and I think it might have worked. Back in 2008, had someone big like Kink.com been community-minded enough to give it a go. Except that I don’t think it would have, really. How do you compete with someone who is running the shop next door to yours, who has dug a tunnel through to your shop and is literally giving away products they’ve stolen from you, that you’ve already paid to make? You can’t.
Kink.com did their best by giving away so much free stuff that they pretty much killed the BDSM photoset market for everyone else, and still it failed.
They’re currently making more money hiring out their premises as office space than they were filming there. (* edit = apparently they sold the premises and the new owners are hiring it out, rather than doing so themselves. Thanks for the info.)
And now? How could you possibly compete with a website that’s one of the top few in the world in terms of traffic? There’s no way anyone can, they’ve already achieved de facto monopoly and you can’t undercut them because they have stolen all their stock. You can try stealing theirs (and I’m sure the numerous smaller tube sites are doing exactly that) but I can’t see a way to win long-term in that situation.
Finally, competing with P@rnHub would mean stealing from all my friends and I would rather quit the industry and never shoot another thing than do that. I’ll go and do something more honest, like law, politics, or selling snake oil.
Other tube sites exist, and their business models are hopefully less crooked. If they respect the producer/performer’s decisions on what to give away free and what to keep for paid, they can be a good driver of traffic and place for discovery, I’m sure. Probably one of the things I should do is to figure out which are the least disreputable, and start putting promo stuff on them as it’s getting harder and harder to reach new people.
I don’t think it is too late for the industry. P@rnHub would collapse tomorrow if a few large governments required them to verify performer age, verify that the uploader actually owned copyright to the work, and imposed and enforced statutory duties for privacy, data protection and security. It might get forced out of business by other factors (a consumer boycott would do it too, but I don’t think that’s going to happen until there’s a huge data breach in the wake of age verification – watch this space).
But it *IS* too late for the industry to try to move to the advertiser-supported-freeview business model. The validity of that model for adult entertainment is highly questionable (advertising children’s pushchairs next to adult diaper porn? I don’t think Mothercare will be funding those adverts any time soon). But even more so because the traffic has already been monopolised by a really bad-faith corporate psychopath actor, and no legitimate business is going to be able to compete.
You couldn’t get away with this in any other sphere of legal business. They’ve been able to only because of our society’s mixed attitude to porn. The majority of people view it, but the majority of people also keep it secret, lie about it, or pretend not to. And the majority of people think people in the industry are all filthy rich anyway, and are all dirty sluts who deserve it.
The fact that you are reading this means that you’re not like that. You know that we’re just people, making stuff we hope you’ll like to see. Especially in the fetish area, we’re all people who share your fetish, and we’re trying to bring it to life so we can all enjoy it. And your continuing support of our efforts is the only reason it is possible for all of us, producers, performers, cam-girls, models, clips stores, OnlyFans and all, to bring you more of what you like to see. Thank you!
I think because I ended with the rant it sounded like I was full of doom and gloom for the industry.
I’m not, although we do need to keep watching shifting trends and move with the times.
What I don’t think is viable is trying to compete with P$rnHub, especially not at their own game. That business model isn’t a business model, it is an organised crime model, and the mob already have it sewn up.
But there are still plenty of people out there who will buy what we make for a reasonable price. It’s getting harder to find them outside of the web2.0 platforms, maybe, which makes us indies a bit more vulnerable (if Twitter bans us all our publicity and marketing is screwed for example). Custom videos are currently fairly healthy. The performer-centric business model is doing really well. (I’m very grateful that I share a house and life with one, because at least Ariel’s business and mine are SOMEWHAT decoupled because of this).
We just have to keep an eye on changing spending patterns and not miss out on the next big thing or risk being caught with a warehouse full of VHS tapes when the bottom falls out of that market, I guess!
With a bit of luck and the help and support of our lovely fans and customers we can keep at it for a long time to come.