Tech by VICE

How Porn Will Survive the Internet

As piracy, amateur porn, and other free content have made consumers less willing to pay, it’s gotten harder to make a living in the adult industry.

by Lux Alptraum
Sep 2 2015, 12:00pm

Nothing says "viral sexual content" like "parody Trump porn." Image: WoodRocket

Pornography used to be an easy way to get rich quick: If you had a camera and an internet connection, you could smut peddle your way to a comfortable living in a few easy steps. But as piracy, amateur porn, and other free content have made consumers less willing to pay, it's gotten harder to make a living in the adult industry.

Not surprisingly, a number of porn producers have dropped out of the business: While studios once numbered in the low three figures, now it's more like ten or fifteen major players jockeying for position in the industry, with a handful of smaller studios serving niche communities.

This dramatic drop in the number of porn purveyors has led some to fear that this might be the end of porn as we know it. Might we, as I was recently asked on Twitter, one day "reach a point where mainstream porn isn't produced anymore [and] society will subsist on old, free content?"

The short answer? Not if these companies can help it. Welcome to the future of porn—or, more accurately, the futures of porn.

Free Porn, Brought to You By Product Placement

Numerous mainstream sites have figured out ways to successfully monetize free content, so why can't porn? WoodRocket—which, unlike other free sites, offers only original or legally licensed content—is betting that a porn site with enough mainstream appeal might be able to make this strategy work. [Disclosure: I briefly worked with WoodRocket in 2014.]

WoodRocket has also worked to build its user base with non-porn video content, like a piece asking porn stars what they thought about the New England Patriots Deflategate debacle. Image: WoodRocket

"We make porn that people aren't embarrassed to talk about at the water cooler and to share with their friends on social media. We're bridging the gap between porn and mainstream audiences," said the site's founder, Lee Roy Myers.

In another nod towards mainstream media, WoodRocket mimics the monetization strategies of a number of less risque companies. Rather than relying on consumers to shell out for content, WoodRocket relies on product placement, sponsorship, licensing, and merchandising to pay the bills. Of course, in order to make that model work. the site needs to bring in a massive amount of traffic—which explains why a good deal of WoodRocket's content is media-friendly parodies like "Donald Tramp" and "Strokemon."

A Different Porn for a Different Audience

When most of us think of porn, we have a specific style in mind—and it's usually one that's intended for a heterosexual male audience.

"Conventional girl/girl porn works for some people, and that's great. However many queer folks want to see sex that looked more like the kind they themselves were having," said Jiz Lee, a queer performer and marketing director for Pink and White Productions. "Searching tube sites for 'lesbian porn' results in… commercial girl-on-girl porn"—which might not suit your needs if you're a butch leather dyke with a taste for fisting.

Image: PinkLabel.TV

Pink and White's collection of sites, which include Crash Pad Series, Heavenly Spire, and PinkLabel.TV, offer an authentic representation of the kinds of sex rarely featured in more standard porn fare. And for audiences interested in this kind of smut, that authenticity inspires a great deal of loyalty.

"Our subscribers generally don't pirate our work," said Lee. "They understand our site to be the product of a small, queer-run company whose business they choose to support."

Choose Your Own Porn Adventure

The hardcore BDSM of Wasteland.com bears little resemblance to the glossy, female friendly smut found at Sssh.com, but the two sites, run by husband and wife team Colin and Angie Rowntree, have similar attitudes towards customer engagement. Both sites operate under the assumption that giving the audience a direct hand in the creation of their content will increase that audience's willingness to pay (and keep paying)—though how that direct hand gets involved differs between the sites.

Image: Sssh.com

At Wasteland, members are given the opportunity to take a director's role on the set: Colin envisions a future where VR might allow someone to virtually visit a porn set while they remotely direct the action. Over at Sssh.com, which prides itself on Hollywood level production values, members influence the content they see in a slightly more old fashioned way: the site frequently surveys members to discover what they're interested in seeing in their smut, and what fantasies they want to see on film.

While the specifics of Wasteland and Sssh's strategies may differ, their philosophy remains the same. "It's our approach of inviting members into the creative process that sets us apart from the [free sites]," said Angie.

A High End, Immersive Experience

"I don't know how to save 2D porn," said Ela Darling, one of the founders of VRTube.XXX. These days, she's betting on virtual reality, and not merely for the gee whiz high tech factor that's generated excitement for others.

For Darling, the promise of VR comes from a number of different qualities. First and foremost, as a new technology, it's (currently) more difficult to pirate than traditional 2D porn. There's also the immersive aspect of the medium, which might draw in customers looking to take their cam experience or POV porn to an even more intimate level.

Ela Darling performs in the first first ever VR cam show. Image: Imgur

But most importantly—and, perhaps, counterintuitively—Darling is drawn to VR because it's a medium that's difficult to do well. Where consumers might be able to overlook a mediocre performance in a traditional porn film, in VR porn it's incredibly jarring.

"It sets the bar higher," Darling said. "To be a good VR performer, you have to be a good performer. You can't phone it in." And if you are able to do it well, you can create a pretty phenomenal product—one that Darling feels people will be happy to pay for, particularly as products like Google Cardboard make VR incredibly accessible.

Same Quality Product, Even Better Analytics

When free sites like PornHub and XTube began to take over the industry, Evil Angel was in a privileged position. After decades in the adult business, the company was already established as one of the premier porn producers, particularly for hardcore fans who appreciated the fetish-driven approach of many of Evil Angel's directors.

"You can't build a statistical regression for a boner, but you can certainly use it as a tool to understand, quantitatively, what works for the masses"

As decreased demand for paid product felled a number of their competitors, Evil Angel's reputation for quality content and its loyal, established fan base has enabled it to continue to charge a premium for its work. At $39.95/month, Evil Angel's subscription site is one of the most expensive around, yet the site still manages to draw in new members and, as Evil Angel CFO Adam Grayson proudly reports, retain them at relatively high rate. According to Grayson, the biggest change in the company's strategy has been increased attention to analytics.

"You can't build a statistical regression for a boner, but you can certainly use it as a tool to understand, quantitatively, what works for the masses," he said. "You can learn a lot about what generates money, and how, and where."

In particular, Grayson's interested in data that allows the company to distinguish consumers from paying customers—and, most importantly, to figure out how to move members of the former group into the latter. Grayson's observations suggest that there's a certain combination of age, income, and amount of free time that makes the convenience, quality, and security of a paysite more appealing than a plethora of free porn. Figuring out the exact location of that sweet spot, and how best to target it through advertising, is the fundamental strategy that keeps Evil Angel—and, potentially, porn as we know it—afloat.