Pornography

At This Year's Vegas Porn Expo, Everything People Think They Know About the Internet and Adult Entertainment Is Wrong

The internet has turned adult performers into media entrepreneurs.

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Technological progress often brings mixed blessings. For more than a decade, I've witnessed firsthand how this progress has disrupted journalism careers and made media enterprises less reliable and more decentralized. At the same time, it has opened up so many possibilities that previous generations were denied. Discussion of these tradeoffs is now a staple at news industry events.

As it turns out, the same holds true for the porn business.

Last week, I attended the annual AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, where I spoke with porn industry workers about their business. It felt much like being at a journalism conference, albeit with flashier outfits and more offhand comments about anal sex.

In ways both depressing and refreshing, the struggles facing porn performers, creators, and companies echo those heard from those in journalism and many other industries where old business models were upended by the internet and modern technology.

In popular culture, the conversation around these changes centers on potential social harms from widely available online porn. To the extent that porn performers (or aspiring performers) are considered at all, people tend to worry about potential avenues for exploitation created by online porn. It's not uncommon to hear social-justice activists or moral-majority scolds invoke "human trafficking" as a reason why adult content on the internet should be more strictly regulated or even entirely banned.

Certainly, concerns about consent and physical safety are something those in the porn business are highly invested in. But among porn performers and others in the industry, the tech concerns take on a much more mundane nature—things like copyright violations and exclusion from social media sites; declining money to be made from long-established platforms and venues; how political attacks on new employment models and web platforms could threaten their livelihoods.

Meanwhile, they also speak of the huge range of positive opportunities created by the digital era, thanks to the decentralization of adult content and the ability of content creators and performers to now reach audiences directly. As in journalism, the internet has turned porn performers into media entrepreneurs.

Porn Meets the Gig Economy 

For performers, most of the money in porn used to come from appearing in content made and distributed through a relatively small number of companies (perhaps also lending one's likeness to sex toys and other products once a certain level of fame was reached). And for a relative few, this could be very lucrative. But it often meant minimal control over one's career trajectory and dependence on outside gatekeepers for opportunities.

With the rise of "tube sites"—websites like Pornhub, XVideos, and YouPorn that developed as clearinghouses for free porn clips of the pirated, promotional, or amateur variety—things looked like they may get even worse, as these sites siphoned away audiences and profits for both professional porn producers and entertainers.

But then things started to change. For one, some of the tube sites started cleaning up their acts—cracking down on copyright violators and creating ways for performers and production companies to work with them to monetize content. In addition, new ways of being a porn star started to gain ground.

Webcam sites became popular, allowing people to work in a more private way and around their own schedules. Clip sites and "fan clubs" started making it easier for performers to directly market their existing content and create new bespoke content for fans. And social media platforms such as Twitter provided ways to get one's name out there without relying on big-name backers.

"Cam sites you can compare to virtual strip clubs," explains performer Alix Lynx. "It's a personal interaction experience" in which cammers perform live in private "rooms" and collect digital tips from remote viewers.

There's "a lot of work and a lot of hustle" involved in camming, says Lynx, but it also gives performers a very safe and controlled environment in which they ultimately call the shots.

In a clip store, performers sell pre-made video scenes that can be purchased individually. "Everyone's got their own style," explains Lynx. "I do a lot of niche-specific fetishes," because people with specific fetishes are the most likely to be looking for custom content.

On the "fan club" platforms, audiences can sign up for subscriptions to an individual performer's private content page—think Patreon but for porn.

"Some girls post full-on scenes to their wall and fans can just watch the scenes on there," explains Lynx. "I post every day on my wall—short video clips and teasers—and I make all my money privately selling [content] you can't see anywhere else" via direct messages.

Like most performers she knows, Lynx participates in a number of these platforms and still does outside porn films from time to time, too. "When you are your own business, you want multiple streams of income," she says.

Therein lies, perhaps, the crux of the current moment in porn panic versus reality. While much of the media still portrays porn stars as hopelessly damaged or passive people—women just waiting to be commodified and spit out by sex traffickers or late capitalism or Big Tech—I've yet to talk to an adult performer at AVN or elsewhere who doesn't view themselves as a serious business professional and talk the part, too.

"I think things are really changing," says Casca Akashova, an adult model who branched out into porn around a year ago and was attending the AVN expo for the first time. "For instance, lots of people now have Only Fans [accounts], which provide additional income," and the popularity of Only Fans prompted some bigger companies "to take notice" and let performers host and sell content in similar ways through their platforms.

"It's interesting how many small things are changing" to give performers more control "over creative content," she adds.

Putting Performers in Control

In the old days, aspiring porn stars had to simply hope that an established company would cast them. This created more room for exploitation, less room for performers to totally set their own boundaries, and less diversity in the types of beauty, bodies, and sexual expression deemed fit to be shown on screen.

Sure, big-name porn stars who break through to mainstream consciousness may still represent a relatively narrow range of looks. But walk by the AVN expo booths and you see a range of bodies, races, styles, and erotic specialties, especially at the many tables sponsored by cam and clip sites.

The fact that performers can sell to fans directly is "such a game changer," says Lynx.

It's changed the types of content being produced and drastically changed the way women in porn make money, with many performers selling content through multiple platforms, from the sex-industry specific to services like Premium Snapchat. It's also empowered them in other ways.

With a porn film, "you go to set and yes, obviously, you have a say" in who you perform with and what you do, says Lynx. But working in the porn gig economy, "I'm literally in control of everything."

One more perk: content ownership. "Ultimately, you spend what, six to eight hours at a studio and, you know, you get a flat rate, you have no royalties, that's it," says Lynx. "Or, you spend an hour filming at your house, a scene that you can continue to resell forever."

The internet and social media have put more economic and creative control in the hands of individual adult entertainers, providing them with new means to market themselves, reach fans without relying on middlemen, and speak out about their personal lives and experiences.

It shouldn't fall on porn performers to provide sexual education in America—but it often does. "Whether people like it or not, porn is a form of education," said performer Katy Jayne at an AVN panel on "consent and sexualized leisure."

Consent "is something [porn performers] navigate all the time," said performer and educator Jessica Drake, who joined Jayne on the panel. But many viewers wind up "watching porn with no context." Through mediums like Twitter, people working in porn can provide that context, stressing how no matter what's being shown on screen in a porn scene, explicit consent was negotiated in advance.

Both Drake and Jayne said they use Twitter to teach people proper etiquette for approaching them and other performers at in-person events like the AVN expo. Having an open platform to speak directly to fans—many of whom already follow their favorites on social platforms for updates on new content and appearances—lets them explicitly lay out rules for in-person interactions and draw distinctions between their on- and off-camera selves.

The intersection of adult entertainment and sex work with digital technology is often painted as a purely losing proposition for participants. But the digital problems plaguing porn aren't all that exotic; in fact, they mirror shakeups seen across the media and entertainment industries. And while tech changes have upended the porn industry in some negative ways, they've also made it safer, more conducive to creativity and connection, and more open to diversity and entrepreneurship.

Business and tech innovations like cam sites and fan clubs give audiences "a more intimate experience with their favorite porn star," in addition to providing a more direct income source for those stars, says Lynx. "At the end of the day, I just think that's where the whole industry is going."

NEXT: Free Speech and Privacy, Episode 9 of My "Free Speech Rules" YouTube Video Series

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  1. Stephanie Slade should have got this assignment.

  2. waiting for the good comments

  3. It’s not uncommon to hear social-justice activists or moral-majority scolds invoke “human trafficking” as a reason why adult content on the internet should be more strictly regulated or even entirely banned.

    Good. This is one issue wear “both sides” is entirely appropriate, although I lump both together as “centrists”.

  4. I’ve been expecting a new business model for some time: hire an adult performer for your own 5 minute video. Basically, prostitution in the guise of making your own video.

    I imagine a storefront, “Personal XXXX Videos!”. Inside, all the hookers like in a regular brothel. The only real change would be either a tripod in every room for your own cell phone, or use their cheap camera with a USB stick included. Or hire two of the models, one to run the camera.

    It would be more expensive than usual just for the extra setup. But the hypocrisy between legal porn actors paid to have sex with sort-of-strangers and illegal hookers paid to have sex with pure strangers would be narrowed, and I wonder how the courts would react? Some would say no no no, and their rationalizations would be amusing but mainly just provide more guidance on how to work around them.

    1. Custom porn has been around for a (long) while. It just used to be more expensive. Rich people used to commission texts and illustrations for privately published books. It likely dates to antiquity when a patron would would tell an artist what content he’s like on a ceramic vessel, fresco, bas relief or whatever. It’s much cheaper now with internet and video.

      1. Yes, the interesting part is watching the gap narrow between relatively expensive porn and relatively cheap prostitution, and the legal shenanigans getting more and more convoluted as they try to stop the merge.

      2. I don’t think he’s talking about making custom porn.

        I think he talking about using the idea that one is making custom porn as a way to disguise a brothel.

        Or making a brothel in NYC 100% legal to own or patronize.

      3. Which reminds me, Epstein did not kill himself.

          1. No, murdered, by powerful people that feared he might just talk this time.

        1. The question I always had about Epstein’s little pleasure island was, “Just what are they doing there that they can’t get without going there? It’s not like Prince Andrew, Bill Maher, etc… can only get 18 year olds to fuck them if they go to some tropical getaway. They can order out, using the same kind of people like hostesses or model coordinators that Tiger Woods was using. They get God knows how many unsolicited offers from women. With some care, most of those encounters can happen without anyone knowing or caring.

          So it wasn’t of age pussy they were chasing down there. Or even 15 going on 35 looking women. What was it? And how depraved do you have to be to keep chasing after it?

          1. The whole thing is weird.

            Better to focus on Trump.

    2. Some Nevada brothels do offer sex-tape filming.

  5. Reason staff can go to Vegas for a porn expo, but I don’t recall them going to this year’s March for Life.

    (The only reason they covered the March for Life last year is the Covington thing, where Robbie was, to be sure, on the side of truth and goodness.)

    1. But even he was going by the video, I don’t think he went to the march himself.

    2. KM-W should have sent ENB to the March For Life and Stephanie Slade to the porn convention.

      1. They’d have to unfreeze Slade in whatever cyrogenic chamber they keep her between her intermittent articles.

    3. Which one would you rather go to, Eddy? A porn convention with hot women or Jeebus-freaks in the Taliban?

      1. If you were looking for “hot women,” you might hang out at the March for Life. Of course, they wouldn’t sleep with anyone besides their husbands, so if you find that a turnoff then by all means hang out with the rapidly-fading hookers.

        1. Presumably, you are a good male feminist who denies that consenting-adult hookers are brainwashed by the patriarchy – no, they are autonomous moral agents!

          Unlike prolife women, who are deterred by the patriarchy from embracing the feminist ideals of free love and denying personhood to girls in the womb.

          1. Eddy I love you man. And I understand your personal objections to porn, prostitution and promiscuity (the 3 deadly Ps!!). They are probably rooted in your faith. Which is totally fine. My faith essentially has nothing to say regarding what consenting adults do together, other than some suggestions about not being stupid or an asshole in general. But, if a guy wants to fap it while watching some people have sex, why is it such a big deal for the general public?

            1. Think of the children!!!

      2. Hot woman! wipe your glasses and have another peek at picture #4.

        1. And take a look at the paying customers not even a tranny in the bunch.

    4. Good point.

    5. Or ShotShow for that matter.

  6. The internet has turned adult performers into media entrepreneurs.

    That tells me that everything I know about porn and the internet is right.

    1. Yeah, I thought the whole “getting surprised by the internet” was an aging Boomer thing. Apparently not.

  7. I’ll be in my bunk
    (for the duration of this comment thread).

  8. What kind of swag are they handing out at the Chaturbate booth?

    1. Pussy cats to masturbate on. Or with.

  9. “Technological progress often brings mixed blessings. For more than a decade, I’ve witnessed firsthand how this progress has disrupted journalism careers and made media enterprises less reliable and more decentralized. At the same time, it has opened up so many possibilities that previous generations were denied. Discussion of these tradeoffs is now a staple at news industry events.”

    And there’s no point reading any further.
    You fucked it up with the first paragraph, cunt.
    ENB just isn’t intelligent, or insightful, or interesting.
    Anybody who employs her is an utter moron.
    Reason is a cronyist rag

    1. “You fucked it up with the first paragraph, cunt.”

      You just proved your own point you malevolent dipshit.

      Because after that statement, you’ve proved yourself despicable and unreadable.

      1. +1

        Nardz that was vile. Please be better.

  10. “It felt much like being at a journalism conference, albeit with flashier outfits and more offhand comments about anal sex.”

    Don’t sell yourself short, I’m sure journo conferences are rife with anal sex.

    1. [Insert journalists-are-prostitutes joke here]

      1. That’s an insult to prostitutes and I think you’re selling them short. So far, ‘woman in nightie answers the plumber, who has six-pack abs, at the door’ seems more well-written than anything I’ve seen in the impeachment trial.

  11. Technological progress often brings mixed blessings. For more than a decade, I’ve witnessed firsthand how this progress has disrupted journalism careers and made media enterprises less reliable and more decentralized. At the same time, it has opened up so many possibilities that previous generations were denied. Discussion of these tradeoffs is now a staple at news industry events.

    This puts me in mind of that Nick Gillespie interview with the guy from Wired, where they laughed about the early days about the internet and how the NYT was regularly printing articles about how it might be a threat. Oh how everyone laughed.

    It’s statements like the one above that makes me rethink the New York Times’ lack of vision. It seems they may have 100% correct that the internet was indeed a threat… to the New York Times.

    1. So what you’re saying is everyone should learn to code and the internet creates monsters like Jordan Peterson?

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  13. Why oh fucking why couldn’t they have had cam whoring sites back when you were still marginally fuckable and aspiring to be a sugar baby. We could have all been spared your ”””””journalism””””” career.

    1. Naughty majorette baton insertions.

    2. Take it easy on Raoul, everyone. He has a drinking problem. Every time he goes to a bar, he opens his mouth and gets the hell beat out of him.

  14. “Putting performers in control”

    I love when the media writes about the porn industry. You guys and gals are the biggest suckers out there. They feed you shit and you eat it right up.

    What ENB means by a performer being in control is that some dude puts up a website, allows her to be on it, and gives her 30% (if that) of everything she makes. Not only that, but they use her likeness to then make themselves even more money through affiliate programs. She gets none of that. In the end, she’s a fucking mark. It’s the sex version of a pyramid scheme. Someone else makes all the money, the girl gets crumbs, but she feels empowered. Everyone thinks they’re a winner.

    Porn is now just an advertising campaign for the girl’s escorting career. The porn allows her to charge more when she blows a gross guy in town for a business trip. You may think that’s empowering, but what is really empowering is the cut her agent takes if he sets it up.

    Porn used to be an advertisement for your stripping tour where you could make a fucking killing every at every stop.

    ENB acts like this is a win, but the thing she is praising is what killed the industry and the profits everyone used to enjoy. It’s like being able to afford steak at one point, but now you can only afford mac and cheese with chopped up hot dogs. Picture being happy about the mac and cheese with chopped up hotdogs because it isn’t ramen.

    1. What you say is accurate, but there are also plenty of women (probably men too, but I’ll bet you all the way up to a dollar that 90% of them are gay because it’s men who consume porn) who run their own instagram or twitter pages with private snapchat. Essentially, they’re ‘cam girls’ and they goad thirsty boys into giving them money so they can get ‘exclusive’ content.

      It doesn’t take a lot for an enterprising woman to set something up like that, without any ‘management’ to deal with. How much money she’ll make is up to her. And I’ll bet it’s a pretty uphill battle given that there is literally no end to beautiful women on full frontal display for free.

      1. From what I gather Snapchat has really cracked down on that. If you’re in porn and relying on 3rd party platforms that aren’t porn (or 3rd party services at all) then you’re going to be foreclosing on your new home very shortly because your income can end in an instant.

        Sites exist to facilitate the custom content, but they take a massive cut and the social media platforms aren’t too pleased about people using their bandwidth to make money on porn. With CDA 230 looking doomed it isn’t going to last.

        Some can pull it off, but that number is few. Most have the tech know-how of just a cell phone and they suck at that. There is also the reality that most of this custom content being sold isn’t following the laws the industry has to adhere to. First off, how many of these performers are verifying age? How are they doing that? They’re directly transmitting adult material. Uh oh. Second, if you create, sell, and distribute then you’d better be following section 18 2257. They’re not. This custom content has none of that info attached. (Don’t forget about state laws as well) Like all new things created to skirt regulations in order to maximize profits I can see it ending badly.

        1. then you’re going to be foreclosing on your new home very shortly because your income can end in an instant.

          This can’t be said enough. They don’t call it “insta” gram for nothing. Boom, I’m here all week.

          Second, if you create, sell, and distribute then you’d better be following section 18 2257.

          Yep. Everyone seems to whistle past this one. I’m actually surprised there aren’t more enforcement actions on this, but I’m guessing the problem is too diffuse to target.

          1. All you need is one person in law enforcement to buy. Next to verification that the performer owns the account that’s all the evidence needed to press charges and probably win.

        2. I googled one of the companies in the photos above, Chaturbate. On the bottom of their NSFW page are links to the relevant policy on section 18 2257. Also present are links to policy on CDA 230, side advertising on the site, rules, tech support, etc…

          It looks to me like a lawyer and some geeks got together over a few beers. They sell tokens. Performers create content and get a cut of the tokens based on their deal.

          Producers who break the rules are removed.

          Change to how video content is coming. If the cable company eliminated broadcasting and went IP it would be HUGELY more economical.

          Porn is leading the way. Big business is behind it too and our president likes purdy girls.

          1. The cam sites are 100% legal for the most part and are a pretty good scam on the girls because you’re essentially a pimp on a massive scale, but just because an 18+ person registered doesn’t mean an 18+ person is behind the camera. They don’t check each time a performer logs on. In fact, they may never check. Of course they say that performers who break the rules are removed, but only if it is reported. You think they sit and monitor each performance? Thankfully they don’t because the ones that smoke crystal on camera and then angry meth fight with those in the chat are hysterical. They don’t have to worry because of CDA 230.

            I’m referring to the girls that do the premium snap chat or accept payment for nudes on social media. They’re not verifying ages in a safe manner so they could be transmitting an adult image to a minor and none of that custom content they are delivering has 2257 info attached to it in any way. The rules that would apply to a website or a DVD would apply to the custom content as well since it is being made commercially available and transmitted.

            1. How hard would it be to attach that info to your video stream? It could be done very low-tech by holding up a sign (or having one in the background) or announcing it. Also, I understand 3rd party age verification of payors is cheap; IIRC even PayPal has such a service.

        3. If you’re a solo performer, producer, and distributor, how hard is it to comply with this regulation? Seems it’d be trivial.

          1. The video streams wouldn’t matter since the site hosting them has the info. That’s all on the up-and-up. Even if the info is bogus or the performer isn’t who they say they are the cam site is fine due to CDA 230. I expect this to change in the next year or so and they could be held liable.

            The performers sending the material over social media don’t do it because they don’t know what they’re doing and I imagine they view it the same as sending any other nude. This is why the industry was very helpful to performers because even though it is filled with idiots it is filled with idiots that can afford good lawyers that know what needs to be done. She just has to sit there, smile, be naked, let everyone else handle the grown up work, and she’ll make money. When people try to bypass the industry they wind up doing stupid things like unknowingly committing Mann Act violations. These girls aren’t even aware of the state laws they could be breaking. Sending nudes is one thing. Selling and transmitting is an entirely different game.

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    1. 6-7 dollars per hour? Camming must not be paying out like it used to.

    2. Sounds like you need to go to the Porn Expo and get a booth and start selling.

      6 or 7 dollars ‘par hour’ isn’t even gonna buy you used condoms.

    3. 40/4 = 10.
      “making 7 to 6 dollar par hour”

      Does not compute.

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