The De-Centralisation of the Adult Industry: Part 1

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The future is female… That’s true in many areas of commerce, but the adult entertainment industry’s transfer of power from men to women has been truly dramatic.

Over the past twenty years, and particularly over the past decade, the business has evolved away from its old structure in which, typically, men hired, fired and made the decisions. The industry has progressively de-centralised, with many of the old centralised service/content vendors – basically ‘middlemen’ – not only losing power, but often either going bust, or refocusing on other markets.

Men still preside over much of the infrastucture, but it’s no longer so much an infrastructure that controls how women behave. Today, most women in adult services work independently and autonomously. So is this all good, or are there some drawbacks? And before we even get to that, how did such a major change come about?

WHAT HAPPENED?

In the adult industry, the provider is overwhelmingly female, and the consumer is overwhelmingly male. That typical male consumer has never wanted to deal with men. Ideally, he wants a direct connection with the female in whom he’s interested. The ‘middleman’ of old always knew this. So what he essentially did was to set himself up as an access gate – investing in publicity, communications and/or distribution infrastructure, and hiring models. The consumer could only access these models via the ‘middleman’.

But with the rise of the Internet, it became possible for consumers to access those models via alternative routes. Direct selling systems didn’t initially have the reach or appeal they have today, and marketing, for individual service providers, was a proactive, labour-intensive process – so ‘middlemen’ were not greatly threatened.

Furthermore, fans still had to actually find the models online. ‘Middlemen’ could reduce the likelihood of that by obfuscating the identities of the entertainers they hired. Instead of a firstname/lastname combination, the ‘middleman’ may only bill a model by a single, common, first name. For security and perhaps other personal reasons, the models themselves were happy with this. The ‘middleman’ may also brand his service with generic keywords. And he may not identify some models by any name at all.

The idea was to make individual models difficult for search engines to isolate. It was like a sort of anti-SEO. Rather than Search Engine Optimisation, Search Engine Obfuscation. And when executed with thought and care, it worked. Broadly, even in the early Internet years, the ‘middleman’ remained keeper of the access gate.

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But when social media arrived, the potential for direct, one-to-one selling flipped into another gear. What had previously been a proactive realm of marketing suddenly became part-passive. On Twitter, adult entertainers could gain marketing subscribers virally, and in terms of required labour that’s a very attractive economy.

The nature of Twitter means that if a fan finds just one adult entertainer, he’ll find them all. And that’s exactly what the fans do. They don’t just follow one or two models – they follow hundreds, or thousands. The dynamics are similar to those in online dating. Men following ‘hot girls’ in high volume not because the want to see the collective drawl of automated promo spam, but because they think it’s going to maximise their chances of forming some kind of ‘relationship’. If they follow enough ‘hot girls’, sooner or later at least one is going to become their ‘friend’, right? Law of stats and averages and all that…

For the models, the fans’ indiscriminate following quickly adds up to a vast subscriber list. Today, some adult entertainers have seven digits of Twitter Followers, and six digits is common. The fan is now more likely to find the ‘middleman’ via the model, than find the model via the ‘middleman’. Social media has taken the access gate out of the ‘middleman’s control.

So why didn’t ‘middlemen’ discourage or try to limit models’ use of social media until it was too late? Chiefly because marketing resources developed more quickly than the direct sales facilities. In the early to mid 2010s, Twitter was benefitting some ‘middlemen’ as much as, or even more than, the women they employed. That was mainly because many professional models’ most lucrative use of their independent marketing power was still to refer customers to their hired engagements – i.e. the ‘middleman’.

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Even though entertainers could home-make direct sales options, a lot of them were highly susceptible to service theft. A sexual scammer could use the payment processors’ adult-unfriendly Terms of Use against entertainers to get free services.

He’d pay for a service, get the service, and then some time later, charge back a refund on the basis of “goods/service not received, or not as described”. The adult provider could not dispute a chargeback, because an investigation would reveal that by nature of her profession she’d breached the Terms of Service. That would get her suspended, and lose her any earnings still in the system. Thus, the risk of selling custom services or content directly was often considered too great, and models who could earn through ‘middlemen’, generally still did.

That changed in the mid 2010s, as new direct sales facilities began to offer…

  • Much greater versatility. Earlier, the choice for non-investing sole traders had pretty much been webcam work, or take your chances with a PayPal account. But on Twitter, masses of ‘cottage’ niches had sprung up which had nothing whatsoever to do with webcam sites. The new direct selling facilities accommodated all of those niches, removing the need for entertainers to take risks with PayPal.
  • Much more autonomy to each entertainer. The platform would respond to entertainers’ business innovation, rather than simply telling them what the service was supposed to be.
  • Better protection for the interests of entertainers, minimising the possibility of service theft, eliminating grudge-vulnerable features such as ‘feedback ratings’, etc.
  • Much better value at the point of entry for the customer, providing a greater impetus to buy than typical adult services.

The explosion in this new wave of direct selling changed the allegiance of many professional models. Rather than seeing their hired work as the priority, and their direct sales as a sideline, they began to see their hired work as a feeder mechanism for their direct sales emporia. This was the point at which the ‘middleman’s power took the greatest hit. He’d allowed models to build vast independent marketing networks, largely at the expense of his publicity investment. And now they finally had serious means to exploit that vast marketing reach for themselves. To cut him out of the reward loop.

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TWILIGHT OF THE ‘MIDDLEMAN’?

Whilst the changes to independent infrastructure have been important in the transfer of power from men to women, it’s really the consumer’s innate preference for dealing directly with women which is seeing off the ‘middleman’. The ‘middleman’ may not even be able to use his economy of scale to win over customers, because many consumers’ need for direct access to a specific woman is so great that they’ll go directly to her even when it’s more expensive. Customers will also now routinely accept content shot on a phone or basic webcam, so the ‘middleman’s professional production investments have become impotent too.

The result is that the traditional role of the investing, producing ‘middleman’ has been heavily eroded. Increasingly, over the past few years, ‘middlemen’ have become expendable promotional devices rather than endgame employers. Even though they’ve tried to take steps to re-establish longer-term control, they simply don’t have the power, because they mean nothing to the fan, and the entertainer means everything. Indeed, fans themselves now collectively fulfil part of the traditional ‘middleman’s publicity role – for free.

Hired engagements for models still exist, but it’s clear that a lot of models now only take those jobs for publicity reasons, and some only offer enough availability to keep themselves on the publicity radar. The status of model who would have worked five or so hired engagements per week back in the early 2010s, may now offer the hirers perhaps no more than one or two days of availability per month. Just enough to keep new fans flowing towards her direct sales emporia. Some highly profitable models have quit hired work entirely, and offer no availability to ‘middlemen’ at all.

So whereas ten years ago there was still a broad sense that an adult provider must either invest, or be hired, today any entertainer can simply set up a Twitter marketing centre and a direct sales outlet, for free. That enables her to begin pitching for sales independently, with immediate effect.

The independent female provider makes all the decisions, and is not told what to do by a male producer, manager or boss. This has brought sweeping changes to the way services are marketed.

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MARKETING STRATEGIES

The trad male marketing strategy was to give away masses of content for free in a bid to appetise customers for paid services. But the female entertainers, when working for themselves, don’t need to do this to anything like the same degree.

The fundamental dynamic is that generally, a man cannot, as a man (as opposed to a catfish), attract male attention in the adult business unless he baits with sexually-themed pictures or videos of females. This was always a problem, because with so much of this bait floating round the open web, the customer’s impetus to actually buy was greatly diminished. It’s how the concept of “free porn” got established. Once you have a site full of free “tasters”, many potential customers will simply keep “tasting” until they’re full. There’s no need for them to buy.

And baiting with sexual content is even more of a problem now, since the Internet’s capacity to even display sexual content in public search routines is under threat. Apple, for example, insists that all apps on its App Store filter all nudity out of their search routines unless the user has given express consent to see it. This would inevitably snowball up to a full ban if just one country introduced age verification legislation. A few critical companies have so much power that they effectively police the entire Internet. Even if, say, Twitter wanted to retain its adult subculture, would it be prepared to suffer commercially catastrophic App Store bans in order to do so? I think we all know the answer to that.

But the female is her own bait. She naturally attracts male attention, because unlike the ‘middleman’, she falls onto their dating radar. Even if she offers no sexually-themed tasters, she still maintains consumers’ attention on an aspirational basis. So a female sole trader in the adult business tends to sell by starving the consumer, rather than feeding him constant ‘tasters’. Aside from the commercial motivations, she is, for personal reasons, a lot more reluctant to have her sensitive content lying around on the open web than the ‘middleman’ is to put it there.

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In line with the theory, the female-led system appears to motivate sales more efficiently, if only because there’s no danger of the free ‘promo content’ fulfilling the role of the actual product. Indeed, a lot of ‘middlemen’ have now themselves adopted the female marketing system. Most porn bots today are not content publishers; they’re fake female social profiles.

So broadly the evolution of the environment has been positive for entertainers, and for women, at the expense of the investing, old-skool ‘middleman’. But in Part 2 we’re going to focus much more specifically on the good, bad and ugly consequences of de-centralisation…

Here’s the link to Part 2