Saturday, July 18, 2009

Why I Love Pornography



Pornography is like a Swiss Army knife--it's useful in many different ways, nearly everyone has owned it at some point, and it usually doesn't get the respect it deserves.

To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, "Porn, for lack of a better word, is good. Porn is right, porn works. Porn clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit."

For example, it certainly drew your attention to this blog post, didn't it?

This essay discusses the different ways that pornography can be used outside the bedroom; if you were expecting a series of links to free porn, well, I'm afraid that you're going to be disappointed.

(Though you should stick around for the end of the post, where I link to the articles that have had the greatest impact on my understanding of pornography)

1. Sex sells; porn is a guaranteed attention grabber
The two most clicked links from the last few days of my Twitter stream are stories about how TechCrunch makes money from porn, and how a contestant on the Bachelorette suffered from on-screen erectile dysfunction. These got almost 10 times as many clicks as my tweets about politics and other "serious" issues. And that's no coincidence.

When I was watching my buddy Tim perform at a comedy club, all the biggest laughs came for jokes that involved sex, porn, or preferably both.

(Though I should mention that a medical student who built his routine on panda and cheetah sex bombed hard. I guess the lesson here is Porn = Laughs, Animal Sex = Uncomfortable Silence.)

Every time I turn on CNBC, they're showing their special on the porn industry, "The Business of Pleasure." And I'm still convinced that the Paris Hilton sex tape was leaked by Paris Hilton, the Fox Network, or possibly both, strictly to boost ratings and her career.

Heck, you're still reading this blog post, aren't you?

2. Porn breaks down inhibitions and boundaries
Once you've attracted that initial click, porn helps lubricate the conversation by breaking down the inhibitions and boundaries of the audience. Perhaps it's the sense of transgression which encourages people to open up; maybe it's just the effects of sharing an experience.

Whatever it is, I've found that my conversations about porn and the adult industry end up being particularly memorable and meaningful. Even over a decade later, I can still reduce my wife to helpless laughter by reciting the line, "There seemed to be a lot of slapping involved!", which came up in a conversation with some friends at a Cheesecake Factory.*

* The full story is this: My friend K was talking about the time she stayed with a friend, and discovered that he an extensive collection of gay porn, which she just happened to "accidentally" watch. She noted that there seemed to be a lot of slapping. The conversation then turned to why heterosexual men so enjoyed lesbian porn, to which my gentlemanly friend R replied, "It's double the good stuff." K responded with a shocked, "Even *you*?!" To which R responded, "Hey, what's *that* supposed to mean?"

** Maybe you had to be there.

3. Porn is the ultimate in capitalism; hardcore and stripped to bare essentials
I am a venture capital parasite. I convince people to give me money to start companies, which means I've never had to max out my credit cards or borrow money from relatives to make payroll.

Pornographers don't have this luxury; no one invests in porn, which means that almost every porn company bootstraps and self-funds. As a result, the porn industry is probably the most creative, aggressive, and capital-efficient industry other than crack cocaine distribution.

Plus, porn companies are dealing with all the same pressures as the regular media industry, plus the hatred of anti-porn crusaders, an unsympathetic legal system, and even more rampant piracy (Did you know that according to Alexa, YouPorn.com is the 48th most popular site on the Internet, ahead of CNN.com and the Apple website? And YouPorn is simply one of many such sites.)

To combat this, the industry has to stay at the forefront of technologies and business models, pioneering video, DVDs, the Internet, live video, and yes, even social media.

I continue to believe that anyone who runs a media business should carefully study and mimic the best practices of the porn world (but without the drugs). The emerging business model of individual porn stars building high-touch online communities with significant subscription revenues should be studied by any Internet entrepreneur.

If you doubt me, let me relate my own encounter with the industry. Back when I started my first company, my co-founder introduced me to a local porn entrepreneur he thought we could partner with. We chatted with him about our business model and agreed to the broad outline of a partnership.

He never returned my calls, and two weeks later, he announced a competing product which he developed by ripping off all of our ideas. He went on to rake in over $1 million in cash before he sold the business. He later owned 10% of AdultFriendFinder, which means he netted $50 million out of the Penthouse acquisition.

P.S. While most people don't invest in porn, I do. I am looking for investments in this area. Call me. Seriously.

* * *

Appendix A: Related Articles
The following articles have had a seminal impact on my understanding of the adult industry:

The Money Shot
, The New Yorker

A classic essay by feminist reported Susan Faludi. It takes you behind the scenes for what is an unsparing but ultimately sympathetic look at the lives and troubles of porn stars.

Sex Sells, Wired Magazine

One of the first stories to cover the business of online porn; I was fascinated by this portrayal of porn profiteer Seth Warshawsky, and talked about it with friends until I bored them silly. Ultimately, Warshawsky's house of cards collapsed; I think he's in Bangkok now. Seriously.

Battlebots in the Bedroom, Salon

A great example of how the Internet allows niche content to succeed. Plus, it's a local Bay Area success story. I also listened to a great podcast with the founder of the company, who was, I kid you not, a Mathematics Ph.D. at Columbia before he realized he could make more money filming women having sex with machines.

By the way, as you can tell from this later story, the company in question has done very well. Alas, I still have never made it up to the Armory for a visit, though I do have some friends who know people there. As many folks know, I plan to hold a conference there; I guarantee you that will build some buzz!

Fast Forward, Salon

A laugh-out-loud funny-but-true story from a writer who wrote a porn movie script as a lark, but had the misfortune to actually visit the set while it was being shot. Highlights include the receptionist asking him, "Are you here for the gangbang audition?", having a friendly chat with one of the stars who backed away in revulsion when she discovered he was the writer, and discovering to his chagrin that the scripted part of a porno is referred to by cast and crew as the "fast forward"--since that's what most viewers typically do--and is shot at the very end of a long day of shooting, after all the, er, "shooting" is done.

My pornography-related links on del.icio.us:
http://delicious.com/chrisyeh/adult
http://delicious.com/chrisyeh/porn

(This post is dedicated to Jackie Danicki and Penelope Trunk, who probably believe that I spend all my time thinking about these topics. Just remember ladies, our beliefs about others are often a reflection of ourselves.)

14 comments:

Jackie said...

I really think that you, me, and Jeff Nolan need to talk seriously about those porn business ideas we discussed lightheartedly several months ago.

Chris said...

Yes, we should definitely get together on this. Got to make sure we do so in a place with good connectivity in case we need to do research.

Penelope Trunk said...

Chris, I love the graph. People are always telling me that I should tell my story in the investor pitch with visuals. You give me a good starting point with this one :)

Penelope

astruc said...

Porn is my favorite food group!

Chris said...

Penelope,

I can't take the credit for the graph; found it online a while back, and I've been saving it for just the right occasion.

But it is amazing the stories you can tell with a great chart, isn't it?

Paul said...

That big article - and then all those other outside links? That was a lot of reading for someone who just wanted to see some porn. ;)

kaichang said...

Buddy of mine from college was a programmer handling the payment-processing side of a major porn portal up in Seattle a while back ... may have some insider insights into the back end of porn sites that would be valuable if you're looking for technical advice ...

Chris said...

If you're just looking for porn, check out Tubaholic. Ironically enough, I found out about it by watching the CNBC special.

I had wanted to build a similar meta search engine for free porn. I'd even picked out a domain name: Skin Butler. Sounded classier that the too the point but somewhat crude Cumcierge.com.

Alas, it never got beyond the idea phase.

I also batted around a mobile P2P porn company with a friend from Google, but we never got too serious about it.

Chris said...

Kai,

Please do make the intro. You can never know too many people in the porn business.

5chw4r7z said...

My brother worked for awhile with a guy that setup and google farmed porn links, never had to touch any product himself, except for the affiliate accounts.
I was always amazed by the money my brother made, but they really had to work to stay one step ahead of google. In the end his friend had a couple kids, sold the sites for some serious money and cashed out.

Paul said...

How was it that Hugh Hefner became a mogul?

And why was Joe Francis able to still capitalize with his Girls gone Wild?

I mean, we're not exactly talking hard-core here...

Answer: For the same reason those in Muslim countries will blow themselves up for 70 virgins (it has everything and nothing to do with religion).

Oh, and seriously - you give me a couple beautiful girls and bath-tubs and using the Vince Shlomi/Permission Interactive model, I'll make you a few million. Guaranteed.

Paul said...

Oh, and if you haven't read the interview on CNBC - enjoy - it's interesting...

http://www.cnbc.com/id/28880253

Chris said...

@5chw4r7z,

There are lots of ways to make money in porn without getting deeply involved in the product. Glad your brother did well. Let me know if he ever decides to come out of "retirement"!

Chris said...

@Paul,

It's not too difficult to find some young and beautiful women who want to get into the porn industry.

The founder of Kink.com noted in the podcast I listened too that he was one of the performer's favorite filmmakers simply because he ran a clean, clearly professional set.

Performers need to charge a premium to account for the small but real chance that the "producer" will rape, kill, and dismember them.

So there shouldn't be anything holding you back from your manifest destiny as a porn king. Let me know how I can help.

(Hint: Craigslist is your friend!)