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, is the 48th most popular site on the Internet, ahead of 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

(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.)

Will Facebook Destroy The High School Reunion?

There's a fascinating post (with hundreds of comments) up at

Mark Chu-Carroll, a Ph.D. who works at Google, writes extensively and passionately about why he's not attending his 25th high school reunion.

Now it's twenty five years since I got out of that miserable fucking hell-hole. And people from my high school class are suddenly getting in touch, sending me email, trying to friend me on Facebook, and trying to convince me to bring my family to the reunion. (It's a picnic reunion, full family invited.) Even some of the people who used to beat the crap out of me on a regular basis are getting in touch as if we're old friends.

My reaction to them... What the fuck is wrong with you people? Why would you think that I would want to have anything to do with you? How do you have the chutzpah to act as if we're old friends? How dare you? I see the RSVP list that one of you sent me, and I literally feel nauseous just remembering your names.

And that's all that I want from you. Stay the fuck away from me. I don't want to hear about your lives. I don't want to know how you've changed since high school. I don't want to hear about your jobs, your spouses, your children. I've got a good life now, and I cannot imagine a reason in the world why I would pollute that world with contact with any of you.

Heavy stuff. Then again, some dude actually doused his lawn with gasoline and lit a burning swastika. I probably wouldn't forgive that either.

The comments on the post were generally in enthusiastic agreement, though a few chided Mark for not letting go of old animosities. (I think those criticisms are a bit unfair; it's not like he wants to hold on--it's just that people keep bugging him.)

But a bigger question is, in the Facebook age, is there any reason to hold a high school reunion?

Presumably you've stayed in touch with anyone you cared to maintain a relationship with (in Mark's case, nobody). Therefore, the only reasons to go to a reunion are:

1) To find out who went bald or got fat

2) If you've watched too many movies, and go in an ill-advised attempt to finally hook up with your former crush, who may or may not be a gay porn star

If we treat (2) as the inherently bad idea that it is, that leaves (1). Enter Facebook.

Younger generations will never have to wonder about who went bald or got fat; Facebook will document their decaying physiques in real time.

I graduated from high school in 1990, which means my 20-year reunion is coming up next year. Time to hit Facebook and see what Father Time has done to my old classmates!

Best post ever on the difference between business and government

Here's a real doozy from my old friend and fellow Stanford/HBS grad, Adam Nash of LinkedIn:

In every class, for every business case, the argument almost always broke down as follows:

The MBA Students:

Tell us what the rules of the game are, and we’ll tell you how to win the game.

The Government Students:

Tell us who you want to win the game, and we’ll tell you how to make the rules.

Needless to say, the conversations typically went nowhere. The business students always felt it was unethical to either change the rules mid-stream, or to create an unlevel playing field. The government students always felt it was unethical to set up rules that weren’t destined to generate the ideal outcome.

Hmmm, equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome? Sounds like the Kennedy School is the anti-HBS.