On the Net, Sex Is Recession-Proof
is a ringer for Matthew Broderick. Behind the sleepy
eyes, under the puffy part, the fecund mind of a Ferris Bueller:
"Listen, if more parents were at home running adult websites,
maybe their children’s tension needs would be met. Maybe these
Santee-Columbine shootings wouldn’t be happening."
the driving rain. Polo buttondown. Pleated khakis and soaked suede
Timberland loafers. Golf umbrella fairing the gale.
that’s just a thought. What I tell all my students is, ‘You’re not–n-o-t,
not–gonna make a killing in this business.’ These guys who say they
make a million bucks every time they sneeze, they’re full of shit.
Seventy-five thousand in your first year? That’s doable. But you’ll
have to grab me like a rabbi. You’ll have to grab me like a rabbi
and trust me to show you the ropes."
34th St., an umbrella graveyard. Spines and tatters curling at our
students don’t make any money for the first two to three months.
It’s all a process. But then you get your first check for $500 and
you’re like, ‘Oops I crapped my pants.’ From that point on it’s
like a drug. Today you’re doing five vials of crack. Tomorrow you're
doing 10. It’s the same thing. More. More. Grow! Grow! Grow!"
tv, through a ground-floor window of the Empire State Bldg., the
Nasdaq keels over, vomits 94 points. Inside a poor yutz jabs his
half-smoked White Owl into his beer. A new low. The weather, the
stock market–for many, the worst night in memory.
a block away 24 students await their man outside Source of Life,
where Learning Annex and Seminar Center classes are held. A wilting,
eager knot of black, white, Hispanic, Indian and Korean cityfolk.
In their early 20s, their 40s, their late 50s, a third of them women.
They are Mom ’n’ Pop. It’s nasty as hell outside and they’re here
to grab the Rabbi.
Really. Why bother with a dotcommer? The very word draws thoughts
of smug vulgarians. Why, on so foul a night, blow $35 to listen
to one of them? Because, say Mom ’n’ Pop, Jay Servidio can stuff
real dollars into our afflicted, middle-class pockets.
axiomatic at this point: Adult entertainment is the only "content"
people consistently purchase on the Internet. We all know how porn
has revolutionized online billing, spurred on live, interactive
digital video, streaming video, Internet video on demand, server
push, Internet telephony, media players and so on. We’ve identified
the Moloch of our collective lust as the driving force behind $1.5
billion of annual online commerce. In these poor, foul-spoken days
Mom ’n’ Pop could use an additional revenue stream.
they’re here to wring some profit from axiom. The question is, is
Jay Servidio really their Rabbi?
weak signal, from his Infiniti Q45T bolting toward New Canaan:
talk long, going to the salon for a facial."
what’s your pitch?"
I mention I work out five nights a week?"
fighting in a full-contact karate tournament next month up in Toronto.
You should come check out my dojo in Manhattan."
then we’re cut off. He calls back.
just got American Psycho on DVD. Have you seen that movie,
dude? It’s awesome."
Who couldn’t use a little extra money every month? Pay down debts,
cover rent. Build a savings account."
Nobody saves these days. The people who come to me–teachers, policemen,
housewives, blue-collar workers–most of them want to put some money
away for their kid’s education, pay some bills, take a vacation
once in a while. They’re not looking to quit their jobs or anything."
what do you do for them?"
hold their hands and kick their asses till they start making money."
much do they make?"
from four thousand to sixty-thousand a month, net."
I see your tax returns?"
the facial, friend."
signal is lost.
day later, inside a sparsely furnished meatpacking district floor-through,
Magdalia, owner of three "boutique bondage" websites,
speaks about her avocation.
like the chutney business my Great-Aunt Suzie used to run."
Said with a chuckle. "Sooz wasn’t mining gold or anything,
but she had some fun with it, made a little mad money."
one is bouncy-cute. She says "mad" with these bugged-out
eyes. A self-described "full-time cog" in the book publishing
industry, Magdalia say she’s been grossing an additional five grand
a month over the last half year. An offer to mention her URL is
declined. "We’re choosy. We turn down a lot of potential customers.
Don’t need the hassle."
part of the whole dominance bit?"
left hand disappears behind her razor-sharp bob, her right pets
a riding crop cradled in the bevel of her coffee table. "Well,
we’ve been at this a while." Three years to be exact. "Our
membership fee is almost $50. It’s our little world and we get to
say who lives in it. But we do offer added value to our clients."
hold ‘events.’" Bug eyes again. "That keeps them coming
she clicks on a photo from a recent event. The client with the clothespins
on his nads seems pleased with the added value.
do business with Jay Servidio?"
but I’ve heard of him. He’s a rock star on the trade show circuit.
Knows everyone. Our business is a little less, uh, mass, if you
do you do with your profits?"
of it goes back into the site. The rest of it helps pay food and
rent. Book publishing pays shit, you know."
it really possible to make, say, $5000 a month without quitting
Sex is recession-proof. But I’m speaking for myself. I mean, I keep
costs down. I have my own Unix right here [procured on eBay]. And
I produce my content locally, instead of buying it from others."
brick wall you’re leaning on?"
is the dungeon."
Winnipeg. On the flip side of the screen. My contact is O’Reilly,
a short, crumple-faced moppet with a bush of wiry black hair descending
to his browline. He’s got a high squeaky voice like rubbing styrofoam.
O’Reilly is known to all players. The carte blanche he enjoys is
a residual benefit that goes along with his title: "Phone-Sex
Infomercial King of Western Canada." Jack O’Reilly’s Lounge
Dial-A-Date! Weeknights 2am from Dundee to Dakota.
arranged through channels, the phone sex king believes I’m a well-to-do
"Manhattanite" looking to partner with a content provider
for my new Web empire. In this business, it never hurts to know
people with discretionary funds. O’Reilly is only too happy to help
me (unwittingly) accomplish my real goal: a firsthand glimpse inside
that which no news organ has ever been permitted–Camera Delights.
Camera Delights’ base here in Winnipeg, there flows an estimated
85-90 percent of the world’s continuous live interactive hardcore,
orgy, dungeon, gay, lesbian, scat, geriatric, ethnic, pregnant,
gyno amputee and freak sex feeds. According to Jay Servidio, due
to U.S. indecency laws Canada is a repository of this stuff. Camera
Delights is to adult online what, say, McDonald’s corporate is to
its franchisees–beef central. "Everything but snuff,"
says O’Reilly, adding, "but who knows, eh?"
Delights practically mints money by selling its feeds both directly
to webmasters and to middleman content providers. Their content
gets repackaged and resold a thousand times over and, according
to O’Reilly, "everyone profits along the way." The feeds
eventually become available to small, turnkey businesses like the
ones Jay Servidio sets up for his clients. Though live interactive
currently represents only 15 percent of total adult Internet revenue,
a membership site cannot draw customers without packaging it in
its menu of services. Live interactive share of the revenue pie
will grow as availability of highspeed bandwidth increases.
Delights is an hermetic operation with alleged mob ties. My initial
requests for journalistic access were all flatly declined. Unreturned
phone calls, unanswered e-mails. I was on the verge of trashing
the idea until some surly low-totem Canuck in their back office
practically challenged me by assuring me over the phone that I was
receiving the exact treatment proffered two highly connected New
York glossies and a major cable network film crew.
he reasoned, "if we’ve turned them down, should we accommodate
indeed, Terrence. Now I’ve come, and I’ve got the phone sex king
of Western Canada with me. And so we wait from a busy street
in downtown Winnipeg. A crisp, clean, Canada day on a sidewalk of
flower shops, restaurants, record stores and bookstores. We stand
at a doorway with drabbish brown faux-marble siding. O’Reilly, who
lays just the faintest Elmer Fudd into his R’s, is irate because
"you don’t keep O’Weilly waiting."
wait. And comes flying down the stairs a young Hispanic-looking
man. A wraith with an Eminem buzzcut, earrings in both ears and
puffy down vest. Shift over. Done for the day.
is it?" says the intercom voice.
for Chwist sake!"
buzzed in. We climb a flight of stairs and turn right onto a long,
narrow hallway with light blue walls and a coating of black fingerprint
smudge. The door frames are a darker blue. There are 23 small, say
10-by-10, rooms in this first hallway. To the right of each door
is a narrow vertical strip of glass brick that has been covered
in cardboard from the inside.
turn the corner at the end of the hallway and pass a bathroom located
at the top of a 3-foot stair. The door is wide open. Inside are
two brunettes. Both are naked. One is shaving her legs, the other
is on the toilet. A handheld video camera resting on the white linoleum-tiled
floor points up at the girl on the toilet. A poster of a naked woman
hangs above the toilet. Odd redundancy. I don’t realize I’m staring.
But the woman shaving her legs does. She hops with her left leg
still on the sink, reaches out and slams the door shut. O’Reilly
looks at me, raises his eyebrows.
Pee Pee Fun Time, eh?"
Delights takes up the entire second and a portion of the third story
of a city block. It is an aboveground catacomb, a labyrinth of identical
narrow, blue-on-blue hallways. We come to the brain center, a subdivided
office of low ceilings, desks, rack servers, PCs and monitors. Surrounding
each desk is a collage of cutouts or newspaper postings reflecting
the personal music/sports tastes of its respective occupant. It
hews generally to hockey.
our right at the entrance floor-to-ceiling metal shelving holds
about 100 starched white towels. A hamper sits nearby. Above the
hamper some sort of scheduling board with aforementioned categories
across the top. What’s remarkable is how quiet it is here. I’d expected
darkness, covered windows and so forth. But this is like some sort
of sound vacuum chamber. We’ve seen nobody other than the bathroom
the hell buzzed us in?" asks O’Reilly.
poke into different offices looking for a guy named Brad. Brad is
the company president.
we encounter a ponytailed man sitting at a computer next to a wall
of rack servers.
not coming in today."
with me, I think. I buy a Snickers from a vending machine back at
the entrance. A notice taped to the machine announces sign-ups for
the spring softball league. Fast-pitch league teams forming.
First practice April 16th. See Terry.
and I stand at a monitor bank. It’s 11 a.m. and four of 16 screens
are active. On the first screen a young man is alternately pulling
his butt cheeks apart and typing at a keyboard. On the second screen
are the bathroom girls we’ve just encountered. On the third screen
a tanned, completely shaved blonde woman faces the camera, straddles
a guy, throws her hair back over her shoulders and stuffs him inside
of her. On the fourth screen a fat woman eats fruit.
a joke. On the fourth screen a girl in a Matchbox-Twenty t-shirt
talks into the camera. "I know her!" says O’Reilly. "She
was in one of my infomercials. Sweet girl."
any given time, Camera Delights employs about 300 men and women
(split 20/80, respectively). Models are solicited primarily through
classified ads on adult-industry employment websites, and print
classified ads in local swinger-sex scene newspapers. Strip clubs
provide a steady flow of local and international talent as well.
U.S.-based porn actors and actresses working the Canadian strip
circuit will often stop in for a day of live cam stripping. With
enough advance notice, Camera Delights can send word to its webmaster
clients who can then promote these special visits to the end user.
model turnover at Camera Delights runs about 20 percent. As is the
case in phone sex, models are encouraged to develop personal, ongoing
relationships with clients.
shows me to a room adjacent to the office suite. Green lockers line
the right-hand wall, cubbyholes line the left. First and last names
are written on masking tape. Inside a few of the cubbyholes sit
heart-shaped cellophane-wrapped chocolate boxes. The sign below
the analog wall clock reads: Please take your flowers home with
you or throw away promptly.
Chuzzlewit. Of the fleshy gullet, straight from the Dickens.
She’s dying to know: "Isn’t there a glut?"
Rabbi is prepared. "At any given time there’re about 50,000
adult websites online, and guess what? You’re still not in a competitive
marketplace. Two-thirds of those sites look like shit. They lose
money and they get shut down."
knock on the door. A timid gentleman glances down at his Seminar
sorry," he peeps. "Which class is..."
this is…PORNOGRAPHY!" Belly laughs. The door slams.
I was saying, design is crucial. You gotta create a consistent look.
The free tour is critical. It’s your primary sales pitch, and here’s
how it’s gotta be done."
at the ready and a deep breath. Bring on the science.
one of the tour says, ‘We have 100,000 pics in our library. We got
black girls, we’ve got white girls, we’ve got Asian girls. We’ve
got girls with penises, we’ve got girls with no penises. We’ve got
girls with large breasts, small breasts, we’ve got girls with no
breasts. We’ve got girls with facial hair, girls with beards.’"
Deep breath. "Wanna join now? No? Fine, continue the tour.
Page two, ‘We’ve got 100,000 six-minute videos. We’ve got gynecological
exams with the tools, and the masks and the stirrups.’ H’bout now?
No? Okay, page three. Page three talks about jungle fever. We got
black guys with white girls, we’ve got white guys with black girls,
and we’re all mixed up together. Wanna join now?
booms the Rabbi. "Who can tell me? What’s the point of the
with her hand up high. "To sell."
listen up. Whenever you sell something to someone, be it porno or
lunar shuttle tickets or copiers, this is what you do."
tell them what you’re about to tell them. Then you tell them. Then
you tell them what you’ve told them. And you repeat that whole thing
over and over. You stand up on the top of the desk, crack open the
client’s mouth, climb inside and don’t stop talking until he’s seeing
things your way."
and his wife Farrah are a Southern couple in their mid-50s.
They have two children. Ken works in finance, Farrah in human resources.
About six months ago Ken launched a membership website called WantonWife.com.
The sight features X-rated still photos and video clips of Farrah
alone and with other men and women.
did WantonWife for fun at the beginning. The early response was
so good we believed we could make money at it. But technically speaking,
we didn’t know much."
met Servidio in January at the biannual Adult Internet trade show
in Las Vegas. He brought his business over to Servidio soon thereafter.
Since January, Ken’s been grossing $6000 to $7000 a month with about
$1400 in expenses. With the Rabbi’s help, Ken has identified some
essentials that affect his business:
Re-bills–the monthly recurring billing charged to a member’s credit
card–"are the name of the game. Re-bills create a consistent
revenue flow which allows me to reinvest and grow WantonWife. In
our case, guys are coming in to view and interact mostly with one
person–Farrah. It’s like they’re wanting to have a sort of fantasy
relationship with her, which is great. So it’s important that we
provide fresh content every week and respond to their requests for
a particular type of photo.
any time, when a member wants to cancel, it gets handled right away.
Billing is smooth because we deal with the best company around,
CCbill. Automatic, electronic payment on the first and fifteenth
of every month."
"Bandwidth is really crucial," says Ken. "If a download
takes forever a guy’s just gonna get frustrated and leave. Who can
is soft-spoken. But his voice picks up when he comes to the final
"This one’s pretty obvious. You can build the most gorgeous
site in the world and if you don’t have an audience, you won’t make
how do you drive traffic?"
we’re still trying to figure that out. We didn’t have a great experience
with bulk e-mail. We do some advertising on adult search engines.
Banner linking probably helps, but I haven’t had the time to do
that just yet. We’re still very new at this."
and Farrah devote an average of three hours a day, every day, to
WantonWife. He’s planning on launching another site with the Rabbi
in the near future. By this time next year, conditions remaining
ceteris paribus, Ken projects WantonWife will be generating monthly
net of $12,000. With their profits, Ken and Farrah are building
a lake house and girding their retirement accounts.
for the political climate and possible antisex legislation?
Republicans. I was for Bush. I know they’re more aggressive in legislating
against this sort of thing, but I don’t see it as a threat. My personal
feeling is it’s so big and so powerful, I don’t see how it could
be shut down."
adds, "I’d love to see more control put on it so that minors
can’t get access."
WorkingGirl.Com is a feature-length documentary film currently
in postproduction. It was written and directed by James Ronald
Whitney, whose first project, Just Melvin, debuts April 22
on HBO. Hearing that I was writing about amateur adult porn as a
cottage business for Mom ’n’ Pop in the new recession, Whitney suggested
I screen a rough edit of his film, since it touches upon some of
the personal and professional pitfalls people encounter when running
an amateur online adult site.
explains, "About a year ago I was contacted by my old friend
Sharon Alt, who’d written to tell me that she couldn’t pay her bills,
especially the health insurance and preschool bills for her four-year-old
son, Jake. Sharon said she’d done due diligence and concluded that
the Internet was the place to be, because of the terrific amount
of money going specifically to these amateur sites.
says Whitney, "my old friend had decided to become an amateur
porn star to pay her son’s bills. The problem was she had no audience."
appealed to Whitney, a vice president at Wall Street brokerage firm
Tucker Anthony, and he set to writing a business plan.
soon realized that if I made a movie about her business venture,
the movie audience might then traffic her website. If they liked
what they saw, they might pay for membership."
Whitney was going to shoot porn and use it as content on his friend
Sharon’s new and improved website. But first he had to do some due
diligence of his own. To learn how to properly design and market
an adult website, he turned to none other than the Rabbi, Jay Servidio.
The WorkingGirl.Com Jay Servidio struts the floor of the
Cybernext Expo 2000 Trade Show in New Orleans, introducing the doc
crew (Whitney, et al.) to all of the big players in the online world.
Later, at a table inside of what looks to be a Cracker Barrel restaurant,
Jay Servidio gives Alt a point-by-point tutorial on porn site marketing
so much of the popular discourse on the subject of porn and porn
people, The WorkingGirl.Com suspends moral judgment, leaving
that entirely up to the viewer. The lighter and less effective side
of the movie pokes self-effacing fun at the director and crew, whose
purportedly monastic sensibilities are quickly drenched in the sticky
fluid of discovery of the reality of shooting porn (sights, sounds,
delicious smells). In the course of preparing content for Alt’s
new website they take "Porn Cinematography 101" lessons
with online triple-X celebrity Teri Weigel and her manager/husband
it’s a film with an avocation (and vice versa): to drive membership
to a website, whose profits will then fund a trust for Alt’s four-year-old
son. If that sounds a little slick, the film recuses itself of its
own cleverness ("Wall Street and the Porn World join caring
hands to save the life of a child!… A movie to sell an adult website")
through a fierce, exhaustive and objective mining of the ethical
issues at its core.
explored are Alt’s tangled relationships and dubious motivations
for doing porn. One of the film’s more wrenching scenes shows Alt
in a bitter quarrel with her ex-wife Marci (the guileless, lovable
bulldyke with whom Jake was conceived through insemination). Marci
believes Alt’s choice of online sex is potentially hurtful to the
child. She also thinks Alt is a flake and is simply using her/their
kid to justify what amounts to a personal fetish. Where between
Alt and Marci there was once love, there’s now only paint-peeling
scene which occurs late in the film eventually delivers a much-needed
cathartic chestnut. But neither woman actually emerges victorious
and this is how Whitney prefers his art: unsettled.
is 33. BA and master’s in journalism, both from Columbia. Listening
from the back row to the Rabbi’s solipsistic drone.
then my friend Bill tried to get me into the phone sex industry
back when we worked at Sprint. Late 80s baby, 900 was born and we
knew it was gonna be huge! Only I’m Roman Catholic, didn’t want
to get into that…"
most of the others here, Alexa’s already got a business up and running.
She’s here to learn what new tricks might be applied to her fledgling
phone sex site, GoodTimePhone.com. Somewhere in the course of the
narrative, the Rabbi praises some credit-card billing outfit and
I run a phone sex site and–"
sex is dead, lady! Didn’t you get the memo?"
Alexa tells me, "Well, Jay Servidio’s right when he says cam-sex
is the new phone sex. But phone sex is far from dead."
site is basically a compendium of female phone-sex subcontractors
who are amassed under the GoodTimePhone.com moniker. They hang their
digital shingles through a private FTP link to her site. To generate
repeat business she asks that they work a minimum 25 hours per week.
In three short months her site is in the black and turning a small
determined to run a dependable, respectable operation, and I have
strong principles about treating my girls right." Alexa says
that her girls make well above the industry standard 55 percent
host/45 percent subcontractor split. "It’s a scam to pay someone
only 45 percent of their earnings."
you make more money running a hardcore membership site?" I
kind of afraid to get into the membership portion. I feel like I’m
on the edge of being involved in pornography. Not that there’s anything
wrong with pornography. But I’m not ready to take that plunge. With
phone sex, a boyfriend and a girlfriend can do that very innocently.
It’s very different from having sex in front of a camera."
a word on the numbers. When it comes to porn, verifiable revenue
data is next to impossible to find. There’s no way of knowing if
figures are inflated to fire business and fan egos, or deflated
to ward off the taxman. Some sources insist lowballing is the more
the taxes down and potential competition at bay."
you might do well by reducing all quoted revenues herein by a factor
of your own skepticism.
also commonly held that it’s too late to become Rockefeller-rich
through online adult entertainment, because of big-player competition
and the cost of continuously updated premium content (videos, pics,
argument there. But what about a low-overhead side gig that brings
a little stability in these trying economic times?
the consensus seems to be a resounding yes, but with two caveats.
Caveat number one: it’s more drudgery than you think. Alexa, for
instance, spends a large portion of time checking up on her link
partners, verifying that they’ve placed her banners on their sites
as they’ve agreed to. Caveat number two: you can’t simply acquire
a set number of clients and then sit still.
his credit, Servidio makes this known from the start. "Members
only stay with a site three months or less. So an owner’s gotta
be out there continuously trolling for new business."
means reinvesting profits back into advertising that drives traffic.
Reinvestment and growth take time. Like the Rabbi said, it’s a process.
newcomers and veterans alike believe in the immutable popularity
of the product: the barriers to entry are low, it’s legal, it can
be done from home, and if you do the work, it sells.
so the Rabbi makes his pitch.
thousand dollars for a customized, turnkey website, plus $100 a
month for hosting and $125 a month for video for the first three
months. That buys you 100,000 six-minute movies, 2000 new channels
added monthly, with 100 live rooms."
hands go up.
about billing? What about bandwidth? Should I incorporate? Maintenance?
follow him down the stairs and out onto 34th St.
about consultation? How do I get paid? Can I buy a URL direct from
gusts earlier are breezes now. Drizzle. It’s late and the broad
midtown cross street is a hollow chasm, a sound chamber refracting
the Doppler wail of ambulances skidding north toward Times Square.
off to Budapest," says the Rabbi. "For the big European
trade show." Card swaps and handshakes. "But let’s do
business when I get back."
April 11, 2001
is President of Teleteria,
Inc., a company that has been building and hosting commercial and
adult custom Web sites since 1994. Teleteria's
clients are located all over the world.
© 2009 Teleteria.Bz. All Rights Reserved.