How bad is this recession? Even sex doesn't sell.
That's the glum assessment of those in the adult entertainment industry, hundreds of whom gathered last week for the annual Cybernet Expo conference in San Francisco. The industry, now a multibillion-dollar online business, has discovered that people just aren't willing to click-to-pay for vice the way they once did.
"Times are tough," Jay Kopita, director of operations for the expo, said with a sigh. "You'd think this would be recession-proof." Turns out pay-per-view sex is just another sector struggling in the downturn.
In many ways, the three-day gathering that ended Saturday was like any other Silicon Valley conference. It was held at the Holiday Inn and featured sessions on contracts and social media, speed networking and lots of late-afternoon schmoozing over drinks. "Sometimes these can be boring," admitted Ella Black, a performer with girl-next-door looks who just launched her own "solo girl" site.
On the other hand, shoptalk overheard in a hallway included the challenges of performing certain sex scenes. One popular seminar on shooting adult film featured a disrobing model. An after-hours party was held at fetish company Kink.com. During day hours, at least, the focus was clearly on business. Indeed, attendees said the mood was more somber than the go-go pre-recession days.
"A lot of companies have been bouncing checks," performer Annie Cruz said. "Some people have quit the business. A lot of companies have cut back shooting. There are a lot of girls who have not worked in a month." Cruz has seen her work schedule drop from 25 days a month to as few as five. "You would think porn would do better in times like this," the exasperated 24-year-old San Franciscan said.
Piracy is also cutting into profits with the proliferation of "tube sites" — the YouTubes of porn where copyrighted video clips are frequently illegally uploaded. "We are being devastated by this," said Dick Webber, who operates a Silicon Valley-based Web site and who, like the actors, goes by a stage name.
"The Internet is both a help and a hindrance," said longtime porn performer and producer Dave Cummings, who expects his next movie, "Knee Pad Nymphos Volume 10," to fall victim to online thieves. "I'm convinced the first day it's out it will be a popular video to be stolen."
Many at the conference talked of altering business plans to provide content, such as live Webcams, that can't be ripped off. "There is no incentive for a surfer to subscribe to a site unless you have some offering that is unique and can't be replicated on a tube site," Webber said.
More than anything, the Internet has made the adult industry more mainstream. Adult videos are still vilified by critics, but their stars are adored by autograph-seeking fans. Upon checking in at the expo, attendees, many of whom are eager to cloak their real identities, are asked what they want to be called on their name tags.
Some were soccer moms and dads. Model Black said she is a pastor's daughter. Cruz, who has a thing for whips and ropes, admits to being an inner geek — she designs Web sites at night — and is a comic book fanatic. "I'm a dork," said the performer in short shorts.
Cummings, who at 69 is the oldest active performer in the industry, said he is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and once taught at West Point. He has since performed in more than 600 scenes.
"That's a lot of sex," he said.
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