following is a reprint of an article written in
the April 11, 2001 edition of NYPress.com.
On the Net, Sex Is Recession-Proof
Servidio 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 shins.
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
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
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, Mr. Servidio can
stuff real dollars into our afflicted, middle-class
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 Servidio really their Rabbi?
weak signal, from his Infiniti Q45T bolting toward
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,
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
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 back."
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 Mr. 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 follow."
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 your job?"
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
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
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 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
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
he reasoned, "if we’ve turned them down,
should we accommodate you?"
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
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.
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
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
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 Center prospectus.
sorry," he peeps. "Which class is..."
this is…PORNOGRAPHY!" Belly laughs. The door
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 tour?"
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
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
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, Ibill. 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 blame
is soft-spoken. But his voice picks up when he
comes to the final principle.
"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 any money."
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
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
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
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 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, 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 Murrill Muglio.
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 hatred.
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 Alexa demurs.
I run a phone sex site and–"
sex is dead, lady! Didn’t you get the memo?"
Alexa tells me, "Well, Jay’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 profit.
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 ask.
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 common practice.
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, live feeds).
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? Advertising?
follow him down the stairs and out onto 34th St.
about consultation? How do I get paid? Can I buy
a URL direct from you?
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
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."