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
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 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
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
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
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
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 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 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
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 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
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 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
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
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 girls.
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
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
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
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 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 blame him?"
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 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
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
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
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
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 and design.
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
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
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 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 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
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
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?
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 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."
Servidio is President of Teleteria,
Inc., a company that has been building and hosting
commercial and adult custom Web sites since 1994.
clients are located all over the world.
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