Calling something the “fill-in-the-blank” of porn has become so commonplace that it’s difficult to read press releases without injuring the optic nerve from all the eye-rolling. That said, recent changes in the distribution of adult content stand to make things much better for the user — and perhaps the studios — and for that, sometimes you do need to reference the platforms and services outside of the adult industry that revolutionized the way we do things.
Porn might have harnessed the web before most of the world knew what it was, but they haven’t really kept the pace — user experience design, anyone? But there are a number of companies out there that have effected changes in the way that the industry serves consumers, many of them following models established by mainstream services.
In 1993, Gamelink.com uploaded a digital catalog of games that were available for purchase on CD-Rom to a bulletin board system online, but a foray into porn videos soon cured the founders of their original mission. Today GameLink’s focus is exclusively on sex, but true to their “Amazon of porn” moniker, they’ve diversified: they offer toys, books, sex furniture and over 65,000 titles in DVD, Blu-ray and digital formats, enabling users to buy hard copies, or pay-per-minute, stream to own or download.
In 2002, SugarDVD.com came on the horizon, following a model created by Netflix, which had launched in 1997. Like Netflix, SugarDVD initially sent out physical DVDs to renters, who browsed their site for hot titles and placed them in a queue. When efficient streaming became more widely available, SugarDVD turned its sights to on-demand digital distribution. Though today they sell toys and lubes as well, SugarDVD remains known as the “Netflix of porn.” They offer users more pricing tiers than Netflix itself, too — and possibly more confusion if the user doesn’t have an understanding of all the terms used to describe acquisition (a la carte, VOD, pay-per-minute) and the awareness that “unlimited” doesn’t necessarily mean unlimited access to all the content available for video on demand.
And then there’s the new contender, SkweezMe.com, which is taking a page from the iTunes playbook: focusing its efforts on being easy to navigate and serving instant gratification to its users with no recurring billing or too many acquisition options to worry about. Unlike iTunes, though, users don’t buy media on SkweezMe, they buy time for access (in that sense, it’s more like Netflix). The site is structured around tokens — which users buy with money or bitcoin — each of which provides 24 hours of access to anything that’s on the site, period. Unlike a lot of sites that seem to penalize people who only want to take a dip by charging significantly less for monthly subscriptions than a day pass, users can get started on SkweezMe for as little as $2.97 for three tokens — which never expire.
There are currently 35 participating studios, including Sunlust, Wasteland.com, Harmony Films, and DreamZone. Everything from parodies and features to trans and BDSM content is available, with approximately thirty new titles added per week. Shortly, SkweezMe will be launching SkweezMen, a gay destination that will run on the same token system, enabling users who are so inclined to venture right over without extra fees.
SkweezMe co-founder Mike Kulich sees the change to tokens and other low-commitment, easy-access options for consumers as a necessary step to combat the piracy of adult content. In 2012, we saw something similar happening in music, when NPD Group released its Annual Music Study, showing that illegal downloads were down by 26 percent. At the time, NPD senior vice president Russ Crupnick said, “Among other factors, the increased use of legal and licensed streaming services has proven to be an alternative for music fans who formerly used P2P networks to obtain music.”
But it wasn’t just access to streaming services like Spotify Free that gave the numbers that boost — revenues for digital music rose 9 percent to $5.6 billion that same year, with the industry generating some $16.5 billion in revenue. The leader, of course, was Apple’s iTunes, which made getting one’s hands on whatever digital thing one wanted as easy, seamless and stress-free as possible. Buy the song or buy the whole album — user’s choice.
That’s what SkweezMe wants to do — make accessing the content that people want so easy, seamless and stress-free that pirating porn starts to look like too much work. SkweezMe will still have to contend with porn tube sites, many of which host unlicensed content and are part of the piracy problem but give users that same non-committal approach, more variety, and far more useful categories and search functions than anything in adult to date.
“If I can take 0.01 percent of people watching porn on tube sites and get them to pay a dollar a day on Skweez, then we’ve done something that’s good for everyone,” Kulich said.
The industry side of this is just as straight-forward: at the end of each month, 25 percent of SkweezMe’s total generated proceeds go into a revenue sharing pool. Then, the total number of minutes viewed is divided into the rev-share’s pool figure. This determines what a Skweez minute is worth during a particular month. Producers and studios are then paid per minute, all at the same rate, for the total number of minutes their content was viewed. To illustrate, say a minute ends up being worth $1 this month. Now say that Producer A’s content was viewed for 100 total minutes, while Producers B’s was viewed for 1,642. Upon payout, Producer A will get a check for $100 and Producer B will get one for $1,642.
Basically, consumer demand drives compensation in this model, not some predetermined percentage established on the back end. This, hopes Kulich, will encourage studios to pay attention to content quality and put more power in the hands of consumers.
“The Skweez payout system creates an environment in which participating studios are actually working together to create a great overall library,” said Wasteland.com CEO and founder Colin Rowntree. “This payout model encourages studios to build large, high quality libraries with the collective goal of keeping consumers on Skweez as long as possible, watching whatever they are interested in, regardless of the studio source.”
Variety will be the most important thing — Spotify didn’t get good, after all, until they amassed a big library. But it will pay for Skweez to take a note from Apple about user design experience, clean search functionality, easy browsing and, perhaps most important, something akin to the Genius Mix. Choice paralysis is a real thing and serving up personalized suggestions is why Netflix is still kicking.
Chauntelle Anne Tibbals, Ph.D., performed all interviews necessary for the writing of this article. Dr. Tibbals is a sociologist specializing in sex work, gender, sexualities, and popular culture. Her research has been published in numerous scholarly journals, and her ebook series You Study What? is available on Amazon.com. She has been featured in outlets including CNN, Slate, NBC News, and NPR. She can be found on Twitter where she posts as @drchauntelle. A different version of this piece appeared on her site, Porn Valley Vantage Online, on March 1, 2014.