How Social Media Turned Porn Biz Upside Down

Business

Social media allowed them to connect even more directly with potential clients, and gave them multiple new marketing and outreach channels, explains Devangshu Datta.

Social media has had some regressive effects on social norms. Swimming, for example, is a pleasant pastime and excellent exercise.

There are 1850s photographs of Victorian ladies in swimwear in family albums. An Instagram account is the 21st century digital equivalent.

Sacking a college professor for (a) swimming (b) putting pictures of herself in a swimsuit on her Insta account harks back to the medieval.

There’s a disconnect. At one level, the complainant and the vice chancellor who sacked the professor are living in some dim distant past.

At another level, they are savvy enough to access social media, a cutting-edge 21st century ecosystem which was conceptualised around 2005.

During its brief existence, social media has driven some of the most regressive socio-political agendas.

America’s anti-abortion brigade; the QAnon loonies who believe politicians eat babies; the anti-LGBTQ brigade; the ‘Britain for the British’ and ‘France for the French’ and ‘India for the Hindus’ campaigners have all skilfully exploited social media.

But even as social media has empowered people whose moral compass is parked in some dim-distant, mythical past, it has also vastly empowered workers in the sex-trade and the porn industry.

Note: Sex workers offer sexual services for money. Porn workers perform sexual acts on camera for money.

The same individual may work in both industries but that’s like a pizza delivery person who also gigs as a waiter.

Until the Internet, sex workers lived under the protection of pimps, who beat them up and swallowed their earnings.

They also suffered harassment from law-enforcement personnel. They had few marketing channels beyond standing on street corners, or hanging out in a brothel.

The Internet allowed sex workers to set up personal Web sites, take payments online and, thus, streamline the chain of intermediaries and avoid some harassment.

Social media allowed them to connect even more directly with potential clients, and gave them multiple new marketing and outreach channels.

Social media and the Internet also turned the porn industry upside down.

Porn workers used to be paid a small lump sum per movie. There were few studios and producers.

The power equation was skewed against the unclad and totally in favour of the ‘suits’.

This was in contrast to the conventional movie industry where stars started receiving royalties by the 1950s.

In 1972, Linda Lovelace’s husband was paid $1,250 to ‘persuade’ Lovelace to star in the blockbuster Deep Throat.

It has been watched by uncounted millions and the title phrase ended up in the dictionary after it was associated with the contemporaneous Watergate Scandal. Lovelace got zilch.

The Internet created new marketing channels, which led to more exposure (pun intended) for budding porn stars.

Aggregator sites like Pornhub used business models like YouTube with advertising and subscription to create new revenue streams.

Monetary equations really changed after social media.

Sites like Onlyfans allow porn workers to do customs sessions for remote clients.

The porn workers market themselves using a variety of other social media platforms as well. Their earnings have jumped by orders of magnitude.

Onlyfans (which takes a cut from creators’ earnings just as YouTube does) saw profits rise from $375 million in 2020 to $1.2 billion in 2021 with gross merchandise value (GMV) of $5.9 billion sold in 2021.

About 50 per cent of GMV was from subscriptions, while the rest from chats.

Some 300 OnlyFans creators earn $1 million-plus annually, while 16,000 creators earn over $50,000 annually. By any standards, that’s amazing.

Now there’s a new twist.

To protect marketshare, Onlyfans is alleged to have bribed Meta employees to put porn creators from rival sites on terrorist watchlists.

Three ongoing lawsuits — two from rival platforms and one class-action suit from three OnlyFans content creators- allege OnlyFans bribed Meta employees to put 20,000 social media accounts on terrorist watchlists.

This means shadowbans on Insta, Facebook and Twitter, which makes it hard for creators to market themselves, and difficulties in processing online income as well.

This isn’t about porn — it’s about using completely amoral means to protect market share. In business terms, this is a move that harks back to the medieval as well.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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