X-rated: Getting a tech job in the adult industry

Tech in the adult industry: Everything you wanted to know about XXX companies, but were afraid to ask

The adult industry, from a business perspective, is the Internet's best kept secret. It generates billions of pounds annually and has an aggressively innovative approach to technology, especially around billing, video and mobile content.

However, the amount of information about the workings of the industry in relation to its productivity is negligible. This is largely to do with the fact that very few public companies exist in this area — small, private firms dominate, which have no legal obligation to publicise their activities.

But that doesn't help anyone trying to break into the industry. Thousands of UK techies earn their daily bread from controversial content but the mechanics of getting a job in the industry are a mystery to anyone on the outside.


Key Quotes

"I might be working with naked pictures of women, but after a while
you don't even look at them."

"Adult Web site conventions are where most people would find jobs."

"We hire bog-standard, competent technicians — the top technicians go
somewhere where they're better rewarded."

"If you've done porn and have taken your clothes off that has a dramatic effect on your employability, but [working] at a porn company has no impact."


ZDNet UK went looking for answers to some questions we have all wondered about, but were afraid to ask.

1.What are the perks of working for an adult company?
"I thought the benefit would be that I could hang around with half-naked women all day," says Clinton Alexander, a US-based Web designer who has worked for a number of adult sites, who admits that one of the main reasons why he got involved in the industry was for the women.

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However the truth is that, as with most things, familiarity is the death of novelty. "I might be working with naked pictures of women, but after a while you don't even look at them," says Alexander. "It really is just work. You get used to it — just like you would get used to looking at product shots for an e-commerce Web site."

Also, it seems that techies are usually kept away from the "talent". Alexander claims that in the companies he worked for, the technology and content were "very separate".

"If someone wants to get into the adult industry to watch models they should focus on content, for example become a creative director, so they get to organise the photo shoot and hire the women," he says.

2. How do I even find out about jobs in the adult industry?
The usual sources of tech job ads don't tend to work for the adult industry. Searching on JobServe.co.uk under multiple criteria — "adult content", "adult Web site" and "adult entertainment" probably won't get you far.

UK recruitment companies aren't a great deal of help either. Ann Swain, the chief executive of the Association of...

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...Technology Staffing Companies, was unaware of any recruitment firms that specialised in roles in the adult industry.

Contacting recruitment agencies directly reveals that the majority haven't, or won't admit to, having ever had adult firms on their books. One of the few recruitment agents that actually admitted to working in this area wanted to remain anonymous and claimed to have only recruited for one particular adult company where a friend worked.

For obvious reasons the adult industry does not tend to use conventional job sites or recruitment agents. The main way people find work is through specialist Web sites such as Adultstaffing.com, at adult industry conventions, such as Internext and AVN's Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE), and by word of mouth.

"Adult Web site conventions are where most people would find jobs," says Web designer Alexander. "Internext is really huge and is attended by all types — from porn stars to technology geeks."

Adultstaffing.com advertises predominantly US-based jobs in all areas of the adult industry and has a section specifically targeted at technology jobs, including adverts for Web designers, programmers and webmasters.

Outside the US, it is less clear how adult entertainment companies find their staff. Private Media Group, an adult entertainment company based in Spain, advertises vacancies for technology staff locally, according to Robyn Harte-Bunting, senior executive at Private Media Group. "We put ads in local papers and use employment exchanges. Nothing out of the ordinary," he says.

But finding talented technology staff can be a problem in the adult industry, particularly as pay and benefits tend to be lower than in the rest of the technology industry, says Harte-Bunting. "We hire bog-standard, competent technicians — the top technicians go somewhere where they're better rewarded," he says. "I don't think there's much talent in the [adult] industry. If you're very good at technology, you go to work for a software company and get paid more."

3. What the adult industry wants from its techies
Adult companies don't generally look for technology staff with experience in the industry as basic technical skills are all that is needed, according to Harte-Bunting. But adult Web sites tend to prefer Web designers who have previously designed adult sites, according to Web designer Alexander. "The design and design content is very different to the corporate world. If you have any experience they really like that," he says.

The technology skills sought by adult Web sites are similar to those for other e-commerce sites, according to Adultstaffing.com. Technology job ads on this site commonly require skills such as HTML, Flash, Photoshop, scripting languages and database management.

Experience in search engine optimisation and interactive Web technologies, such as chat rooms, are also important skills as these are important to maintain competitive advantage in an increasingly crowded market, according to Alexander.

As for the softer skills, the ability to work fast and meet deadlines is essential. "There is more pressure in adult industry in terms of turn-around time," says Alexander.

Adultstaffing.com job ads also point out the need for technology workers to take their work seriously, by asking for individuals who are "serious" or a "non-partier".

Large adult sites tend to employ full-time programmers, system administrators and network analysts, although in smaller...

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...companies this work is often outsourced, according to Alexander. "The adult industry has tons of [technology] freelancers," he says.

Steve Sims, the founder of Sims Designs, a UK company that has designed a number of adult sites, says that many adult companies don't even have an IT department — they more often rely on freelancers instead.

"A couple of the companies we have designed for have IT departments, but on the whole they just seem to muddle through on an individual basis," says Sims.

Even the larger companies rarely employ in-house Web designers as the site design does not need to be updated that frequently.

"The bigger [adult] companies get, the more technology staff they have, but they tend to outsource all creative," says Alexander. "Keeping an in-house designer is not effective, as once you design a Web site you don't need any more design work till the next year."

4. How many IT professionals actually work in the adult companies?
The pornography industry is worth $57bn (£33bn) worldwide, with Internet pornography accounting for $2.5bn of this amount, according to figures posted on review site TopTenReviews.com in February 2004. It claims there are 4.2 million porn sites worldwide, which represent 12 percent of the Internet.

ZDNet UK was unable to obtain any figures on the number of IT professionals employed by the adult industry, but adult sites alone are likely to employ thousands of staff. According to industry insiders, an adult Web site that makes around $1m every year is likely to employ between four and seven technology staff and around the same number of sales staff. If these figures are accurate and representative of the entire online adult industry, they suggest that tens of thousands of tech staff work for adult Web sites worldwide.

Other adult companies appear to require less technology staff. Private Media Group, which makes most of its revenues from videos and DVDs, generated €35.6m (£24.4m) in sales in 2004, according to the company's annual report, but only employs around 15 technology staff out of 120 full-time staff, according to Harte-Bunting.

5. What are the challenges of working for an adult company?
It is widely perceived that adult companies are making large amounts of money, which has attracted increasing numbers of people into the industry, hoping to make a quick buck. But increasing competition means it is becoming harder to make serious money in the adult industry.

"It's an absolute myth that porn companies make a lot of money. In the 90s when there was less competition some companies were making a 20 percent profit," says Harte-Bunting. "Now, anyone that's got a camera is making porn. The industry runs on very thin profit margins. I've worked with [adult video] producers and seen the agony they go through to turn a buck," he says.

Web designer Alexander agrees and says that he sometimes has to lower his rates as adult companies are more budget conscious than his corporate clients. Sims claims his company...

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...has had a "couple of bad debtors" from the adult industry, so it now asks for a 50 percent deposit, instead of its usual deposit of 25 percent.

Adult companies are also less likely to offer other benefits such as private health insurance and share options, according to Harte-Bunting. "The vast majority of porn companies don't offer share options," he says.

Another challenge of working as an IT professional in the adult industry is the lack of technical awareness among those running adult sites, says Sims.

"Clients always seem to want a lot of movement or flash, which instantly is going to have a detrimental effect on any search engine rankings they achieve," he says. "Also, clients seen to think uploading huge 'straight out the digital camera' images to their site is a good idea, when obviously it isn't."

6. Can working with controversial content affect your job prospects?
Insiders agree that working for an adult company could affect business opportunities in other industries, but there are ways to minimise the risks.

"There is definitely a danger, particularly if someone is very religious," says Alexander. "I have dealt with it by keeping the two parts of my business separate, for example, I don't talk to corporate clients about my work with adult companies."

"We keep the fact that we design such sites low key and rely on our Web site rankings to bring in work for those that are specifically looking for that type of site. All our 'adult sites' are actually nothing more than 'titillation' to be honest, Mr & Mrs Smith who want to put some photos on a Web site is more our line of work than anything hardcore," says Sims.

But Mark Heath, a commercial director at UK recruitment consultancy Computer Futures, disagrees that working for an adult company is likely to affect job prospects.

"I wouldn't have thought that it would be too detrimental to their prospects unless they started the business themselves, the vacancy was with a religious organisation or they had it on their CV as a hobby," says Heath. "I would have thought that it would make them stand out a bit actually and be an interesting topic of conversation during the interview."

Harte-Bunting is of the same opinion. "If you've done porn and have taken your clothes off that has a dramatic effect on your employability, but [working] at a porn company has no impact," he says. "Even in the US, Christian conservatives are a vociferous minority. Most employers in Silicon Valley don't give a damn — they just care if you can do the work."

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