While the tech world holds its annual shark-jumping contest at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, Maitresse Madeline, San Francisco-based domme and Kink.com porn director, has auctioned off a private hour-long webcam show to an Australian viewer for an astounding $42,000.
The highest amount ever paid for a one-hour live adult show focuses a spotlight on porn's most profitable long-tail business model, a burgeoning sector where female entrepreneurs call the shots, leverage social media like PR industry pros -- and rake in the cash.
The special two-week auction was a first for Kink.com, and a test of a new format for adult entertainment in Kink's recently re-launched webcam division.
According to Kink's spokesperson Michael Stabile, bidding was competitive from the start, but it wasn’t until the bids passed $10K that the 17-year-old online porn company knew it had an emergent profit model in its stable.
By the end of the auction, four separate bidders were competing in the tens of thousands of dollars -- the kind of customer Ms. Madeline refers to as "the 1%" of webcam clients.
Stabile told ZDNet that the $42,000 payment had cleared on Thursday.
The $700 a minute cam girl
The winner receives a one-hour, live custom BDSM sexual encounter with Ms. Madeline via webcam, her email address and the promise of ongoing contact, a one-year VIP membership to all Kink.com websites, signed photos of Ms. Madeline, an HD recording of their hour, plus any props used during the session.
She said he may choose to be dominated, or to dominate her, or he may simply choose to chat -- as many webcam clients often do.
I used to have a customer who would pay me $1000 to hang up on him after one minute of dominating him in a cam show. But this auction wasn’t findom (financial domination).
Ms. Madeline described the auction as a bridge between traditional recorded content (adult film's old business model, which never adapted to piracy) and the burgeoning webcam industry.
She said, "The auction and the infrastructure built to support this kind of auction was the first offering of the project to roll out and go live. I'm thrilled with the result."
The director explained that she’ll be working with other BDSM performers on interactive auctions featuring everything from webcam shows to pantyhose auctions and BDSM specialties, such as chastity keyholding services.
The cam business is lucrative, and an Internet mainstay -- despite a recent article by VICE characterizing the entire cam industry as an online Eastern European backwater run off low-quality hardware.
In the past few years, cams have emerged alongside tube sites as the new face of porn in the tech era - while porn's copyright trolls, its stale formulas, dated DVD formats and death-grip distribution chains die in technophobic disgrace.
Douglas Richter, a rep for Adult Webmaster Empire (AWE), one of the industry’s largest cam companies, estimates industry revenues at between $1.5 and $2 billion a year.
Mr. Stablie explained, "Cams aren't new, but I think what Madeline is doing at Kink is really exceptional, and makes traditional recorded content look like the 20th century tech that it is. That's the upside to piracy, in some ways -- it drove us to create an adult experience that's much more participatory and interactive than passively watching a video."
Cams have changed the nature of the entire business -- the straight porn business, the gay porn business, and everything else (customers now have more freedom of choice to select, and it shows in the diversity of cam stars).
Social networking defines the cam star
A cam session requires interaction; a performer can't be boring, dopey, or wasted - the cam star needs to able to connect, and to sell. Much in the way that "talkies" (moving pictures with sound) displaced actors with unpleasant voices and personal delivery, cams are steadily retiring obnoxious, checked-out, and irresponsible porn stars.
The new porn star (the cam star) is adept at social media engagement -- or else they fail. Cam stars know their fans and remember the details of their fans' lives. The more successful cam stars are conversationalists, storytellers, as well as gamers and geeks.
They're also getting the same hatred for women that permeates the Internet -- but unlike certain feminist counterparts, they're not allowing attackers to scare them out of the Internet's arenas of engagement.
While most porn stars have online profiles, cam stars have made social media an art. In their off-hours, stars use it to monitor and interact with fans, to increase familiarity and to get them excited about upcoming shows.
When they go online, they send out tweets and emails to their fans; regulars and big spenders might get text messages as well.
And they've learned to steel themselves against mob mentality and trolls.
"You really have to be on 'on'," says Ryan. "Not just on your personal game, but in knowing how to talk to everybody, how to deal with the haters."
Popular models on large cam sites are estimated to be able to bring in $40,000 in a month; high-end BDSM domination sessions typically top out at $300 an hour.
It's still a far cry from $42,000 an hour.
Kink's business model around cams puts control squarely in the performer's hands, and performers are considered contractor-entrepreneurs who also control their own marketing, limits and boundaries, and more.
Kink's website provides the stage and the access to a large customer base, but the performers are responsible for bringing in the money.
Ms. Madeline says she plans to put the $42K toward the purchase of a San Francisco space to "ethically offer the internet services that femdom fans want and where femdom consumers will know they are getting top quality service and product. (...) I’m very interested in collaborating with the community and the skills I’ve gained in filmmaking, advancements in technology and interactive camming to give the traditional dungeon a facelift and offer dommes more ways to sell their product."