Confessions of a porn site boss: How the net porn industry flopped

Part 2: How Gonzo porn led to jail for some unlucky producers

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NSFW It was the year 2000, and porn on VHS cassettes was so last decade. Now anyone could get any type of porn without the embarrassment of having to go into a seedy sex shop, thanks to the internet.

I had realised there was cash to be made on the web. It was good money for little work, especially if you weren't too bothered by how ethically you made the sales.

The good times couldn't last, however. At the start of the new millennium, with the advent of high speed multi megabit internet connectivity you could download the latest DVDs ripped down to Video CDs. Entire sites would be downloadable in one go. Why pay for what you can get for free?

Then Bit Torrent happened. It made piracy as easy as a couple of clicks. People could download whatever took their fancy at super high speeds. Even my cat could do Bit Torrent. It brought easy porn piracy to the masses.

Conversion ratios went through the floor. Less conversions, less money. Good sites went from 1:150 to over 1:1500 to get a single sign up. There was less cash flowing for everyone.

Some affiliate programs started offering financial incentives that were - to put it bluntly - unsustainable. The average surfer stays a site member for between one to three months. Anything over that is a bonus. Some sites were offering $80 - $100 for signups. That left little to nothing for the site owner.

To make things worse, a flood of people saw that internet porn was a licence to print money. They took the advertising content offered on the sites and gave it all away in one go. There was a feeling that the more free content you put on there, the more likely you were to get a conversion. While it worked in the short term, in the long term this was disastrous because keeping the surfer horny but needy until that credit card number was entered was the absolute key to making money. Give too much away and a sale was lost, for obvious reasons.

The balancing act became even more precarious when porntubes came online. Not to be outdone by YouTube and its massive traffic generating possibilities, the porn guys and gals jumped all over it. There was more content and more competition for the same surfers but all with more powerful video. TGPs became video galleries and images no longer cut it; people expected hi-def porn all the way. This meant more bandwidth and, more work. At least bandwidth was getting cheaper.

You want hardcore? You can't handle hardcore!

The more you get used to something, the more you need to get the same effect. So while the whole web was awash with lots of cheap women in sexy poses, the way forward was to offer more hardcore material.

As the internet porn world exploded, some people believed in the mantra "The more hardcore, the more cash". The type of porn moved on from titillation and conventional sex through to hard core and through to Gonzo porn. Gonzo*, a genre in itself outside of pornography, is amongst some of the most female-degrading porn around. (“If you like something a bit more interesting, try German Goo Girls!”)

Things got harder and not in a good way. Having tolerated this for so long, the US government reached the point of "enough is enough" and stepped in. Prosecutions and scare tactics were the order of the day.

The COPA law of 2003, also known in the industry as "section 2257", was the tool the US government used.

This law caused shockwaves throughout the adult industry from the moment it was devised. In essence, the law stated that anybody who used or "touched" the content was essentially classed as having contributed to the production. It also required detailed records to be kept by the producer of the content for inspection at any time by the government including proof of age and similar information. This is why most porn sites have a "2257 Notice". It may be in small print, but it will be there.

This law also meant that most of the content that existed up to that point was unusable because no 2257 documentation existed. Technically it didn't matter outside the US, but it was not worth the risk of a US person seeing it and a prosecution coming your way. People predicted mass site closures and the loss of lots of producers.

In the end, not much changed, except that the old content had to be discarded. Some studios fell by the wayside but for the most part it was business as usual. As a side note some adult amateur porn-sharing sites had to ban all but the most mundane porn for fear of falling foul of the rules.

Life continued as 2005 rolled around. Then the prosecutions happened. Amongst the first people to be prosecuted by the government was Paul Little, AKA "Max Hardcore". Max was an internet legend amongst those who liked the more extreme hardcore side of porn: hard anal sex, anal and vaginal fisting, girls dressed like schoolgirls, usually finished off with a full on facial.

Degradation was the main theme and that was turned to the max, no pun intended.

It was the schoolgirl part that got Max into hot water. During one of the scenes a girl claimed to be 12 years old - in keeping with the script - although obviously she wasn't. The government tried to prosecute him for portraying an underage character but ultimately the charges were dismissed after the defendant in a similar case was found not guilty. A jury failed to reach a verdict on a lesser, simultaneous, charge of distributing obscenity.

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