The internet grows curious crops: one of the latest is adult entertainment crowd-funding websites. A handful of sites dedicated to allowing users to fund whichever X-rated project piques their interest have emerged over the past year. The most prominent is the cheekily named Offbeatr, launched last year and heralded as the ‘Kickstarter of porn.’ Similar to Offbeatr is the more recent Fan Fund XXX which more broadly aims to fund porn industry technology as well as content.
At Offbeatr, consumer involvement begins with the curation of the campaigns themselves, with users able to vote on which pitches they’d like to be approved to actually seek donations. “Customer or supporter interaction as the most important feature of our site,” explains Ben Tao, one of Offbeatr’s founders. Often creative input and influence is used to entice donations – Neko Adventures promised any pledge of $1000 would let you direct the scene.
Although ultimately unsuccessful, Neko Adventures was characteristic of many of the projects Offbeatr supports: it wanted to “bring neko chans, aka. cat girls, to real life in hardcore pornographic fashion.” The campaigns that garner most support often cater to specific fantasies. Face-sitting is one of the more traditional, and ‘furry fandom’ porn is one of the more common (think anthropomorphism meets smut). Tao explains that the popularity of alternative or niche content on their site is the result of the reluctance of porn studios to make content that might disrupt the well-tested formula of what “makes them the most money,” which is porn that plays out the typical hardcore tropes.
Reflecting on this reluctance, he observed that these studios become “victims of their own success in the sense that they’ve created so much content.” This content glut that clogs the industry is failing engage consumers in the way that crowd-sourced porn needs to in order for the model to work. The availability of free and totally interchangeable porn online has hurt the industry financially and creatively, and seems to have desensitised the consumer to the point of disengagement. Pete Housley, CEO of Fan Fund XXX, a site which works on a similar model, describes the success of crowd-funding porn as a result of increased consumer engagement. “Fans should be asked for input in the development of content and technology; they are the ultimate consumer of these products – and the perfect focus group.” He notes that “the primary reason for the success of these type of non-traditional funding programs is social media.”
Adult entertainment is usually financed – or not, as amateurs have demonstrated – produced and then consumed privately, but as Housley describes, the public and communal nature of crowd-funding is its strength. While currently serving the kinkier or more whimsical varieties of porn, both Tao and Housley expect crowd-funding will be part of the future of adult entertainment. “The business requires change,” asserts Housley. “It is no longer a business model where the ‘build it and they will come’ model functions.”
The natural extroversion of crowd-funding is essential to its appeal and it seems possible that the proliferation of crowd-funded porn could help to change the tightly private nature of porn consumption. Mired in stigma, public discussion of pornography is often limited to legalities or depravities. The tacit acknowledgement of widespread consumption does little to alleviate the discomfort that accompanies frank discussion of what exactly we’re watching which in turn, cuts off the possibility of discussing how it might be impacting us. Crowd-funding creates a space where adult content is openly discussed by its consumers, and, crucially, where the consumers are directly aware the role their consumption plays in creating content. Paring down the relationship between the viewer and their porn to one where the consumer directly engages with the production will perhaps help encourage productions that eschews some of the common tropes and degradations of mainstream porn.
A year before Offbeatr launched, author and academic Cordelia Fine published an indictment of the “dehumanising effects of smut” in The Monthly. It pointed to such tropes and argued that there are “clearly major issues with the practice” of commercial pornography which contribute to gender inequality. Crowd-funded porn could help to redress her concerns: the description for ‘Come To Me When You’re Ready’, a current Offbeatr pitch, states that “porn is a huge part of the culture we’re living in. Women can not just ignore porn, we have to participate and discuss this very influential genre.”
It’s hardly revolutionary that the media we consume shapes us; crowd-funding may offer us the chance to shape it back.