Category Archives: The Kinky Business

All posts relating to the business of kink.com; my involvement in it; my thoughts about it.

Fighting 2257

The “Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act”, commonly known as “USC 2257” is a law which places stringent record keeping requirements on producers of sexually explicit material.  Specifically, producers of sexually explicit must maintain proof-of-age records, including copies of state issued IDs, dates of birth, legal names, and even maiden names of all performers. Producers now just live with this law, and it’s as if we have forgotten its very damaging effects.

The issue that angers me most is that the law extends to the ‘secondary producer’, which includes anyone who simply reproduces those image  — whether it be on a commercial blog, a tube site, or a magazine — without being involved in the actual production.  This means that performer’s personal information, including copies if their IDs, has to be distributed to the myriad of people who republish material in an attempt to comply.  This is a dangerous and clear violation of the model’s privacy rights, and what seems like a deliberate attempt by the federal government to create a barrier for entry and dissuade performers from sex work.

This law also impedes free speech in a violation of the first amendment.  For instance, I would *love* to send a director on a tour of the German sex club scene and shoot spontaneous, authentic scenes.  Such material would expose and educate us all about a vibrant subculture.  Heck, it might even inspire people to want to open sex clubs locally.  Once, without fully understanding 2257, a director shot such as scene for me. He told me all the participants agreed to be filmed and everyone at the club was required to be over 21 anyway, so what’s the problem?  The problem is I could go to jail if I publish it.  To be legal, we would have obtain copies of IDs and have participants fill out complex paperwork — this works for a few participants, but it is virtually impossible when dealing with spontaneous crowd scenes.

So what is it like to be young and hot and get fucked in a German sex club? What’s the hopping underground BDSM scene like in London?  Go there and find out for yourself, because 2257 makes it near impossible for someone like me to expose it for you. That’s not just upsetting, it’s tragic.  Now consider swingers magazines — they cannot legally be sold under 2257. The problems of 2257 are profound.

We live in a time of complacency.  Due to a liberal administration, there has been no 2257 enforcement in years.  As a result, many companies do not fully comply.  I remember harder times under Bush — some smaller producers lacked the resources to comply and actually shut down.  Membership to the Free Speech Coalition soared as a defense was put together.

If (when) we get another conservative administration, it seems likely that unless 2257 is struck down now, the next industry-wide attack from the federal government will be 2257-based.  The Free Speech Coalition is mid way through litigation to overturn 2257 and they badly need your help.  Without it, the efforts could be abandoned.  Please visit their website and donate if you can.

Authenticity in Porn

Kink.com’s mission statement reads “To demystify and celebrate alternative sexualities by providing the most authentic kinky experiences”.  The word ‘authentic’ has been included in this statement since it was originally conceived.

From when I started the company, I have have always known what I didn’t want.  I didn’t want lousy ropework that was clearly escapable, Hollywood style duct-tape gags that could obviously be removed, lots of plastic surgery, fake reactions to pain or – worst of all – obviously fake orgasms.  I wanted to see attractive, natural looking people genuinely tied up and reacting to BDSM scenarios as authentically and naturally as possible.

I converted the second bedroom of my San Francisco Marina apartment into a dungeon and put an ad on craigslist offering $100/hour to anyone willing to be properly tied up.  With the camera on a tripod operated via remote control, and slightly sweaty palms, I went about the business of producing what appealed to my emerging sexuality.

As the company grew and I hired others to direct, keeping things authentic meant finding directors who had a genuine passion and personal interest in the activities they were portraying, as well as continuing to find models willing to go through real experiences.

Having come at this from a very different angle and with different motivations, it is interesting now, 15 years later, to see how the BDSM we produce compares to what is practiced by the general BDSM community. The fact that we are a for-profit company has an effect on the nature of the scenes.  While the scenarios are still real – the models are genuinely tied up and are giving authentic reactions to real scenarios – there is a theatrical element that plays specifically to the camera.  Some might say the machinery has unnecessarily large and noisy pistons; metal weights that look heavy are actually hollow, hardwood floors that models kneel on are actually spongy, and the scenarios are often more elaborate than some might feel is necessary to achieve the desired result.  Walk into a typical BDSM club and you’ll mostly see crosses with people tied to them – it’s straightforward, it’s quick, and it gets the job done.

In addition, the for-profit nature informs the choice of participants towards that which sells – and that means featuring conventionally good looking people groomed in a way that the public currently considers sexy.  The fact that the participants are paid also alters the outcome:  as soon as money is involved, as much as one might try, the dynamic is never completely the same.  Let’s face it, whether they are enjoying the activity or not, the participants are there mostly to get paid. Putting on a good performance enhances sales for a performer’s work, and hence the chance of future gigs.

I have often thought about whether the above distinctions between what kink.com produces and what is practiced by the wider BDSM community represents a betrayal of the company mission statement.  In my mind, the answer is “no”.  It is not my mission to necessarily portray these same activities, nor to make everyone feel good about their bodies, but rather to get basic themes from BDSM in front of as many new eyes as possible.  If this means a little theater and focusing on what customers find attractive, I am OK with that.

It is also interesting to note that the for-profit nature of the business leads to a phenomenal effort towards innovation.  There always has to be something new. New sets, new props, new scenarios.  The human body only bends in so many ways and has a fixed number of orifices, and yet I am amazed by what the directors and prop builders are able to dream up! I get a lot of feedback from customers who tell me how inspired they are by this innovation – some people genuinely get ideas about how to spruce up their sexlife from kink.com.

For example, kink.com did not invent the concept of a ‘fucking machine’. However, we have paid numerous engineers to innovate and develop machines for our popular website, fuckingmachines.com.  Before this site became popular, I scoured the Internet looking for machines to buy – I came up only with a Sybian and a JeTaime.  Now, however, online stores feature entire categories of them. Prototypes of new commercial machines have often been used in collaboration with our staff.

So, in summary, we sometimes hear criticism that a typical BDSM featured at kink.com is more sensational and theatrical as a result of being shot for profit, or that we only shoot a given look. This is an entirely valid critique.  Money does change and complicate authenticity, but it also causes us to innovate.  It is core to kink.com’s mission that our work is seen by new eyes – we hope to demystify activities that are often misunderstood, celebrate and inspire.

Ethical Porn in the Age of Cams

People do not consume pornography like they used to. When I look back to the 1990s and early 2000s, business was booming — we could hardly shoot content fast enough.  Today, however, the marketplace has changed.  Free content is ubiquitous and the barriers to entry are low. This has lead to falling sales and significant consolidation.  Ask anyone who has attended the adult industry trade show in Vegas — it was once spectacular. Today, large booths have been replaced by small ones, and fewer of them.

Compared to many companies, Kink.com has managed to better shield itself from this effect due to a unique product line in a tight niche and some very effective marketing.  We build elaborate sets and props in house and thus the barriers to entry in our market are higher. Still, there’s no question this trend has lead to cost cutting and tighter margins over the last five years.  Indeed, from 2011 to 2012 overall recorded content sales fell despite the addition of three new sites to our portfolio.

In response to this sobering state of affairs, our strategy is similar to that of the music industry — move towards live programming.  We are currently investing the majority of our technology resources into “webcams” that allow kinky performers to log-in from their home and connect directly with the customer.

The one-on-one interaction associated with live cams allows people to explore their sexuality in a more intimate way, which is core to our mission. The benefit to models is that cams offer the model the ability to work from home and set her own schedule, which is very different from working in adult movies where the work and schedule is unpredictable. However, it also represents a significant dilemma for us.

Continue reading

From The Archives: The Details Interview

A few years ago, I did an interview in Details magazine on the state of kink — and Kink.com. Thought it was worth reposting a few bits from it:

DetailsOkay, so how the hell did you end up running an Internet-porn empire?
Peter Acworth: I was a Ph.D. student at Columbia Business School studying finance, and on vacation in Spain during the summer of 1997 I came across an article in the Sun entitled SICKNOTE FIREMAN MAKES £1/4M PUSHING INTERNET FILTH. I realized at that moment that this would change my life.

Continue reading

Why Kink Matters

armory_night-Kink_blog

When James Franco approached us about producing a documentary on my company last year, I was flattered — but hesitant. As the founder of Kink.com, the largest producer of fetish and BDSM pornography in the world, I’ve seen a lot of harmful misconceptions construed about the company, and BDSM in general. Next week, the documentary, kink, will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. It will be controversial, but I hope that it starts a conversation about sex and sexuality that goes beyond the walls of the Kink.com Armory.

Fifteen years ago, I started Kink.com out of my dorm room at Columbia Business School. I had been studying for a Ph.D. in finance, on my way to becoming a professor or Wall Street bond guru, but had always wanted to run my own business. After stumbling onto a newspaper article about a firefighter who was making thousands of dollars selling adult pictures over the then-novel Internet, it became clear that I could make a living creating fetish porn — a genre that speaks to me personally — and I jumped at the opportunity. But for me, porn has never been just a business — it’s about providing access for hundreds of thousands of people like me whose fantasies live outside the bounds of conventional sexuality.

I grew up with an intense desire to be tied up. Indeed, as a young child I remember getting turned on by cowboy and Indian movies where someone was being restrained. When walking home from elementary school, I remember gazing at a pair of handcuffs in the window of an Army supply store. However, it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I discovered erotic bondage magazines in seedy London sex stores, which lead me to the conclusion that maybe bondage could be enjoyed with a consenting partner. Maybe, I reasoned, there was nothing actually wrong with me! I struggled to find others to continue this dialogue. Several years later when I began frequenting S/M clubs in the dead of night, I recall all the patrons wore only black leather and many had a secondary “scene” name for anonymity. Even then, it struck me that kink probably had a far wider appeal than those willing to frequent these clubs and I was confused by the shroud of secrecy.

As someone who has grown up with these feelings, I believe that the widespread availability of erotica depicting diverse sexual acts is a very good thing. Anyone with a fetish is likely to find content that appeals to them specifically and thus feel less isolation, shame or confusion. Such negative emotions about sexuality are not healthy for any of us.

The work we do at Kink.com focuses on a subset of those activities encompassed under “BDSM” (Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission, and Sado Masochism) — which is in turn a subset of the broader idea of sexual “kink.” As a commercial enterprise, our products gravitate toward that which sells — beautiful people, elaborate sets and props. Having said that, authenticity to the underlying fetish has always been very important to us, and making porn is not merely about money.

Kink.com’s mission statement is “to demystify and celebrate alternative sexualities,” and in service of that mission, we have always taken a certain pride in the way we do business. We have an open-door policy and have never shied away from scrutiny; we host public tours of our Armory daily, conduct sexual education workshops and provide community forums. We’ve even opened a bar, the Armory Club, across the street from our studios. Generally speaking, when people see us as a company and community first hand, any fear or misconception is resolved, and they leave with a better understanding of what we are about and what motivates us.

In this context, we were ultimately very pleased to welcome James Franco and director Christina Voros into the Armory to film kink. We hope through the documentary, our world at Kink.com will be seen by an entirely new set of eyes. I dare say many will initially be offended, seeing what we do as perverse, immoral or harmful. By the end of the movie, however, I hope that most will come to understand what motivates us — the producers, the performers, and the fans of Kink.com.

(This post originally appeared on Huffington Post

Welcome to my blog!

Hi Everyone,

This blog has been a long time in the coming, and I am glad to finally have a place to call my own. I will soon be posting random musings here, including my thoughts about the adult entertainment business, and the business of kink.com in particular.

In the interim, please check out the blog of my mother, carolacworth.com , and buy some sculpture!