The Power of Feminist Porn, What Retailers Need to Know
It’s hard to simply define “feminist porn.” Some experts say it’s ethically produced movies. Others say it centers on gender equality, while others maintain that it’s adult material produced by women for women who know what women really want.
Retailers want to know what consumers want.
Rachel Venning, an entrepreneur and retailer who is co-founder of Oakland, California’s Babeland, says the focus is on realistic portrayals of female pleasure that accept performers of all shapes, sizes, ages, and or ethnicity that differ from the standard conventional model-type women.
Genre expert Tristan Taormino, feminist pornographer, co-editor of “The Feminist Porn Book,” and producer of The Feminist Porn Conference, says it’s porn that explores ideas about desire, beauty, pleasure, and power through alternative representations, aesthetics, and filmmaking styles.
Regardless of its definition, the genre is hot. And that’s good news for the adult retail sector that has a whole new category to explore and market to consumers clamoring for adult products that don’t cater to the typical industry products. And as Good Vibrations’ purchasing manager Coyote Days says, fem porn, “allows to stray from the norm typically seen in porn movies.”
Venning notes that when Babeland was started it was a real challenge to find the variety of porn that women were looking for. “Some women wanted more plot, others more foreplay, others more realistic body types,” she says. “We looked for all of that and especially for depictions of female pleasure that seemed authentic, not just a girl as an accessory to a man’s erection.”
Days adds, “It’s important to understand that while this may be a niche market when compared to mainstream, it’s authentic for the people who want to see it—not limited to like-minded viewers. For example, it’s not just dykes who want to see authentic ‘dyke porn.’ Those viewers can be anybody who is turned on by the authenticity of the lifestyle being represented in the movie. Those not satisfied with girl/girl.”
And Lynn Comella, Ph.D., a professor in the women’s studies program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who teaches classes on gender, sexuality, media and popular culture, stresses that feminist porn is not anti-male nor is it women-only, as some people have suggested. She says there are men who identify as feminists and who make feminist porn. There are also men who watch and appreciate what feminist porn has to offer.
From a retail perspective, Comella suggests that feminist porn and sex shops have really gone hand-in-hand. “In fact, there are a number of feminist pornographers making films today who got their start working on the sales floor at feminist sex toy stores, and hearing first-hand from customers what kinds of porn they’d pay to watch if it only existed.”
So now that it exists, what are the keys to retail success?
As true in all of retail, customer service is key. Comella points to feminist sex shops such as Good Vibrations and Babeland, as having really well-trained and knowledgeable staff members who talk to customers and answer their questions about products, including porn.
“So customers who shop at these stores can often get a really great ‘Porn 101’ just by having a conversation with a staff sex educator. For some people, this might be the first time they’ve felt comfortable asking a question about pornography,” she says.
Unlike most of adult commerce where products were put on the shelves and the consumers made their choice, the interest in fem porn is coming from the bottom up with consumers creating the demand. Retailers now have to adjust their marketing quickly in order to reap the rewards.
Taormino says that since feminist porn is still emerging, it’s important for the producers to get the word out that it exists. She agrees that it means educating consumers about what it is, what it isn’t, where to find it, and why it is unique. “In this case, we really want to reach people actively looking for a different kind of porn,” she says.
The expert adds that the number one question she gets asked by people at her lectures is where they can buy feminist porn? “For brick-and-mortar shops and websites, creating and designating a feminist porn section is a good idea, knowing that a film can fit into multiple genres. A shelf talker or website page that has a brief definition (or link to a definition) could help educate consumers about what feminist porn is,” she advises.
In fact, Taormino points to Good Vibrations as a good example of a company that’s got its sights set correctly on the market with a feminist porn VOD portal and a large selection of feminist porn titles in their stores and online.
Also on her list of savvy retailers is The Smitten Kitten that she says has an excellent selection of feminist porn titles as well as a whole section on ethical queer porn on VOD. “Other stores that have good selections are The Tool Shed, Early To Bed, Babeland, and She Bop. Shine Louise Houston launched Pink Label VOD last fall and it features a lot of independent, feminist, and ethical porn on demand. Lust Cinema is also a great online portal for feminist porn,” Taormino notes.
As the owner of Oakland’s retail store and gallery Feelmore510, Nenna Joiner says that along with her store, some exemplary fem porn retailers include the Progressive Pleasure Club (PPC), Rubber Rose (San Diego) and Early to Bed (Chicago). She says one excellent example of a fem porn business supporting its local community is the Oh My sensuality boutique in Northhampton, Mass., that’s located in the same town as Smith College—a notable feminist institution.
Despite recognizing the newfound opportunity and stocking the right products, retailers considering feminist porn can’t simply rest and wait for consumers to knock down their doors. It takes new strategies and inventive approaches to attract fans.
Joiner points out that her store has found success in utilizing HD monitors in the gallery that constantly show fem porn in order to establish the new niche she believes consumers might find valuable.
And that’s not all.
“As a new title gets suggested through blogs, festivals, word of mouth, or the producer, we take the time to see what our audience really wants by producing events that help to increase consumption,” Joiner says. “Be it Feelmore510 Adult Gallery’s monthly events (erotic film night, film giveaways at local events or women comedy night), we have created a business model to place the product before the potential customer constantly. It’s about the right sales funnel that will inspire the consumer to purchase. And without question, feminist porn inspires people to buy, but good feminist porn inspires people to become fans,” Joiner says.
Like Joiner, Taormino says film screenings are a great way to introduce feminist porn movies to audiences that often has a retail long tail. The lecturer curates “The Feminist Porn Show,” which features clips of films from 24 different feminist pornographers. “It provides people with a taste of all the diverse voices out there. We often sell movies afterward and do really well because people see the clips and, of course, want to see more. I also think that panels and Q&A’s that feature feminist producers, directors, and performers lend themselves to lively discussion, audience interaction, and dynamic sales. I also love the opportunity to present to the retail staff at shops that carry my products to give them information about my films and answer questions to help them give informed recommendations to customers.”
Feminist porn has also made headway into another retail arena—e-book publishing.
Riverdale Avenue Books publisher Lori Perkins says that the Internet is playing a key role in fem porn publishing because of the anonymity it offers. Besides her company, she notes Ellora’s Cave, Loose-id, Samhain and Cleis Press (non-fiction) as leaders in the field.
Many of these companies have been publishing “women-centric romantic erotica” for over a decade, Perkins says, and with the advent of “fan/fiction” — gay male erotic fiction called M/M, written by women featuring characters from licensed universes such as Star Trek, Twilight, Castle, etc., and of course the “Fifty Shades” phenom—the doors have been opened for even more fem porn.
Booksellers are attending their own events in order to court these consumers including the Romantic Times conference (with 4000 attendees) that focuses on e-books and erotic romance; Fetish Flea Market in February in Rhode Island that attracts nearly 2,000 attendees and kinky conventions throughout the U.S. like Floating World and Fet Fest.
Comella adds Catalyst-Con, a conference devoted to sparking communication about sex and sexuality that in just a few short years has become a well-established sexpositive event. And film festivals like New Yorkbased CineKink have also played an important role in creating spaces for feminist pornographers to screen their films and find new fans.
These are the kinds of events that need to be paid attention to by retailers.
Brick-and-mortar shopkeepers also need to be aware of the Feminist Porn Awards produced by Good For Her (Toronto), according to Joiner. She says it is a one of the most important awards events for the success of the category and it gives creators a dedicated platform to reach media, fans, and intellectuals all the while celebrating diversity. It can also give retailers a heads up as to what will be a hot product or niche.
Although the field is relatively new and growing, subtle distinctions from romantic scripts to downright dirty movies are emerging. So retailers need to be cognizant of a number of “must-have” products and be aware of some household fem porn names to keep on their short lists.
Taormino, Courtney Trouble and Candida Royalle are favorite filmmakers among the experts. Royalle’s “Feeling It, Not Faking It” was noted by Venning as a movie that “really promises a portrayal of female pleasure.”
Other directors include Erika Lust, Petra Joy, Anna Span, Ovidie and Maria Beatty along with Julie Simone, and Kelly Shibari who make BDSM and fetish-focused content. Taormino says movies made by and for lesbians, queer and trans people are directed by Joiner, Madison Young, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Shine Louise Houston, and produced by several companies including Fatale Media and T-Wood Pictures.
Taormino says, “Courtney Trouble, Emilie Jouvet, and Buck Angel are known for their gonzo and documentary-style work. There are also vignettes (my “Rough Sex series for example), alt-porn flicks (Joanna Angel is the reigning queen there), artcore (think Carlos Batts), and various genrebending shorts (Gala Vanting and N. Maxwell Lander come to mind). Plus, we can’t forget the educational titles like my Vivid-Ed movies, Nina Hartley’s Adam & Eve guides, and Carol Queen’s series for Good Releasing.”
Of course the lifeblood of retail is sales. And with a burgeoning market, the question is always price point. Will the new fem porn products support higher mark-up because of the demand? Does the niche have rabid fans that will pay whatever’s necessary to get their hands on these types of products?
Taormino says it depends on the format. She says the web-based content she’s seen can be very affordable and competitive. As far as full-length films and DVDs, the price point is higher.
“This is where I consider feminist porn ‘organic, fair trade porn,’ she says, “because it has many parallels with the organic and fair trade movement in the United States. There has been a cultural shift among consumers who are willing to pay more for higher quality products produced under fair work and trade conditions. People are also willing to put their money where their politics are to support local, artisanal, and independent small businesses. If they care where their coffee came from, how it was made, and how it got to market, they buy local, organic, and fair trade. Well, the same thing needs to happen for porn buyers: some of them care about where their porn comes from, the conditions under which it was created, and who profits from it consumption. If that matters to you, you need to pay a little more in order to support sustainable small feminist porn businesses.
Know that spending more on a feminist porn movie also means that performers and crew were well paid and you’re not getting an assembly line, generic product.”
Joiner thinks that many fem porn titles are slowly shifting into quadrants based on quality as well as price. Yet, products start out with the same similar price point and quickly shift to what the market or store believes the unit should retail.
“You can have a set price, but the quality is a true testament to how long the price will actually hold. Prices that I have set for my product will not fluctuate, as I would like to establish a standard with a price guarantee along with quality,” Joiner says.
It appears as though fem porn is following in the footsteps of gay porn that for the most part demands quality from its discerning fans—and that can mean bigger profits for retailers who don’t lump the niche in with traditional porn, but listen to what the ladies have to say.