"The adult store will never die," he said, "because there will always be the type of guy who wants his porn from the store." Sussman is right, and stores also are adapting to a growing couples market. But porn that is off the beaten track, like BDSM, foot fetish, clowns — known by the industry term "Specialty" — remains hard to find in stores.
"So you like the hairy girls?" the clerk of a high-traffic Hollywood, Calif., adult video store asks. Walking past shelves stocked with mainstream porn like "Pirates," "Operation: Desert Stormy" and "Not the Bradys XXX," each of which retails for $39.99, he passes sections marked Anal, Oral, and Big Boobs and then, on the third row of Interracial, he finds Rodney Moore's "Seattle Hairy Girls 21 & 22."
"Enjoy yourself," the clerk says, and leaves. The movie is discounted to $24.
That the title is not an interracial one isn't surprising — there is no "Hairy" section — but the clerk's winking "So you like hairy girls?" says something about the state of specialty products on mainstream adult shelves: in a well-lit 500-square-foot room filled with images of young white women graphically servicing slightly older white men, unshaven women not sporting the traditional porn wax — even if they're white — seems edgy.
"It's a different kind of girl in Seattle," said veteran performer/director Rodney Moore, who sums up the appeal of specialty videos when talking about his hirsute talent. "They don't look like Porn Valley girls."
Moore has a business office in L.A., but works up and down the Pacific Coast.
In addition to his Hairy titles, he also produces BBW fare as well as the occasional story-driven feature like "Rodney Moore's Vampires."
Moore told XBIZ that the demand for specialty content came from "people not interested in the same old thing."
The specialty market is an ever-splintering collection of niches that caters to the needs of fetishists as well as desensitized consumers desperate for something new. Hairy, BBW, amputee, midget, pantyhose, and transsexual content vie for dollars where once a simple "XXX" label sufficed.
But local video stores tend to expand laterally, with more choices of the same thing, rather than diversifying their portfolios of more esoteric fare.
Wedged between a police station and Playboy's broadcast facilities in East Los Angeles is the Romantix Adult Superstore, one of more than 20 of the company's locations in Southern California. A clean and bright 24-hour store, Romantix devotes one room to novelties like dildos and flimsy lingerie and the other to DVDs.
Free-standing displays of Zero Tolerance, Digital Playground, and Wicked Pictures products, both new and several years old, join shelves lined with everything from Homegrown Video to Hustler. It's 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning and a few men in their 40s check out racks of the different "Barely Legal" knock-offs.
In a corner of the room is a gay section of about 40 titles, and like the other store, there are sections for Oral, Anal, Big Boobs and Interracial. There doesn't seem to be any order within these sections, but occasionally someone with big boobs can also pass for BBW. There is no fetish section.
"People aren't into that around here," a clerk says. A poster proclaims the biggest sellers as "Pirates" and one of the "Screw My Wife Please" movies.
If brick-and-mortar outlets can't see fit to stock much non-mainstream porn, where is the demand, and what delivery methods fill it?
"My fans make a lot of suggestions," said Natali Demore, a petite dominatrix and webmaster of BondageOrgasms.com. Demore began her career as an art photographer and then transitioned to performing as a submissive in movies. A "switch," Demore alternates between dominant and submissive roles in her movies, but lately is more dominant ("It's hard to direct other dommes," she said.).
But it's not easy to get distribution of her DVDs, considering some of her content contains something many retailers won't touch: bondage with penetration. Titles like "Enema Pay Back" and "Electrical Bondage Orgasms" might be in demand by her fans, but they are hard to find in stores.
Because specialty producers work in a limited market, however, they are often better able to satisfy the whims of consumers than larger studios.
"Someone will write in (to my website) and say that he always wanted to see X happen to Y," she said, "and I can turn that around pretty quickly if I like the idea."
Because they are competing for a market share that even big studios say is slipping, some specialty producers become savvy with media outlets not exploited by their better-funded mainstream porn counterparts.
Performers Hollie Stevens and Daisy Layne can be seen crashing Comic-Con in full sexy/evil clown costumes in support of Clown Porn (ClownPorn.net), a movement and video series spearheaded by Dick Chibbles. Mainly a web phenomenon, Clown Porn sought and found distribution with independent gonzo favorite Old Pueblo.
But a decrease in DVD sales industry-wide requires extra canniness on the part of independent producers.
"I can't be satisfied with seeing a press release in just one or two adult trade magazines," said punk porn innovator Matt Zane. "I have to hit MySpace and YouTube and put together as many fans as possible."
Zane recently beat — by nearly 20 minutes — "Mindfreak" Cris Angel's record of hook suspension, hanging by four hooks (compared with Angel's eight) in the middle of January's AVN Expo in Las Vegas. To top that stunt, he recently released "Tattooed and Tight 3," in which porn stars have sex while being tattooed. Not something one might find in the couples section of a video store.
"You have never seen that before," Zane said, noting that like many independents, he uses New Jersey's International Video Distributors (IVD) to get his DVDs into stores. IVD takes a cut of the profits and ensures that Zane's viral marketing efforts will result in DVDs for fans who choose tangible material over downloads.
Zane compares his experience marketing porn to his time in the music industry, where his various bands toured the world by the skin of their teeth.
"You have to do the marketing yourself," he said. "And take every avenue to do it."