That's where the little guy, or gal, comes in. Technology has made it possible for performers to get in closer touch than ever with the end user. Writing letters became phone sex, then phone sex became personalized video. Today we have webcams and a communication system that is instant, allowing requests of all kinds to be made and fulfilled to nearly everyone's satisfaction.
In recent years, many performers have made a decent living creating custom videos. While some of the performers are well known in adult entertainment circles, many more are virtually unknown to those in porn's epicenter, as they have nothing to do with the corporate machine of commercial porn product.
When Sinnamon Love first began performing in the early '90s, she was approached by directors who shot custom videos on the side. As she became more established and went online, fans began requesting customs directly, usually masturbation scenes where she mentioned the guys by name.
Recently, the requests have become increasingly specific. Rather than hardcore or even girl/girl scenes — product readily available on the Internet — fans began calling for scenes featuring very specific fetishes like "giantess" and "freezing." Haven't heard of these niches? You're not alone: Neither had she.
Another change was the delivery system. The traditional model of recording a 30-minute or hour scene for a customer and sending him a DVD is still common, though many models have eschewed that system almost completely for Internet-based delivery systems.
In the case of Love, she has three online clip stores and takes specific requests, finding that they frequently find a much wider audience. She discovered that one person making a request frequently represented a larger crowd searching for the same fetish.
"What I find with the custom clip requests is that I'm getting exactly what the fetishists for that particular kink are into," Love said. "I get really great ideas for the type of material that individual fetishists are looking for that I may not have gotten otherwise. I was completely unaware of the giantess fetish until I got requests to shoot videos involving smothering and trampling of little toy soldiers or toy cars and model houses, things like that. Once I realized that these guys were the fetishists, that custom request sold a lot more than something I would have tried to come up not knowing anything about that particular kink."
Tanya Danielle's first custom video involved modeling different pairs of shoes in a cameraman's apartment. Ten years later, custom videos have become a major part of her workload as well as her income.
While customers are frequently taken aback by the costs of a custom video — Tanya's rates are $400 for 30 minutes solo, $800 for softcore with two models and $1,400 for hardcore starring two performers — even those rates don't spell profit once the talent, cameraman, costuming and incidentals are factored in. But the material also can be re-appropriated for use as content on websites, where it can become profitable.
Since many fans find those prices prohibitive, models are increasingly turning to downloadable clips. Love's sites, which are accessible through clearinghouse Clips4Sale.com, cost $5.99 for five minutes and $10.99 for 10 minutes.
"Guys tend to want to purchase clips that are between five and 10 minutes, more so than a 20- or 30-minute video, because they can purchase multiple clips for the same cost," Love said.
For a young model struggling to establish herself, building yet another performer website and waiting for the members to roll in is even more difficult than it sounds. For Jandi Lin, who has been in the business only seven months, she focuses on building her fanbase rather than trying to cash in directly through custom vids.
"I'm just working on building a strong fanbase right now using YouTube, using that medium to build relationships," Lin said. "I think that's the most important thing — to connect with your viewers."
Lin has posted dozens of videos on her YouTube channel, some public and some private, all of them focusing on her personality and tease.
"It's like stripping — it's more about the sensuality, it's more about the personality coming through than the actual T&A," Lin said. "On my YouTube, it's more about the connection between me and the viewer. It's personality. They want to feel like they know me, they want to feel like they're special, and they are."
Lin said she is hoping to build up a loyal fanbase that will follow her to her website when it goes live. She said it's simply a matter of getting creative, since she's new and doesn't have a lot of money to invest into marketing.
"I try and determine if a fan seems like a potential customer, a loyal customer, and it's kind of a reward for them," she said. "I'll make them personal messages and little teases and stuff. This is about all I can do right now, but I think I've been very successful in my short time pushing this stuff."
Not surprisingly, a lot of potential customers have been scammed. When someone sends a girl a check for a few hundred dollars and never receives his product, many if not most are reluctant to file charges. Having their fetish become part of the public record is not something they are interested in. So when a customer finds a dependable model, it can be easy for her to get repeat business.
"Most of them end up being repeat customers," Danielle said. "Once you gain their trust, a lot of them are very likely to remain regular customers."
And repeat business is important in an increasingly competitive industry. As the product diversifies and production companies struggle to access the end user and their money, these individuals may be on to something. When all else fails, give the people what they want.