Kink on the Web
Well, you get the idea.
The web has provided just that kind of easy-entry function for specialized content, benefiting both the consumers who crave it — whether they live in a progressive corner of the world, or in the most restricted of red states — and the seller who avoids potential restrictions on mailed goods. In fact, the Internet has become a virtual one-stop shopping center for fans of the fetish lifestyle, where finding viewing material, toys, costumes and willing human participants are all a mere mouse click away.
The web has long been a blessing for those in search of basic vanilla porn who didn't want to make the trip to the local brick-and-mortar shop, but when it comes to the specific niches and micro-niches that a true fetish fanatic is in search of, that material is often simply unavailable at the mom-and-pop outlets.
"There are huge benefits to selling [content exclusively] on the web, most definitely," DarkCircus.com CEO Jeremy says. His company went online three years ago, and now offers an affiliate program and fetish niche sites like MadelineIsWicked.com. "We considered doing DVD sales, and honestly, it doesn't seem like the profit margins are worth the inherent risks of having to know what you're legally able to send to one place or another. There are some really ancient, almost puritanical laws in some places saying you can't look at this or that. In Texas, anal sex wasn't legal until 2003."
Though Dark Circus began with a fairly general approach in terms of BDSM flavors, the company found that specializing was the way to go.
"Chastity and cuckolding is really what launched us," Jeremy says of his Nevada-based business. "Our sales literally quadrupled in the course of one month when we started looking into what niches weren't overly catered to, and we searched forums, searched interest groups, had conversations with different people and got feedback from our members, and when we found something that wasn't being paid attention to — and something we could do in our own style — that's what we went for. Our next project is "Tickle Freak," which we're currently shooting for and designing."
The Internet has also been a boon for growth in the fetish community, allowing neophytes to discover new kinks and thrills.
"I think just because of the availability, you're going to see people trying things and looking at things that they normally might not," continues Jeremy. "There are so many more outlets now; people are allowed to explore things a lot more openly and freely and completely because it exists on the web. They might find that they don't enjoy it, but that moves them on to the next thing. The Internet does a lot for cultivating more specific tastes over the long term."
When it comes to specific tastes, possessing a personal interest in fetish is a must: Consumers know what they want, and can easily see through product that lacks kinky integrity. That kind of hands-on (or hands-tied-up, as the case may be) experience was no problem for Indy, president of TeasingBucks.com, a Vancouver, Canada-based affiliate program.
"It's something that my wife and I were into, and when we had our son, we went through this puritanical phase and got all the porn out of the house," he recalls. "I uploaded it all to a Yahoo group, which we completely forgot about. We came back to it a year later and discovered that there were like 10,000 members of the group. So that was the market I went after. That's why I decided to do it."
That was three years ago, and though his initial goal was only to pay his monthly high-speed Internet bill, Indy soon found himself doing quite well.
"Our first site was IndecisiveCaptions.com, and from there, we launched three additional sites that are pretty unique," Indy explained. "They're fetish-focused sites, but what makes them stand out is that the medium isn't your traditional photo sets or cams. We take traditional photography and add captions to them that essentially flesh out a fantasy around the photograph. So my members are paying to get access to these little vignettes.
"We're up to six paysites now," he continues, "and a number of free sites that involve blogs. Also, we just entered into a partnership to launch a site called OrgasmDenial.com, pretty much the biggest community resource site in that particular niche."
Being a Canadian company brings a different twist to the kink business: Indy doesn't have to deal with some of the issues that plague his American counterparts.
"The fact that my business is a Canadian company and that I'm located in Canada and I do my production in Canada, that protects me a great deal," he says. "The fact that I do business on the Internet, that really doesn't make a difference. Our obscenity laws here state that for something to be obscene, the government has to prove that it causes harm to society, and that's an almost impossible burden to prove. In the U.S., the laws are much more broad and easier to prove. It's pretty tough for something to be obscene in Canada.
"There's also privacy legislation in Canada that essentially says that what you have to do to comply with 2257 in the U.S. is illegal, so one of the challenges for a Canadian-based business is that to fully comply with 2257, we'd have to violate Canadian privacy laws. So we kind of have to split the difference."
And, though his lawyer might say that's a potential hazard, Indy scoffs at the notion.
"If you're in this industry and not comfortable with risk, you're in the wrong place," he says. "And our political system doesn't lend itself to an attorney general who wants to go after some guy on an obscenity conviction just to make himself look good for the next election. I'd much rather operate my business out of Canada than the U.S."
Unlike the fragmented community of mainstream adult, the smaller fetish world appears far more closely knit, from the providers to the consumers. Blogs and chat rooms offer forums where fetishists meet, greet and gossip.
"That's totally the case," Indy states. "The Internet has liberated the kinksters of the world, and there's business opportunities in becoming a one-stop shop for people that are into these kinks. We work very hard to make ourselves a trusted partner for our customers, and part of that is putting our credibility on the line by saying, if you want to buy a chastity device, we've done the research and we've found a partner who isn't going to screw you. They're a trustworthy retailer."
When it comes to the web, consumers can get virtually everything they need to maximize all aspects of their BDSM pleasure.
"Definitely," Jeremy agrees. "You can look at material on websites, meet people someplace like Alt.com [the alternative lifestyles personals site which claims some 3.5 million members], and you can get the toys to play with on Stockroom.com. It brings together people from all over the country. In the small town you live in, in Idaho, for example, there might not be the people that share your interests, but the Internet gives you the opportunity to come together and find those common interests."
Stockroom.com marketing director Andrea Mata knows all about common interests: For two decades, the company has been designing and manufacturing fetish gear, selling primarily online before opening stores two years ago in Los Angeles and San Francisco. With some 4,000 items in stock, the company caters to studios and average fans alike.
"The BDSM movement is kind of following in the same footsteps as the gay movement," she says. "It was declassified as being a mental disorder, which kind of helped. But I think intelligent people are more likely to get bored with the same old thing, and people are looking for ways to spice their sex lives up. So you're going to see more people taking that next step into what's interesting; we certainly notice that."
As the fetish kingdom grows slowly but surely, it seems that mainstream porn would be taking notice.
"I think even the mainstream are starting to get it, because people that are looking for something specific spend more money and stay in one place longer," offers Mata. "I think the mainstream providers and producers are catching on that people are always looking for that next thing."
"I don't think in the past the big mainstream companies paid much attention at all," states Jeremy, "but as things are moving toward niche marketing and as they see how successful niche marketing can be, I think more and more attention is being paid. I think the fetish world is slightly more focused. You have to give credit to other forms of adult entertainment: They try and think out of the box and try a million different things. But there hasn't been the luxury of that within the fetish community, so they've been more steadfast about the approach they've taken and built things a little more linear than other forms of adult — and that's paid off."