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JRL: Cold Hard Facts

Victor Hoff
On the surface of it, you might think there was nothing more to the gay porn industry than who is gay, who is gay-for-pay, who's been arrested, or which porn icon is appearing on television this week.

But once you look past all the gay porn blogs with their bitchiness at the ready, the endless parade of press releases pickled in superlatives, the awards ceremonies- slash-family-gettogethers and the gay porn tweets, what you’ll find is an actual business model that depends on selling things. It’s here where the success of a brand, product line or a studio star isn’t measured in “snark” or reader comments, but in the cold, hard reality of units sold and rented by the content producers

Companies like Raging Stallion, Jet Sets and Flava Works depend on facts (knowing what’s really happening in the market) in order to be successful. For that, there is JRL Charts, one of the most important - and least mentioned - names in all of gay porn.

The company (‘JRL’ doesn’t stand for anything) was founded on October 3, 2003 and started as a monthly newsletter distributed to local retailers to help keep them aware of developments on the gay side of the adult entertainment industry. Thanks to the steady leadership of CEO Christopher Thais, the JRL name is now synonymous with the business side of the gay porn business.

“JRL was created because there weren’t any outlets covering the gay market the way [they] should have been covered,” explains Rudy Nava, executive editor-in-chief of JRLChartsOnline.com. “When you looked at the publications that were out at the time, gay content made up 2% of their publications. With over 200 gay adult film studios in the marketplace, 2% didn’t even make a dent in the marketplace for coverage. Retailers were annoyed because they always saw the same names and the same studios always on top and always getting coverage. This was not a true representation of the marketplace.”

That’s where JRL Charts saw a void and wisely stepped in. (Hard to believe so much information was being paid so little attention prior to that.) By tracking retail sales and rentals – and then further categorizing them into things like race, ethnicity and lifestyle (i.e. Asian, Black, Latino, Bear and Bondage) – all gay porn companies, regardless of their quality, output or pull in the industry and as long as it wasn’t illegal – now had a fighting chance to see how their products were faring and could objectively be measured against others in their respective niches. As Rudy astutely points out, “You have a lot of news outlets that cover the gay porn industry but they only cover their personal preferences. That’s okay but it’s not fair to the vast majority of studios in the business who are looking to get fair coverage for their craft as well.”

But does the reporting of DVD sales and rentals seem anachronistic in an age of video-on-demand and streaming content and where today’s generation of “pornsumers” are more accustomed to a virtual experience than a retail one? (try asking someone born after 1984 how many porn DVDs they’ve rented or purchased in the last year.) Not according to Nava. “DVD sales have declined over the past several years. Some blame this on digital media while others blame it on the economy. The bottom line is retail outlets aren’t going anywhere and there is no way the DVD marketplace is going to be retiring anytime soon,” he said. Retail also recognized the growing importance of video-on-demand and JRL Charts wisely began tracking that five years ago.

Each week a team of six employees tabulates all the information submitted to their company by 963 retail outlets all across the United States (up from 250 stores just five-and-a-half years ago.) When all the results are calculated, JRLCharts Online.com publishes the findings each Friday on their website for the week prior. The site also reviews content, interviews industry insiders, operates a video-on-demand operation and provides the last in industry and related news.

Many of the niche titles including the Latino and Black markets are also listed in the “Top 100 Rentals”. “The reason that we have broken up the genres is because the Black, Latin, Asian, Bear and Bondage genres were not getting any recognition. Every time you would look at a Top Gay Video chart, they were always made up of Caucasian features. You might have 1 or 2% of the Top 75 films listed be either black, Latin, Asian, bear or bondage/fetish. With the JRL Weekly Top 50 genre-specific charts, people who want that genre can see what are the big sellers and renters are,” Nava said.

He added, “ I wanted to know who were some of the big winners in 2009 and why? Was there a trend? There were, of course, perennial favorites such as Raging Stallion Studios (“The Visitor” with 7 weeks on the Top 100), Falcon (“Asylum” with 9 weeks on the Top 100), Bel Ami (“Lemonade” with 9 weeks) and, given the sheer number of overall productions (100 at any given time), a considerable 16 weeks for 8teenboy. com’s “Fuck It.” But there were no discernible trends.

The company is currently planning their First Annual JRL Gay Movie Awards and a spin-off, “JRL Entertainment Daily TV” that will continue to move the company toward a gay porn news network - an aspect of the business it feels is sorely lacking.

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