Ragan, owner/founder of All Boys Distribution, would tell you that good product is good product; the trick is to understand the marketplace and how to maximize diversity in content, distribution platforms and, ultimately, revenue streams.
“When I went to work at Pacific Sun [in between more than a decade at Western Visuals and a stint at White Tiger Releasing], I learned quite a different industry, and learned that the gay industry is the polar opposite of the straight industry,” Ragan said. “The business is done differently. The price margins are completely different. The same people that will argue tooth-and-nail over 25 cents with a straight company…”
Ragan trailed off, choosing not to dwell on the nickel-and-dime hagglers, and then added, “The thing is the quality has to be there, for there to be clientele for it. They don’t care how much they have to pay, as long as they can sell it for equal profit and value. And with the gay stuff, my prices might be between $25 and $28, but 90 percent of the films I represent retail for between $59.95 and $69.95.”
Wholesale prices at $28 a unit? All right, you say. The second question you might ask is, how does he manage to run that successful distribution business from company headquarters in South Paris, Maine?
“My overhead here is probably 90 percent less per month than if I had the exact same thing in the Valley,” Ragan, a San Fernando native, said. “When I made the decision to do this, I made the decision to have it done right. I’m not looking for awards. I don’t want the flashy bells and whistles or fireworks.
Because, if there’s one thing that Ragan seems to believe whole-heartedly, it’s that if you work hard, listen to your customers and do business for the right reasons, eventually it will pay off.
Good karma or not, a lot of Ragan’s customers like his techniques. DannyZ, owner of the zBuckz affiliate program and its DVD production company Boykakke Films, said that he was cautious when his company made the decision for further expansion into the DVD market.
“We did shop other companies before deciding on Rob as our exclusive worldwide distributor,” DannyZ said. “We had sold a lot of DVDs with our former distributor under the GayAsianAmateurs Studio line, but attempting to get payments from them would often be like pulling teeth.
‘The DVD distribution side of the business definitely holds some murky waters. Fortunately for us, All Boys Distribution has been very easy to work with, fair, and done an excellent job with helping us grow our line. Both of our releases with All Boys Distribution shot directly to the No. 1 position on the [gay adult industry trade publication] JRL Asian charts and stayed there for weeks, in no small part due to the great marketing job of ABD. We also hold the proud distinction, with our latest title, of getting the highest position ever to be held on the JRL general gay charts for a gay Asian title.”
Other studios on the All Boys roster include pioneering bareback studio Hot Desert Knights, CruisingFor Sex.com, Euro producers OTB Video and Man’s Art Entertainment, and Puppy Productions, among others.
That’s pretty good for a straight guy based out of Maine.
A lot of people in the industry will tell you that, when the rubber hits the road, everything comes down to distribution. As a content producer, you’re dead in the water if you don’t have channels to bring your product to market and vendors need middlemen to tell them what product is hot.
Ragan started learning that lesson as a collections specialist at Western Visuals, coming up with a crop of industry members that are considered seasoned veterans now.
“In June of 1986, I went to work for Western Visuals, which at the time was one of the most-successful and biggest production companies in the straight industry,” Ragan recalled. “I stayed at Western Visuals for the entire time, until 1998 when it closed.
“Back in the beginning of the industry, when video sales were really starting to move, production companies had huge sales forces and there were anywhere from 20 to 30 sales guys that were calling bookstores directly. The day of the distributor wasn’t that dominant. I can remember when IVD wasn’t that big of an operation. General Video of America was the big player because, of course, they had their own stores, which sold out to other stores as well.
“For a couple of years, our sales manager was Roy Karch [who eventually directed some of the first titles on video]. It seems like everybody went through Western Visuals at one time. Ruby at Excitement — [Wicked Pictures owner] Steve Orenstein was Ruby’s shipping guy,” Ragan reminisced. “[Western Visuals owner] Elliot Siegel had different partners. A lot of people worked there and it was a really good time, and there was a lot of money being made.
Old-school guys like Ragan know that fast advances in technology and the Internet have basically created the new streams of distribution, which have changed the face of the entire industry forever. Like it or not, producers cannot afford to ignore the rise of digital delivery and must have content available on as many platforms as possible in order to stay in the game.
“I’ve found that the people that are the most diversified, that are taking the most advantage of each avenue of distribution available to them with their own content, are the most successful people in the business,” Ragan said.
“There are several avenues of income that are available — online stores, download-to-own, memberships sites, online theaters and DVD,” he added. “You have to be into everything in order to enjoy the financial benefits that this industry does have to offer.”
With fast-moving advances in distribution technology and the constant push to access new markets, gay production company Hot Desert Knights owner Bill Gardner said that having a savvy middleman is more crucial than ever.
“Having a distributor in this day and age is damned important,” Gardner said. “With DVD sales slowing down due to the economy and presence of DVD-toown, pay-per-view and online theft, it is even more important to have a good distributor.
“Having a distributor who aggressively promotes your product can make the difference as to whether or not a producer will survive in today’s market place. Rob does an outstanding job getting our products into areas where we cannot. Even though we do a lot of our own distribution, Rob’s effort oftentimes makes the difference between a good month and an outstanding month. Because of Rob’s efforts our brand is now in countries throughout the world and in markets we would have never been in.”
Ragan also owns All Boys Productions. Part of his strategy to diversify his portfolio of businesses; several of those, not surprisingly, are online.
‘The online store is called ZVids.com. I do buy and sell straight stuff. We have the production company and the online theater, and membership sites that we own pieces of,” Ragan said. With all the wheeling and dealing, he’s aware that his own productions may seem like a conflict of interest to the studios he represents, especially in what is becoming an increasingly competitive market.
“I represent a lot of studios and, just to be straight up with you, when they found out that I was producing my own, a few of them had a bit of a stutter in their step,” Ragan said.
“I’m producing my own line, but all my stuff is being produced for me by a very well-known content producer in Europe,” he said. “I’m not going for the big story, big production. I’m just trying to purchase content now so that I don’t get left in the dust, in five or six years, I’m trying to prepare for when DVD sales have dropped another 50 percent from where they are now.”
Of course, it’s not just a matter of how you get the product to the consumer, but also what type of product you are trying to sell — and if you ask Ragan, he will simply tell you: “Bareback changed the industry.”
For many gay producers, the decision on whether or not to produce or be associated with bareback content is controversial and polarizing. The ranks are primarily divided between mainline, established studios that produce condom-only films and a growing number of small, upstart producers that do bareback.
The current sales climate has created a stormy philosophical debate that Ragan would rather not be caught in the middle of. For him, it’s a business decision, though he is adamant not to judge a studio by whether they choose to use condoms in their scenes.
“I think that people think that I only have bareback — it’s all bullshit. I pick studios based on what sells,” he said. “That’s where there’s a big confusion about me and what my beliefs are, or what I stand or don’t stand for — or whatever the fuck it is — these days, it changes by the week.”
“I don’t judge production studios on the use of a condom. I judge studios by a panel of people that I have them watch the movies for me,” Ragan said, noting that the All Boys office staff reviews videos for consideration.
Forced into the position of having to defend why the majority of studios on his roster are bareback producers, Ragan said a combination of factors influences what moves the market — oversaturation of the DVD sector in general and consumer acceptance of bareback content. But he is not the type of person to carry product that he is not willing to stand behind, philosophically.
“I’ve never had anybody attack me personally for selling bareback films,” he admitted, “but I have been attacked as a group associated with Bill Gardener and Hot Desert Knights, who has assembled a lot of enemies in this business for nothing more than exercising the same amendment and right that everyone else exercises, just in a different manner. I don’t care to associate with the hypocritical portion of this industry, and so I do not.
Just about the same time that autumn Santa Ana winds are turning the San Fernando Valley into a giant pizza oven, the trees in the Northeast are starting to turn rich reds and golds. Industrious grey tree squirrels, well-fed from the abundance of summer, are busy putting away nuts and acorns for the long Maine winter.
And Ragan is pretty much doing the same. He claims to work 100-plus hours a week. He drives the same 1999 Ford Explorer that he drove when he left California, little more than a year ago. After his late summer wedding and a three-day honeymoon, he will immediately leave to attend the Expomark trade conference in Phoenix, where he’ll be doing some buying and selling. He’s looking for a larger office and warehouse facilities elsewhere in South Paris, and working deals from L.A. to Europe and South Africa, since the business went international six months ago.
But the goal, he insists, is not to get rich. Ragan looks at it from a perspective that comes from many years in a tough business. In a lot of ways, he is playing the game of supply-and-demand, in order to pay his bill on what you could call a debt of gratitude.
“This releasing company allows me to take care of my family, and we’re not looking for how we’re going to pay our next bill anymore,” he said. “My friends, the people that are close to me personally — they work for me here, and I can take care of them with the business. With raises and bonuses — I’m doing everything that I can with everything I can to help the people that have been there for me; and I don’t require anything more than that.”