The ethnic and interracial markets never fail to be a hotbed of controversy. A testament to the country’s racial divide, producers of this specialized content have historically fought tooth and nail against cultural prejudice to get their product made and put into the consumer’s hand. Today, the genres are thriving, but still face a number of unique challenges.
XBIZ caught up with six of the industry’s top players to discuss sales, taboos and marketing strategies. Among our guests are iconic performers/producers Sean Michaels (Sean Michaels Productions) and Lexington Steele (Mercenary Pictures), features director Bishop (West Coast Productions), authentic Asian and Latin content producer Steve Scott (Third World Media) and general manager Christian Mann (Evil Angel) and sales manager Steve Volponi (Devil’s Film).
The majority of people that buy my brand are progressive and prefer the approach I take toward blurring color lines. -Sean Michaels, producer/director/performer
XBIZ: How have the ethnic and IR markets changed in the last five years? Have there been any trends or surprises that have been good or bad for business?
Christian Mann: The main change that I see is a growth in demand and production of movies featuring a mix of ethnicities as opposed to ethnic specific movies that are all-Black, all-Asian, all-Latina, etc. I also see that ethnic product is included in many studios’ new releases, whereas before it was mainly the province of studios that specialized in ethnic releases — studios like WCP, Video Team, Heatwave, etc.
Sean Michaels: IR sales have definitely grown. There are more titles than ever, and more titles typically equates to more demand and sales. The majority of people that buy my brand are progressive and prefer the approach I take toward blurring color lines. There is a contingent of my fans that prefer black-on-black performances, and I provide product for them like “Black Diamonds.” Couples, bi & gay fans have responded very well to my “Evil Cuckold” line.
Bishop: Features do well. A story driven ethnic title like “Boooty Shop” or “Ransom” provides a few more avenues to market and sell our brand. It’s also good for fans to see their favorite black actors playing serious roles with meaningful dialogue.
Steve Scott: Like all genres, the file sharing/cyber lockers, tubes, etc., have really hurt us. However, 2012 has started off on a good note with the news of Megaupload and other sites closing, which will hopefully lead more customers back to our sites and DVDs directly.
XBIZ: Tube and file-sharing sites have plagued most adult studios. How much more detrimental are their practices for producers of niche content such as ethnic and interracial?
Steve Scott: Our content is very unique and, therefore, I believe even more susceptible to being illegally copied. It’s not only tubes and file-sharing sites, but cyber lockers and Google too — providing easy access to copyright infringing sites for way too long.
Steve Volponi: Anyone downloading this content or any other content, XXX or not, without paying for it is taking a lot of risk. For one, they’re allowing Big Brother to see their every move. It’s bad enough that using ATM and credit cards allows government to keep tabs on us, but now you might as well invite them to sit in on your jerk-off session. It’s time to rethink that plan, and spend money on a DVD instead.
Sean Michaels: I’m not sure that I would 100% agree with the first statement in your question. Yes, straight piracy is definitely damaging to producers of any adult category. However, a lot of these tube sites are creating new business models where producers allow a certain amount of scenes on their network for any number of reasons. The tubes may help us create more demand for our scenes. Their “free” model could help us acquire larger groups of fans and expose them to our work. It’s all about how honorable the tubes want to be in working with producers.
Lexington Steele: The ever-increasing importance of the online platform cannot be discounted. Whereas, the availability of IR product is more pervasive than ever; there have always been areas, states, and/or regions that do not participate in the purchasing of IR titles. Now, anyone in those states can access the adult content they seek without ever leaving the comfort of home.
XBIZ: Is it still difficult to sell ethnic/IR product in the Midwestern states?
Steve Scott: People used to say that you can’t sell ethnic/niche product in certain parts of the country. That’s bullshit and old school, obsolete thinking. In fact, I think it’s many of those same parts of the country that appreciate our offerings even more. In LA, we see a lot of crazy things and different kinds of people and lifestyles. In the rural Midwest, however, a “Little Asian Transsexuals” could be very exciting!
Steve Volponi: Certain areas throughout just don’t do well with certain genres. There’s not much we can do about that. The problem is when those stores start killing themselves by carrying cheap 42-cent garbage. You can’t fool customers, especially when money’s tight.
Christian Mann: I think markets that used to be limited for porn with black performers will expand as the world becomes more multi-racial. The drive to create niche-specific content online will continue to help ethnic porn find the people who want something very specific.
XBIZ: Is sex between a black man and a white woman still taboo in 2012 and, if so, is that good for sales?
Sean Michaels: We are still not a fully integrated society, so interracial relationships still qualify as taboo to certain people. The more taboo they are … the bigger the sales. As soon as you tell someone something is taboo, it raises their curiosity. It forces people to ask why and, with some, it creates desire. I think there are cultures around the world that are inquisitive about interracial sex too.
Lexington Steele: The notion of the black male performer as taboo is as outdated as the thinking of those who consider interracial sex something to be frowned upon and avoided. But, as a producer, it behooves me to maximize my earning potential by strategically taking advantage of the black male as taboo. Adult media is, and has always been, about generation of revenue by distributing a commercial product.
Christian Mann: As a social taboo, I don’t think it’s as charged as it once was. I remember when cable providers wouldn’t air movies with black men on white women. The taboo part is mostly gone. As a sexual fascination, it remains very strong which would suggest that the taboo is still there, but it’s latent. I think a lot of it isn’t based on the taboo as much as the interest in seeing the contrast of white girls taking on well-endowed black guys. That stereotype is ever present, mostly accurate and highly exploited in porn.
XBIZ: Is it acceptable to play with racial stereotypes when selling fantasy?
Bishop: I think it’s OK when making a product that is clearly for entertainment purposes. I’ve done it and have had fun.
Sean Michaels: That’s really up to the fans. Think about it like comedy. Some racially charged material is funny, and some is not. How many comics have crossed the line gracefully, and how many have just crossed the line? I think it really comes down to intent. Are the stereotypes important to the product? Are they unnecessarily demeaning?
Lexington Steele: The use of racial stereotypes to aid in the marketing of adult media remains a viable tool in the process of attracting consumers to your releases. While viable, it does not serve the greater good of American society, thusly, the practice should be curtailed as early as the next title is created. Yet, adult media is not a political battleground, nor should it be. That being said, while we do not criticize our industry for being politically incorrect, we should make greater efforts at being creative with the use of our language.
Christian Mann: Discrimination is no longer tolerated in most societal matters, but the sub-conscious ID — the thing that gets men hard and women wet — is the last refuge of a racism that will never dissipate and isn’t wrong. At work, I can’t discriminate for or against black women with big asses or blondes with big tits … but my dick can like whatever it wants and, if someone makes porn for that, then you have a sale.