With more than 10,000 titles landing on shelves and available through online retailers annually, shopping for adult video product can be an intimidating process. The avalanche of product makes it all the more important for production companies to create the most effective box covers possible. There's little point in sinking thousands of dollars into a production that won't move at the retail level.
That said, the adult retail market is faced with its biggest changes since VCRs took films from the theaters and brought them into the bedroom. Even with the downfall of VHS still visible in the rearview mirror, reports of the DVD's demise are on the horizon. Legendary director Andrew Blake has already stopped making them entirely. As the consumer has begun to abandon the traditional brick-and-mortar adult store for online retailers, they are also getting comfortable with alternative delivery methods. So just how important will the box cover be in the digital age? How did we get here, and where are we going?
In the earliest days of home video, the box cover was typically a shrunken version of the theatrical poster. Look back at some of the covers that now define the 1970s — "Caligula," "Debbie Does Dallas," "Deep Throat," "Behind the Green Door" — none of them shows a hint of nudity. Only "Debbie Does Dallas," an illustration, even offers cleavage.
As home video became the dominant market, artwork became more risqué and explicit shots were jammed onto box covers. Then in 1984 a fledgling company called Vivid Video came along and revolutionized the box cover with the single-image "Ginger." Co-founder Steven Hirsch went to great lengths to make adult as mainstream as possible by enlisting professional photographers, designers and copywriters into the process.
Unlike today, when box covers are nearly always shot on set, cover art in the 1980s was usually shot separately. They were highly stylized and expensive. There was a strong effort to reflect the content, summarizing the storylines and/or the major stars in the release.
Then the 1990s brought inexpensive video cameras and with it an astronomical increase in directors, production companies and product — gonzo product. As the competition skyrocketed, sales of individual titles plummeted and budgets dried up. Storylines took a back-seat and covers often featured several girls, mostly stills taken from the shoot, in an effort to appeal to every possible consumer.
Today, with the increase in niche productions, emphasis on multiple-girl covers has decreased, as it's less important to appeal to a mass market. Still, the impact of the chosen images takes on no less importance — they still are the company's final representative, introducing a DVD to the consumer.
If production companies and retailers agree on one thing, it is the importance of the box cover. All the work that goes into making an adult title, from booking the location and talent to the editing and packaging, comes down to that split second when the consumer's eyes roam across the retail shelf or down the e-tailer's web page. Without appropriate cover art, a company's title may not even make it that far.
"The box cover is everything," said Jessica Ledford, video and fetish buyer for Florida-based Fairvilla Megastore. "If it's a brand new series or a brand new title, I have to see the box cover before I pick it up."
Nearly all retailers agreed that picking up product from the biggest companies — Vivid, Wicked, Digital Playground, Evil Angel, Ninn — was usually not a question of if, but of how many. Newer companies or those with a reputation for edgier fare are judged on the front and back of the box.
"For your porn connoisseurs, they know the directors, they know the names," XRentDVD General Manager Vincent Sorvino said. "The average consumer may know a few names, but they go based on the cover."
Evil Angel contract director Jonni Darkko said that he recalls his experiences as a porn consumer when he is designing his covers.
"I hated going into adult stores," Darkko said. "I spent hours flipping over boxes trying the find the girl or the sex acts I was into. You really have to let people know what's inside and you have to do it quickly and efficiently. People don't want to waste time."
Producers varied on just how important the cover itself would be as impact of the Internet increases. LFP creative director Drew Rosenfeld went so far as to say the box cover's usefulness ends once the full transition to an online media is complete.
"As more content flows through the Internet and broadcast, box covers become less important," Rosenfeld said. "In the future, the end user spends their money on clips, video-on-demand streaming and pay-per-view. Box covers become obsolete in that format."
Still, most were more reluctant to call for the bugler to play taps.
"When it comes to technology changes and successor server technologies, I feel that the box will always be important," Club Jenna President Jay Grdina said. "Your box is the first attraction into your feature in almost every medium for the POP."
In part two, we'll continue our look at box covers.