3 Takes on Distribution

Acme Andersson
No sooner was the VHS tape dead and buried than the inevitable whispers announcing the imminent death of DVDs began. While the DVD will no doubt one day meet its demise, don't toss the DVD players into the trash pile just yet.

So long as there are DVDs, there must be a distribution model to get the discs from the studio to the consumer. Like many aspects of the adult business, there is no shortage of options. From performers to directors to studios to distributors to retailers, there is someone or something for everyone.

The distribution model as it stands today is more or less the model that's been in place for decades. The product starts at the studio, gets shipped to their distributor, which sells and distributes it to retailers. Sometimes the studio takes care of the manufacturing and other times the distributor handles that part of the process. Here we'll take a look at distribution from the point of view of three different companies: A small, new company, Starlight Pictures; Evil Angel, which boasts one of the industry's most unique and successful distribution models; and Pure Play Media, a worldwide distributor that handles products from such popular studios as Seymore Butts, Danni Ashe and Private.

Starlight Pictures
Since the company was established in January 2005, Starlight Pictures has had two distribution deals, first with Defiance and then with Torrid, and recently signed a yearlong agreement with LFP Video Group that kicks in May 1. The new deal is one that Starlight Director of Operations Arynn Star hopes will last.

"I did the same thing with LFP that I had done with Defiance — I just called and said we were looking for distribution and asked if they would be interested," Star said. "They liked the product and agreed to take it. I did the same thing with Hustler. They took a look and said yes. We got pretty lucky."

It may or not be luck, but there is no question that many producers come and go without ever finding a distribution deal. Still, producers with product and a plan are generally able to find a distributor.

"We looked for distribution for about six months; we really looked around to see who we wanted to go with," Star said. "We had three possible deals before we went with Defiance, but those all got screwed up. Then we hooked up with Defiance, which was a lot better than anything we had looked at before."

Star said the differences between distributors weren't huge, and in some cases came down to simple things like getting calls returned in a reasonable amount of time. Among the important things Starlight was looking for, she said, were to get into the most retail outlets possible, a distributor with a solid reputation and strong lines already on its roster.

"LFP signed us because they don't have anything like what we do, which is amateur that's shot in highdefinition," Star, who also directs all the company's titles, said. "That's why they were interested in what we have, plus each movie is a little different and has its own certain niche."

Star, who worked in adult DVD sales before helping launch Starlight, said product diversity was a major factor in the decision. LFP lines include the entire catalogs of Hustler Video and VCA Pictures, as well as the Hustler/Teravision hit "InTERActive."

"Some companies just have a name and will continue to do well because of who they are, Hustler being one of them. They have a name and when someone goes online, they'll know that name to go to. It's good to be with someone who has a good presence everywhere."

Evil Angel
While porn connoisseurs revere John Stagliano as a revolutionary figure in adult video for his Buttman character and the gonzo craze it created, as well as The Fashionistas, which set the high-water mark for highend adult product. But Stagliano's influence has been equally as profound in the distribution arena.

Until 1988, Stagliano directed under the traditional adult system, which meant making movies for other studios for a flat fee. Then he made a couple movies for VCA, which rejected them, telling the director they wouldn't be able to cut them into soft versions for broadcast. That was when Stagliano — who had shot about 40 movies for other companies over the previous five years — decided it was time to start his own company, and Evil Angel Video was born.

Things started off well at the new company, including the release of "The Adventures of Buttman." The company's success allowed him to bring in other directors, which he did, but with a twist: The directors would own their own product.

"It's amazing to me that other people haven't imitated my model successfully," Stagliano said nearly 20 years after introducing his Evil Empire.

There is no question that Stagliano's model has been a success, not only for him but for the directors who have signed on with his company. It's an impressive list, beginning with Bruce Seven, then moving on to Patrick Collins, John Leslie and Rocco Siffredi. Today's roster boasts Joey Silvera, Christoph Clark, Nacho Vidal, Belladonna, Jonni Darkko and many others. Leslie and Siffredi are still there, too.

Jules Jordan, who found tremendous success with Evil Angel, left a couple of years ago to start his own Jules Jordan Video — taking all of his titles with him. It's the risk Stagliano runs with all his directors because an essential part of the agreement is that each director owns his or her product.

"Because they own the lines, they are more concerned with the product and the budgets and the efficiency [of every aspect of the process]," Stagliano said. "I don't own the product. I have a deal with the directors where I keep a percentage of the gross sales. They make sure that it's edited properly, which is important. They don't have to worry about the marketing and collecting."

Stagliano is not completely shut out of the creative process by the directors he deals with. The company has built a strong fan base and he carefully selects the directors he brings into the Evil Empire and, initially at least, he checks a director's movies carefully, offers feedback, and meets with editors. He said it is important for him to give his directors the opportunity to make the best product they possibly can.

"The focus is on quality and creating the best environment possible for creating quality product," he said. He pointed out that if it wasn't for him owning his own product, he wouldn't have had the freedom to make the movies he did and, in the long run, it's benefited him greatly to own some of those early Evil Angel titles. The arrangement may cost him more in the short-term, but he said it's better for the long-term viability of the company.

The company also works with the directors on advertising and promotions. While Stagliano conceded that the Internet has had an effect on sales, he said, "We're many years away from pieces being insignificant."

Today he estimates he ships about 60,000 pieces monthly.

"One thing that's different," Stagliano said of the Evil Angel system, "is that the directors trust me to pay them what I owe them and that's something that's been hard to find in this industry."

Pure Play Media
Pure Play Media falls into the category of the more traditional distributor. The current roster of 11 studios includes Seymore Butts, Naughty America and Swank Digital. CEO Richard Arnold said it is important to cast a broad net when the market is increasingly niche-oriented.

"As the market continues to develop, the niche becomes more and more important," Arnold said. "People's tastes and wants and desires are refining every day it seems. People know what they want and have honed their desires right down to what they are looking for."

He said the market for gonzo appears to be cooling, while the demand for anal has plummeted. On the other hand, the MILF market continues to be hot and amateur "seems to be making a comeback."

"The name of the game is variety," he said. "There's the mainstays, like big busts, that always do well. It's a very target market and they are ardent followers."

While some speak of the influence distributors have over studios, Arnold said that it's the consumer, via the retailer, who ultimately makes the demands.

"It's almost like a reverse effect: The consumer influences the retailers, the retailers influence the distributor, then the distributor in a certain way influences the studio. So it's being driven backwards up to the studio, which is always the challenge — how does the studio figure out what the consumer wants? You have a funny process to do it."

Like Star earlier, Arnold said there may not be enormous differences in distributors, but that isn't to say that all distributors are created equal. Each has its tangibles and intangibles that it can offer a studio.

"Our strengths are, No. 1, we have experience; consistency in what we do; we go to great lengths to spell out exactly what our end of the deal is and when things are to occur and how things are to happen, so that there's no guesswork when a studio comes to us," Arnold said. "They know when their material is expected from us, when we're going to release it, how we're going to promote, when they're going to get paid, exactly how they get paid, and it's very simplistic."

He emphasized that a good distribution deal should not only be good for the distributor, it also needs to benefit the studio. If a studio's product doesn't move, no one is making money.

One advantage Pure Play has is its handle on international markets like Europe and Canada. They own Deep Star Broadcasting, soon to be renamed Pure Play Broadcasting, through which they sell cable VOD service.

"We try to be a wellrounded, worldwide distribution solution for a studio," he said.

That solution currently moves just under 100,000 pieces monthly. Pure Play handles manufacturing for most of the studios. They sell it and ship it, and are available to assist in advertising and promotions for those studios that need it. But what about the DVD? Will all these advantages of Pure Play Media or any other distribution matter in a few years as sales dwindle as some have warned?

"I've heard formats that were supposed to take over and it didn't happen, and I've seen things happen maybe quicker than I would have expected or not so quick," he said. "I don't believe DVD is dead. I believe that what is happening, and certainly I think the numbers are showing that, is that there are more ways for people to view content. I don't see the push completely moving away from one way and exclusively to another way. I think people's choices are increasing and that's a good thing, and it's going to cost the DVD a little bit of market share, but there's room to be made up in other places. One thing I definitely know for sure is, people's thirst for adult content is absolutely not going away."