trends

Marketing Alt-Porn

Alex Henderson
As the adult Internet becomes increasingly competitive, some adult webmasters will inevitably broaden their focus in the hope of attracting new customers. That could mean adding gay websites after having specialized in heterosexual erotica; it could mean branching out into BDSM/fetish websites after having offered vanilla adult sites exclusively in the past. And for some adult webmasters, diversifying might mean getting into alternative porn.

Alt-porn (also known as "counterculture erotica," "alterna-porn" or "alternative erotica") is an umbrella term that has been used to describe a variety of adult entertainment that definitely isn't conventional porn. Alt-porn — which often incorporates the imagery of punk rock, alternative rock, Goth-rock, industrial rock or techno/ rave music — did not start in the 2000s, but it has become increasingly popular in the 2000s — and the success of well-known alt-porn providers like model/filmmaker Joanna Angel (of BurningAngel.com fame), SuicideGirls.com (which was founded in 2001), BlueBlood.com, DeviantNation.com and RazorDolls.com has inspired many adult Internet companies to start new alt-porn websites. But successfully marketing a new alt-porn membership site is not an easy thing, and the adult Internet experts who discussed this subject with XBIZ stressed that credibility and authenticity are crucial in the alt-porn market.

The Los Angeles-based Annaliese Nielsen, founder of the popular alt-porn website GodsGirls.com, explained that demographics make alt-porn a challenging market to get into. Alt-porn fans, she said, tend to be young and extremely Internet-proficient, which makes them a lot pickier about where they spend their money online.

"Alt is a hard group of people to get to sign up for a porn membership site," the 24-year-old Nielsen said. "I think that the people that alt-porn most massively appeals to are younger people who are very Internet-savvy, and they know that there is so much free porn on the Internet that they don't have to pay for porn sites. I think that alt-porn in general is sort of marketed to the Echo Boom Generation or Millennials or Generation Y or whatever you want to call them — 18-to 30-year-old people who are too Internet-savvy to pay for porn—and if they are going to pay for porn, they don't want to feel like they are giving their money to a porn site. They don't want to feel like they are giving their money to a big Internet porn conglomerate that has just thrown a site together and doesn't understand the alternative culture. Alt-porn is not something I would recommend getting into if you don't have some real awareness of the culture."

The women on genuine alt-porn sites like GodsGirls.com don't look like standard porn models or porn actresses; many of them look like counterculture women one would expect to see checking out a punk, industrial, alternative metal or Goth-rock band in New York City's East Village. Some of them look like they could be attending a rave, which is a large dance party where one is likely to hear techno, trance, drum 'n' bass/jungle and other forms of electronica. And if someone doesn't know what a rave is or cannot explain the differences between Goth-rock, techno, metalcore and electroclash, he/she probably doesn't know enough about alternative culture to determine which models are likely to appeal to alt-porn fans.

"There is quite the barrier of entry for alt-porn because your consumers expect you to have a lot of credibility," Nielsen said. "You are going to lose touch with potential consumers if you make it obvious that you really have no idea what you are doing."

Adult Internet companies that get into alt-porn without understanding the alt-porn audience are bound to make some costly mistakes, said Nielsen, who noted that one of her pet peeves is people who wrongly assume that all of the models in alt-porn are Goths.

"I think the most essential piece of advice I could give someone who wanted to start an alt-porn site is to not refer to all of the girls as Goth," Nielsen asserted. "Not all alternative girls are Goths, and you will turn off so many potential models by referring to all of them as Goth. A girl with tattoos is not necessarily Goth, and a girl with dyed-black hair is not necessarily Goth either. I think that some people in the adult industry are referring to all of these alt-porn sites as Goth sites, but less than two percent of the girls on my site, God's Girls, are girls I would actually call Goth girls or girls who my members would call Goth girls."

Although alt-porn is frequently described as a single niche, it is really a group of different niches, micro-niches and sub-niches much like gay erotica and BDSM/fetish erotica are comprised of many different niches, micro-niches and sub-niches. Goth erotica, for example, is a niche within alt-porn, but as Nielsen pointed out, not all alt-porn is Goth erotica. Raver-themed adult sites and punk-themed adult sites are also part of alt-porn, and neither of them fall into the Goth category.

A common misconception about alt-porn, Nielsen said, is that all of its musical inspiration comes from rock. "Within alt-porn, there are not just Goth girls, punk rock girls and industrial girls; there are also hip-hop girls and ravers," Nielsen noted. "I feel like the alternative girls on God's Girls are just as influenced by hip-hop music as they are by punk rock music, and it isn't fair to pigeonhole all of them as only rock and roll girls. The models on God's Girls span the whole range of alternative women. We have over 200 girls on God's Girls; the number goes up every day, and they don't really fit into one category as far as the music that they like."

Another misconception about alt-porn is that all of the models have tattoos. While tattoos are certainly quite plentiful in alt-porn, they are by no means mandatory. Having tattoos does not automatically make an erotic model alt-porn, and it is possible for an erotic model to be devoid of tattoos and have a strong alt-porn orientation.

"There are girls in alt-porn with heavy tattoo coverage and girls in alt-porn with no tattoos and no body modifications," Nielsen noted. "There are girls in alt-porn who don't even have their ears pierced. I think alt-porn is as diverse as it could possibly be."

Albert Lazarito, vice president of business development for Price Communications, SilverCash and Silver Sinema, said that the diversity of alt-porn — like the diversity of BDSM erotica and gay erotica — reflects the fact that Internet surfers have grown increasingly selective and want a wider variety of erotica to choose from. Very specialized alt-porn sites can be lucrative, he said, but only if companies truly comprehend the audience they are catering to.

"As consumers becomes more savvy," Lazarito said, "they are going to demand more options. Within the gay market, people are demanding more micro-niches. Within the BDSM market, people are demanding more micro-niches. And within the alt-porn market, people are demanding more micro-niches ... . When it comes to micro-niches, there is money to be made. But it won't be in the volumes that a glamour porn or vanilla porn website will get. I think that what it comes down to is that you have to be really good at what you do and really passionate about it — and it has to show in your work."

Although the term alt-porn didn't come into vogue until the 2000s, an early example of what is now being called alt-porn made its debut back in 1992. That year, writer/photographer Amelia G founded the groundbreaking glossy magazine Blue Blood, which combined erotica with the imagery of punk, Goth and industrial culture. Amelia and her partner Forrest Black eventually discontinued the printed Blue Blood Magazine, but Blue Blood went on to become one of alt-porn's most important players on the Internet. Blue Blood's well known websites include BlueBlood.com, GothicSluts.com (which Nielsen cited as an example of a true Goth porn site), BarelyEvil.com, EroticBPM.net (which spotlights ravers), Scar13.com and Michelle- Aston.com. The Blue Blood site Rubber Dollies.com combines alt-porn imagery with softcore BDSM/fetish imagery, and Szandora.com (also from Blue Blood) is an example of an alt-porn site that incorporates some light bondage. But while BDSM/fetish imagery and alt-porn imagery occasionally intersect, it is important to remember that BDSM/fetish erotica and alt-porn are two different markets. Szandora.com is an alt-porn site first and foremost; in contrast, Kink.com, Wasteland.com and DungeonCorp.com are hardcore BDSM websites designed for hardcore BDSM enthusiasts.

"I don't think that God's Girls necessarily offers anything for a person looking for BDSM," Nielsen said. "On God's Girls, we don't really explore that much bondage unless it is something that the model herself really wants to do. We don't have members asking for any real BDSM stuff. The most that we do is some foot fetish stuff and some latex stuff, which I think crosses over — and we have a couple of fetish photographers. But BDSM is not the focus of our site, and it's not something that I will pretend to understand. I personally don't know anything about bondage, and if you get into something that you don't know anything about, the consumer can see right through it."

Cutter of AltPorn.net (which has been promoting alt-porn since 2003) said that he has seen numerous alt-porn sites come and go in the last few years. Many adult Internet companies have been jumping on the alt-porn bandwagon without taking the time to understand the alt-porn market, Cutter said; as a result, their alt sites have been unsuccessful. Cutter said that "the number of good alt-porn sites and programs worth promoting, from an affiliate sales perspective, is actually very limited," but he pointed to Blue Blood (which has done well with its affiliate program SpookyCash.com) and the VOD-oriented Adult Entertainment Broadcasting Network (AEBN) as two examples of companies that fared well with alt-porn in 2007 (although AEBN is not alt-specific, the Charlotte, N.C. -based company has a popular alt section on its AEBN.com website).

"We've had the most success with Blue Blood's SpookyCash and AEBN's custom VOD theaters," Cutter noted. "AEBN gives us the ability to choose exactly the video titles we know will sell to our audience, and SpookyCash knows the alt genre better than anybody and provides awesome sales tools for their membership sites. These options give us the power to adjust our marketing efforts as the audience's tastes evolve."

In a 2005 interview with XBIZ, veteran music journalist Steve Ivory (who has written books on Tina Turner and Prince) described BDSM/fetish erotica as "thinking man's porn," and the same could be said about alt-porn. Webmasters who decide to enter the alt-porn market need to understand what makes alt-porn audiences tick — and while titillation is an important part of the alt-porn equation, it isn't the entire equation. One finds plenty of bare breasts on Joanna Angel's BurningAngel.com website, but one also finds interviews with the Dillinger Escape Plan, Hatebreed, Marilyn Manson and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Nielsen explained: "God's Girls has a ton of female members, and we even have some homosexual male members. The site has more appeal than just jerk-off material, and that's an important thing to remember about alt-porn: you have to go beyond someone's urge to masturbate. People want to be sexually aroused, but they also want to be intellectually stimulated. And they want to find things to laugh about on an alt-porn site."

One could argue that with alternative culture having become so ubiquitous, the term alternative porn is as much a figure of speech for Gen-Y as the term alternative rock. In the 1980s, alternative rock was actually an alternative to the hair metal and arena rock bands of that era, but when Nirvana and Pearl Jam exploded commercially in the early 1990s and took MTV by storm, alternative rock became rock's primary direction. Alternative rock has been mainstream ever since — and on a similar note, Nielsen said that all the punk, industrial, Goth, raver and hip-hop imagery one finds on alt-porn sites is something that the twenty-somethings of 2008 are used to seeing.

"The alt-porn audience doesn't really want to see a porn star," Nielsen said. "The alt-porn audience wants to see a girl next door who is not what you would typically consider a girl next door."

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