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Summary:

Last week, all eyes were on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. Well, at least that’s the official version. Truth is, more than a few Vegas visitors strayed a few steps, only to find themselves at the Adult Entertainment Expo (NSFW), another annual convention that […]

Last week, all eyes were on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. Well, at least that’s the official version. Truth is, more than a few Vegas visitors strayed a few steps, only to find themselves at the Adult Entertainment Expo (NSFW), another annual convention that similarly tried to engage consumers, albeit with a slightly different line-up of celebrities. Think Belladonna, not Ballmer.

However, AEE was struggling to claim a generation of fans that is used to getting its content for free. The show has been shrinking since 2005, with fewer and fewer companies renting booth space. What once took two floors of the Sands Convention Center took one this year around. Adult industry workers blamed the glut of free online porn for the rapid decline of adult revenues, and frankly, some people were starting to sound a little desperate. “I would be so appreciative if you would buy my movies,” I was told by Belladonna, arguably the world’s most recognized porn star, stressing the word “buy.”

Porn has been dubiously credited with two breakthroughs in consumer electronics: the adoption of VHS over Betamax in the 1980’s, and the jump-start of consumer interest in the Internet a decade later. Performers and adult companies at the 2010 AEE were trying to harness some of that innovative zeal that helped make porn a goldmine in decades past.

Part of that approach is to not just rely on video sales anymore. A number of new adult ventures are trying to capitalize on a porn performer’s perceived accessibility in the age of the real time web (and just in case you wondered: none of the sites linked to in this article are safe for work). Pornstartweet.com is a Twitter aggregator that follows more than 600 porn performers, each of whom is “verified” to prevent impostors. Launched in February 2009, the company sells advertising on its site and partners with affiliate programs to cash in on links to the performers’ movies. “We want to be the de facto source for stalking porn stars — with their permission,” said president Pete Hously. “And we will integrate their other social networking data into one place.” The site is a scrolling feed of performer microblogs that is a compelling, ridiculous, or boring peek into their lives — depending on who you ask.

Another company, Silicon Valley-based Lipstream.com, sells credits to fans who want to talk with their favorite performers. Below each star’s picture on Lipsteam.com there is what appears to be a local phone number, which is actually an IP address bridged to a phone number in the performer’s local area code, which then is resolved to her own phone. “So the fan feels he is calling (the performer) at her personal number.” said Lipstream co-founder Neil Silver, who launched the venture capital-funded business this month with his partner, Vlad Perlovich, and a roster of eight stars, including porn performer Audrey Hollander and Penthouse model Ryan Keely.

“Nothing is more personal than voice,” said Perlovich, calling the Internet simulation of an old-fashioned phone call “steampunk.” Lipstream has also created widgets to integrate voice chat into the performers’ personal websites or Facebook and MySpace pages.

With many adult studios either going out of business or offering less work, performers are taking promotion onto their laptops. Ashley Fires, who is known for her work in bondage and other fetish films, runs a personal store on the site Clips4Sale.com at which fans can buy, download, and then own her scenes. “The database is searchable to minute detail,” said Fires, “so you can search on hat color, shoe style, sexual position, whatever. It’s a great way for amateur girls to get a lot of their content up.” Indeed, Clips4Sale has made several women “stars” online who have never appeared in a porn DVD. Clips4Sale takes a percentage of each sale and, Fires said, owners of the top 30 stores can make a comfortable living from sales of their content. “But below the top 30,” Fires said, “you should keep your day job.”

Digital Playground, which has produced two of the biggest-selling porn movies ever with 2005’s “Pirates” (an impressive porn adaptation of Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean”) and its 2008 sequel, has brought the production of its online presence, Digitalplayground.com, in-house, hiring a team of 12 Flash coders, PHP programmers, and SEO specialists. The company’s unofficial motto is “Porn worth buying.”

“Our model is to keep everything under our roof,” says Farley Cahen, Digital Playground’s director of New Media. “We don’t sell our movies for download on any of the other Internet affiliates; that might make a short-term gain but in the long run it just doesn’t make sense.” Members of Digitalplayground.com find content exclusive to the Internet, with behind-the-scenes material from DVDs, deleted scenes, or original content like 360-degree sex scenes in which the viewer can manipulate the camera to pan around a room where multiple dalliances are taking place. “We have to make things so unique that they can’t be pirated,” Cahen said (while sitting under a “Pirates” poster), “and that will make the customers want to go out and buy the DVD.”

Back on the show floor, a line of fans stretched around the corner of the Evil Angel booth, where Belladonna signed autographs for fans long after the lights started going out and other booths closed. “They see my pictures all over the web,” Belladonna said of the autograph and snapshot seekers. “I think they just want to see that I’m real.”

Gram Ponante has been writing about the adult industry since 2002. He is a regular contributor to Fleshbot, Gamelink and Hustler, and he is blogging on Gramponante.com.

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