Help us start a video pornography business
November 19, 2008 5:55 PM   Subscribe

I was hoping you could provide some information to help my husband and I start a new porn site and possible by-mail DVD sales. Questions involve state laws (IL and surrounding area), model releases, and business viability.

My husband and I have thought for a while about starting up a porn site. We looked at doing it a few years ago, an acquaintance of ours was making quite a bit of money doing a site. But some time has passed so we had a few questions:

1) Is porn still profitable on the internet? I know that any business can be profitable or not, but is porn still a solid way to make money online?

2) We live in Illinois. Are there any laws in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, or Kentucky that would make porn production illegal? I know that it's legal in Florida and California, but is paying models to have sex on camera legal in any/all of those states?

3) We want to be sure we stay completely legal. I know we'll need a model release for all individuals involved. Should we consult a lawyer regarding this? If so, our Google-fu is failing us, is there an online attorney who might meet these needs? We fear if we go to our normal lawyer he might object on moral obligations.

4) Any caveats that anyone knows from experience (either first or second hand)?

5) Any advice on how, in the massive sea that is online porn, one would get noticed? We've thought about advertising and affiliate programs, but wondered if there were any more novel ideas.

6) Other than state laws that say where DVDs of porn can and can't be shipped, are there any other worries I would need to have?

7) Is it true that requiring credit card payment is valid proof of age for people wanting to view the porn, or is another type of age validation required to ensure we are not showing pornography to those not of legal age?

If you need to reach me, I can be e-mailed at

Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Answer to 5. What I would like to see is really funny porn. Not silly or stupid, or "wacky" funny, but actually funny. Think sketch comedy with penetration. In this world of YouTube and FunnyOrDie, I'm constantly amazed that no one has been able to combine sexy and funny. Parody, satire, political commentary...all of it could benefit from nekkidness. That's the kind of smut I'd be willing to pay for.
posted by ColdChef at 6:13 PM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

>Should we consult a lawyer regarding this?

Of course. As it pertains to most of your questions. And it should not be an "online lawyer", whatever that means. It should be a real lawyer, who has real experience in this area. How to find such a lawyer? Recommendations from others in the field.

And then there is an unsolicited recommendation: if you don't know anything about this business, you should hesitate to step into the water.
posted by megatherium at 6:16 PM on November 19, 2008

well, my husband & I have produced content for a very small, niche, porn site for about 3 years now and we are good friends with the owner of a very large, well-known, porn-production outfit.

1) yes you can make money on internet porn, but whether or not you will is completely uncertain. my own very small endeavor serves a very specialty market, so we make ok money concomitant to the effort we put in. OTOH, our friend makes many millions of dollars (we are happy to see couple/several tho/month before taxes/after expenses). there are absolutely no guarantees.

2) dont know, I'm in California

3) I never consulted legal counsel but it's not a bad idea. also, a business lawyer re the general elements of setting up your business re taxes, licences etc., could come in handy...

4) do it because you want to, not just because you think you can make a lot of money. manage your overhead and keep your expectations realistic.

you can make money in porn without being a scumbag to those who work for you (I used to have my doubts!!)

5) my bigtime friend relies exclusively on affiliate networks for traffic. as a web marketing person I am inclined to agree this is the best course. you can also try submitting your pages to sites like

6 & 7) talk to the lawyer about this, we dont do any proof of age other than cc on my site, but we do have a "enter only if 18 or older" entry page.

you can email me at super DOT medusa AT gmail DOT com if you'd like more info, advice etc., or if you'd like to see the sites to which I refer. I will not link them here, for a variety of reasons!!!
posted by supermedusa at 6:23 PM on November 19, 2008

1) Yes. I've heard it said that porn is one of the most recession-proof industries, for better or worse.

3) Lawyers who object to anything on 'moral obligations' amuse me. They're the most moral people in the room, right? Inform your lawyer that you're starting a professional video business, keep a straight, non-perverted face about it, and ask him for specific legal advice (what disclaimers do we need to have on our website, what information must the model release contain, etc.).

5) That 'auto-billing' feature SUCKS. Make it easy to get people in, pass on their recommendations, get out if need be, and send tons of e-mails reminding them of what they're missing - but don't auto-bill.

6) Whether or not you choose a pseudonym is an important choice as a business owner. I'd hate to hand out a business card and have someone Google me as the business owner of XYZ Porn, Inc. from 10 years ago.

Other thoughts... I've yet to see much of the Web 2.0 community in porn. I haven't seen much of the 'people who liked this video also liked....' in this particular genre. People are pretty picky about the porn they pay for. Make it easy to find what they want (i.e. differentiating between the photo set and video download), and easier still to avoid that perverted sort of place most porn sites take you to. Perhaps even something classy.
posted by chrisinseoul at 3:50 AM on November 20, 2008

As a web host (for several adult straight/gay websites, as well as many "norms") and IT manager for several lawyers that deal with these very issues, I suggest at least paying for a couple hours with an attorney (probably one specializing in free speech or first amendment rights) to talk about your legal responsibilities, local and federal laws, and compliance with said laws. It's definitely worth a couple hundred dollars for that peace of mind; you never know what your community/state has chosen to make illegal, and you don't want to find out the hard way - like in the newspaper on your local news site, next to your name. Any lawyer that takes "moral" objection should be laughed at and forgotten. Respectfully, of course.

We've seen a number of adult sites come and go - even ones that "should have" made it. Just remember that porn doesn't necessarily mean cash cow, and as supermedusa points out, affiliates can be your best friends.

Funny story... ever hear of Christian hackers? "Moral" and "ethical" vandals that deface your devilish site for Jesus? Yeah, it happens.
posted by dozo at 5:43 AM on November 20, 2008

The case studies for taking over the world via internet pornography are Brazzers, and to a lesser extent, Naughty America. They're both serious rivals to the "label" studios like Vivid and built themselves up from basically nothing - laughable Bang Bus style shoots with kind of skanky models to sprawling pornographic empires. I don't know anything about business, but some things that strike me as effective about their models:

- They're targeted to the "average" consumer. Their stuff is pretty respectful to women, no gagging or calling them bitches, though of course facial cumshots are more or less obligatory.

- An emphasis, however flimsy, on storylines. The build on this by sorting their content into various "brands" - so you've got Big Tits at School, Real Wife Stories, whatever.

- Booking and developing quality talent. This is probably going to be the hardest thing about producing porn outside of LA or Miami, where all the major agencies are based - getting decent talent that people are going to want to watch. Porn consumers are pretty picky. Honestly, apart from husband-and-wife operations like Ideepthroat and Joanna Angel's stuff out of NYC, I can't think of a successful brand that's based anywhere else.

- They seed the net thoroughly with previews, both on their own sites, and in free porn search engines like AskJolene, TGPs of all kinds, PornoTube style sites, popular porn forums like FreeOnes - everything.

Some other thoughts:

- Is there a reason you're thinking of shipping DVDs rather than just offering downloadable content? It's going to get ripped and uploaded to Cheggit etc either way, and direct downloads are probably cheaper for you, at least.

- You really really need to know your market. This is VITAL in porn - you're in the business of satisfying desires. Make sure you know exactly what consumers demand - do your homework, watch all the releases from whatever production outfits match the kind of content you want to bring out, read the scuttle on porn messageboards, take notes.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 5:45 AM on November 20, 2008

(1) yes, but I doubt you are going to make the massive returns you may be envisioning because of all the free competition (think youporn, etc). there is always a specialty market to be served (think suicide girls) but a lot of those businesses run porn itself as another benefit next to things like a community. this is a business you're most likely to make laundromat-returns with, not vanilla-flavored-crack-returns and I don't see it coming from mailed dvd's at all. that business is dead.

(4) content makes people look once. community makes them come back.
posted by krautland at 7:40 AM on November 20, 2008

Free model releases are available from the Free Speech Coalition.

Whether you will be successful or not ENTIRELY depends on your niche. I know a fair number of porn producers from second-tier markets like Philadelphia, Nashville and, yeah, Chicago. It's actually a lot easier to get talent there than it is in the major centers, in part because that talent isn't seen anywhere else. You can do volume here in LA, but that means that the same girl is in 20 films that are all coming out at once. At the mags I work for, we tend to drop photographers when they move to LA, since we already have a decent line in.

You're going to have to basically deal with two different sets of paperwork—one to cover the 2257 requirements (basically, a release, a form that attests to identity, and a copy of an ID. If you're doing anything where you might get picked up as freelance content providers, make sure that those copies of the ID are in color), and one to handle payments to performers (1099s mostly).

It is most definitely worth it to have a business lawyer with some adult business familiarity talk to you.

Feel free to contact me through email or memail and I can hopefully answer some questions or put you in touch with folks who do it right.
posted by klangklangston at 3:38 PM on November 20, 2008

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