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Porn Takes On a Personal Touch in the Pandemic

The coronavirus has shuttered the adult entertainment industry, so enterprising performers are turning to platforms like OnlyFans to sell their product directly to consumers. It’s a trend that could change the way the industry works forever.

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As one of the most popular porn stars in the world, Sofia Rose is an industry unto herself. And for much of her 15-plus years in the business, that’s meant traveling—often more than she’s wanted to. She flew over 100,000 miles in 2019, as video shoots, event appearances, and fan meet-and-greets took her to New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, and other locales. It was exhausting, she says, but necessary: Rose’s income relies on a variety of revenue streams, and exposure is essential. “I was traveling to the point where I was home five to 10 days in a whole month,” Rose says. “That’s normal for me.”

Now, however, like much of the country, Rose is grounded, sheltering in place at her Las Vegas home during the global COVID-19 pandemic. The economic toll of the virus has been disastrous for workers in so many industries, and the porn business has had to shut down studio productions. But Rose hasn’t felt the negative pecuniary impact of quarantine. If anything, she’s thrived.

“I might come out of this pandemic and never have to travel again because it’s going to financially set me up to not need to ever go anywhere,” she says.

Rose isn’t alone: Performers across the industry say that their income has steadily increased throughout these fraught days of spring 2020, when porn consumers find themselves with fewer permissible reasons to leave the house. But Rose and other stars aren’t making their money by featuring on the websites often associated with adult entertainment like Pornhub, which offers most of its content for free and has seen its traffic skyrocket amid the pandemic. Rather, both established stars and savvy amateurs alike are taking their work directly to fans through a variety of channels: editing and selling their own videos on sites like ManyVids, hosting private video sessions, and running premium social media accounts on platforms like Snapchat and OnlyFans. The idea is to offer a more personal touch, and at a time when physical proximity to one another is at a premium, and face masks are the norm, that has an added appeal, Rose says. “The demand is there, and it’s at a peak because that personal, in-person interaction is not available,” she says.

These platforms aren’t new, but in recent years they’ve transformed from something primarily used by amateurs and aspiring performers to lucrative revenue streams for even the biggest names in the industry—even allowing many stars to find a way to work outside the studio system. “Now, it’s de rigueur for even studio-contract girls to have an OnlyFans or a paid Snapchat or something like that on the side for themselves,” says Larkin Love, a performer who has transitioned away from working with studios to producing content with her fiancé, fellow performer Alex Saint, in recent years. That ends up not only often being more profitable, but it can also give the content creators more autonomy. “It’s more challenging, but you’re choosing your own destiny,” Saint says. “You’re choosing your own adventure. You get creative control over pretty much every single aspect. You can choose how it’s marketed—and who you work with.”

The pandemic has only accelerated the trend. OnlyFans in particular has seen more mainstream recognition in the past three months: The company had to cap its referral-bonus program because of a surge in new content creators—the idea of starting a profile on the site has become a gallows-humor meme amid rising unemployment—and it even got a shout-out from Beyoncé last month. (The queen doesn’t appear to have taken OnlyFans up on its invitation to create her own account.) Despite the economic uncertainty created by the coronavirus, and the ubiquity of free adult content—Pornhub alone hosts more than 12 million videos—millions are paying OnlyFans’ going rate of $4.99 to $49.99 a month to subscribe to performers’ profiles. And once they’re inside, they’re often willing to pay much more for custom content and direct interactions.

That rise in popularity hasn’t just been good PR—it’s been a great boon to content creators. Take the Chicago-based cosplayer and fetish star who creates under the name Little Puck: She says that her income from OnlyFans has grown exponentially since she created her profile in January, jumping from $2,000 in February to $3,400 in March to $7,500 in April. It’s nearly caught up to her sales on ManyVids, where she says she makes $10,000 each month selling her self-shot videos. “I’ve never seen growth this quickly on a site,” she says.

And that growth could further cement what’s been a dramatic change within the business in the past half-decade: a shift in power from the porn studios to talent, who can now pull in five- or six-figure monthly incomes from the comfort of their own homes. The days when VHS and DVD sales propped up the industry and consumers paid for highly produced clips are becoming a relic. Instead, consumers are increasingly giving money directly to the performers, who in turn are offering a more personal experience than those provided by glossy videos with professional lighting and multiple camera angles. Social-distancing measures didn’t spark these changes, but they’ve become more visible as fans have flocked to these new platforms. An industry that has long thrived on disruption finds itself disrupted, and what’s emerged is that fans are willing to pay for one thing above all else: a greater sense of intimacy.

“They want a deeper connection with the people they’re jacking off to, which isn’t surprising at all,” Puck says, “the idea of being able to absorb yourself in your fantasy and actually have a direct connection and make it more real and exciting.”

No segment of media has been shaped by—and helped shape—the technological landscape quite like pornography. Once confined to small, seedy theaters, highly erotic and hardcore films came into people’s homes in a big way in the late 1970s and early ’80s after the creation of the Video Home System, or VHS. As the story goes, the availability of porn on VHS helped the fledgling technology triumph over Sony’s competing Betamax, as Sony reportedly wouldn’t allow adult content on its tapes. The reason fast internet exists? Possibly because of porn. The reason everyone owned Blu-rays and not HD-DVDs? The studios chose a side. Even the advent of online-payment systems has its roots in people needing a way to get their smut. If everyone soon owns virtual-reality headsets, a certain industry may deserve some gratitude.

As the adult-entertainment business evolved alongside the new technologies, the big players got very rich. By the turn of the century, porn DVD sales and rentals topped $4 billion a year. In 2007, American studios made an estimated $12 billion, primarily from a combination of DVD sales and website subscriptions to professional outfits like Brazzers. But the next year, the Great Recession hit the industry hard, disproving the notion that porn was insulated from the economy’s ebbs and flows. The collapse came as the studios struggled with another threat to their dominance: the rise of sites like Pornhub, Redtube, and Xvideos, which offer most of their content for free and boast millions of hours’ worth of videos. Those so-called “tube sites” made porn easier to search for than ever before and made the more profitable forms of media practically expendable. They also became a haven for stolen material—which helped them grow but ate into studio profits. By the middle of the next decade, the industry was losing an estimated $2 billion a year to piracy and saw the DVD market crater as viewers found easier ways to access the content. The results were catastrophic for many companies, says Alejandro Freixes, managing editor of trade publication Xbiz. “Traditional porn studios were falling by the wayside if they were not producing top-notch stuff—or they were being purchased outright, or swallowed into another entity,” he says. MindGeek, the parent company of Pornhub and Brazzers, acquired popular studios including Digital Playground, Reality Kings, and Sean Cody, while WGCZ Ltd.—the corporate holding entity behind Xvideos.com, bought Bang Bros and the Penthouse brand, among others. The tube sites now controlled many of the biggest studios, which were working with the biggest stars. That transformed them from new platforms into the most powerful players in the business.

In the past half-decade, a new disruptor has emerged: premium social media platforms, which performers have used to cut out the studios and other intermediaries and bring content directly to fans. These new channels build on the intimacy offered by live webcam nude shows, which have been around since at least 1997, and phone sex, which is only a few years younger than Alexander Graham Bell’s invention. But cam shows and phone sex (post–Gilded Age, at least) are typically billed by the minute, and the relationships exist only within the confines of those interactions. These new platforms use a subscription model: For a monthly fee, fans can subscribe to a feed of content from their favorite performers. The interactions these sites offer are not dissimilar to Instagram Live or Twitch, which allow celebrities and gamers to interact with their followers, or Cameo, the website that lets people pay for personalized messages from celebrities.

People are more comfortable paying for this type of content, says Lux Alptraum, the former editor of Fleshbot and a writer who covers the sex work industry, because it feels more personal than the glut of porn that’s available for free online. “It’s why some people are more comfortable doing a GoFundMe versus paying taxes: ‘My money is going directly to this person. I can feel like this is a direct relationship and I see the impact,’” she says.

The list of platforms is long. It includes AVN Stars, which caters to the adult-entertainment industry. Another more established channel is Patreon, a pledge-based platform popular among podcasters and comedians that has caught on among “lewd”—typically meaning artsy, sexually suggestive—performers (though it’s made an effort to eliminate hardcore content in recent years). Enterprising performers like Nikki Delano have also figured out how to turn a profit off of Snapchat. She maintains two accounts on the platform: On a free, public one, she posts sexually suggestive content. “I take it all the way before the actual nudity,” she says. “They eat that up.” To see the rest, however, viewers must pay for the second account using a service like FanCentro or IndieBill. “I say, ‘Hey, guys, if you want to see anything else—if you want to see me get completely naked and suck his dick—find me on my private, secret Snapchat,’” she says.

Delano says that she’s earned a lot from her premium Snapchat account in the past half-decade—topping out at “six-figure months every month” a few years ago—but over the past year or two business has been shifting to OnlyFans. The website doesn’t expressly offer sexual content—plenty of fitness instructors have made sizable profits on the platform and Aaron Carter is on there doing, well, something—but it’s best known as a home for nude and lewd performers, both pro and amateur. Since it was founded in 2016, OnlyFans has exploded in popularity—according to a Wired article in March, it had 20 million subscribers and 200,000 content creators. Both of those figures appear to have grown dramatically since social-distancing measures were enacted around the world: According to parent company Fenix International Limited’s self-reported numbers, roughly 3.5 million new subscribers and 60,000 content creators joined in March. (While the former number is likely the result of people spending more time alone in their homes, the latter appears to be linked to skyrocketing unemployment and an economic slowdown not seen since the Great Depression.) Rose says that her subscriber count has grown exponentially over the past few months, reaching 400 in early April and over 1,000 by mid-May. “We are in a pandemic, and people know what they want to spend their money on,” says Rose, who charges $14.99 a month for access.

OnlyFans is certainly not some kind of porn utopia: Little Puck says the rules for content creators aren’t clearly articulated and frequently change, and the website can be buggy at times. OnlyFans has struggled with customer service and reportedly targeted accounts created by escorts, sometimes disabling their pages and withholding money even if they weren’t promoting their offline services. “I have some friends who are escorts and I try to advise them to really try to separate their profiles, because OnlyFans will kick them off for no reason, even if they’re not using it to advertise those services,” Puck says. The website also came under fire earlier this year for a data leak that saw as much as 4 terabytes of content make its way onto the public web. One model said that people found her home address as a result of the leak, which led to harassment and several break-in attempts, causing her to take a break from the business. (OnlyFans did not respond to multiple requests for interviews for this article.)

But despite those issues, the big draws of OnlyFans are its advantageous revenue split—content creators take home 80 percent of their gross earnings, far above the split offered by most cam sites, which can be as low as 25 percent—and, perhaps more importantly, shifting consumer demand. Puck says that she first signed up for the site three years ago before getting off because she wasn’t gaining as much traction as she was on ManyVids, where she routinely ranks in the site’s top 20 earners. She rejoined OnlyFans in January after seeing many of her peers prosper there the past year or two. “I was like, ‘OK, if everyone is back on it then obviously something’s going down,’” she says. Rose’s situation was similar: She had let her profile collect dust before reengaging with it this year, shortly before the pandemic began. In the past few months, she says her income from other sources has tapered off, but the losses have been more than offset by what she’s brought in from OnlyFans.

“We go through cycles where there’s a platform that is the platform that everybody’s using,” Rose says. “We don’t necessarily dictate it, the fans do. Right now, what everyone wants to be on is OnlyFans.”

Even in ideal circumstances, traditional pornographic work doesn’t pay much. Freixes estimates that performers make $800 to $2,000 per studio shoot—though he says that number can increase or decrease depending on what a performer is willing to do on camera. Newcomers often fare even worse, making as little as $300 for a scene. Social media influencer Mia Khalifa famously said she was paid just $12,000 for about a dozen shoots during her brief porn career, and that she never saw another dime from them despite the immense popularity of her scenes. “Porn performers don’t get royalties,” Alptraum says. “They get onetime payments for their scene. So if you’re not getting booked for scenes, you are not getting work, period.”

For performers like Larkin Love, it’s become advantageous to go independent. She estimates that she’s shot 60 scenes for major studios throughout her nine-year career, and only one since 2015. By contrast, she’s shot about 600 for herself to either sell on clips sites or host on her premium social media profiles. The money doesn’t come instantly like a studio paycheck, she says, but it’s far better in the long run: Love says each self-shot scene can earn her 20 to 40 times more than if she had worked with a studio. “Everything about it is better for me,” she says. “I like having creative control. The paychecks are fatter because I’m not sharing that with other people, and I have ultimate say over what happens to the content, where it goes, where it’s distributed, how it’s distributed, how it’s marketed.”

But scene work offers an important incentive for many performers: visibility, which helps attract new fans, and hopefully paying subscribers. This strategy has worked well for Rose, a highly popular plus-sized performer—a “BBW,” short for “big beautiful woman,” in porn parlance—who has shot for big-name studios including Brazzers and Bang Bros. Despite their popularity, studio work makes up only a small percentage of her income. It does, however, bring a lot of new followers to her Instagram and Twitter profiles—roughly 15,000 to 20,000 each time she appears in a video for a major studio.

The challenge is monetizing those new fans by signing them up to her OnlyFans or premium Snapchat, or getting them to buy something from her profiles on ManyVids, where she sells her videos, which she shoots and edits herself, for prices ranging from $3.99 for a “messy banana split” clip to $19.99 for more hardcore scenes. Thus far, she’s been successful: Rose says that she has analytics that show that she’s converted roughly 30 percent of her Instagram following into paying customers. So while Rose plans to reduce her normal travel schedule after the pandemic and even after studios reopen, keeping a relationship with them remains valuable to her. “They have an established fan base and a brand that is bigger than I can imagine,” Rose says. “By shooting for them, you expand your brand and acquire a new fan base. And by doing that, you increase your income.”

Maitland Ward understands the benefits of shooting for a studio and the income it can generate for her independent platforms. Ward transitioned from a career as a mainstream actress—she played Rachel McGuire on Boy Meets World and Jessica Forrester on The Bold and the Beautiful—to pornographic work in 2019 after years as a cosplay performer and lingerie model. Almost immediately, she latched on with Deeper, a company that focuses on higher-end adult content, and she landed a part in a feature-length porn named Drive. (No, not that Drive.) The movie earned her three AVN awards and crucially brought attention to her social media accounts—her Instagram follower count sat at fewer than 500,000 in early 2019, but spiked sharply after Drive’s October release, reaching 1.4 million by the middle of May. She says that has translated into more paying subscribers on her premium channels, too: Ward launched her OnlyFans page last August, quickly hitting 1,700 subscribers. By the beginning of 2020, after Drive and scenes she shot for studios like Brazzers were released, that number reached 8,000. The pandemic has only boosted traffic, she says, and by mid-April, she had more than 15,000 paying subscribers. In general, Ward says, the sites have been “a game-changer” for performers in the industry.

“Before camming and before OnlyFans and stuff, they didn’t have an outlet,” she says. “It’s just put so much control in the hands of the performers.”

Ward typically charges $7.99 a month for her OnlyFans, and while she has run occasional $3 promotions, 15,000 paid followers quickly add up. But for many performers, the real money comes from the microtransactions that occur on the platform. Once people are signed up, they can pay for private sessions through video services, phone calls, or custom content, or leave a tip. The money from the private interactions typically outweighs what’s coming in from subscription fees. It’s how Little Puck can make $7,500 on OnlyFans in April despite having a little more than 700 followers.

Larkin Love and Saint charge only $1 for access to their premium Snapchat of about 10,000 followers, while maintaining two OnlyFans accounts: a free one with 5,400 subscribers and a $4.99-per-month profile with about 6,000. They could charge more, but their business model relies on keeping as many followers engaged as possible and selling them on private content. They charge upward of five figures for some custom videos—though Love points out there is some overhead attached, like leather harnesses that can cost several thousand dollars—and many fans pay for personalized shout-outs on live feeds and direct messages. One of their most popular income streams is Love’s $100 “dick ratings,” where users send in pictures for her to critique; she says she does about 50 each month.

“They’re paying for interaction as much as anything else,” Love says. “You want to see a big-titty brunette, or if you even just want to see me, Google me. But if you want to talk to me, you’re going to have to come to my OnlyFans or my Snapchat, because that’s where I’m active.”

These one-on-one interactions are relatively new in the history of the porn industry. The proliferation of these new channels has broken down the walls between stars and fans, and the next technological advancements could build on that. But the idea behind sites like OnlyFans—increased access and intimacy—is anything but new. In some ways, the technology is just catching up to what adult-content consumers have been after for the better part of six decades.

Amateur pornography traces its roots to another technological innovation from the 20th century: the Polaroid. In 1948, Edwin Land debuted a camera that used a revolutionary light process that could develop film within minutes. That meant that hobbyist photographers no longer had to ship their film to lab techs—which meant they no longer had to be fearful of strangers seeing the photos they took. It didn’t take long for people to recognize the camera’s potential: Nude Polaroids, including several of Bettie Page, date back to the late 1940s, and in the 1960s, people began taking out magazine ads offering to pay models to pose. Polaroid never directly embraced the salacious pictures, but did discuss the “intimacy” its camera allowed for. (One of Land’s most famous quotes: “Our society is changing so rapidly that none of us can know what it is or where it is going.”)

Inventions like the Super 8 and the camcorder added a video component to the medium, and the widespread availability of in-home internet in the mid-1990s gave people an easier way to disseminate their private works. Twenty-five years later, the appetite for it appears to only be growing: Pornhub said in its year-in-review press release that “amateur” was the website’s top-searched term in 2019. No matter the technology, distribution channel, or decade, many prefer more authentic depictions of sex to what a sleek professional shoot provides.

“They want it to feel real,” says Jessica Starling, an independent performer who has been creating online content for four years. “They want it to be an actual couple that has sex regularly—not just on camera—because maybe it just feels more real to them rather than two people who’ve just met each other for the first time on a set and are following a script.”

Starling is not exactly an amateur; her videos have racked up more than 22 million views on Pornhub, and her profile currently sits just inside the site’s top 100—an impressive ranking considering there are about 23,000 models in its database. But her content relies on realism. Virtually all of Starling’s videos feature her performing solo, and most are filmed with a single camera against bare-bones backdrops, with perhaps a white cloth or a tapestry behind her. It gives off the impression that she’s working in her own bedroom instead of a professional set. And the approach has served her well: She says she’s made about $6,000 on OnlyFans alone in the past month.

Little Puck also isn’t quite going for an amateur vibe—she recently upgraded her equipment and now uses DSLR and 4K cameras, external mics, and lightboxes. Before the pandemic, she shot her scenes with the help of a videographer. But before she got her start shooting on an iPhone 4, and that was good enough to build her fan base. The improved quality helps, but it’s not the most essential part of her business. She shoots many of her videos like a selfie, holding the camera or phone with one hand and staring directly into it, making eye contact and talking dirty while she simulates sex. “It just gives off that vibe that you’re there,” she says.

“You want to present the best vids that you can, but what’s more important is personality—how you work the sites and what you’re actually doing within the video and how you talk to your fans,” says Puck, who has never shot for a studio in her seven years in the business. “That will make them keep coming back—how you interact with them.”

Premium social media makes that type of content easier to produce, but it’s not always explicitly about sex, Xbiz’s Freixes says. A model may show themselves with no makeup or give a behind-the-scenes look at their life, while others may talk about video games on Twitch, which can also be a lucrative source of income for some. Even if there are still boundaries, or the consumer understands that the interaction is happening only because they are spending money, the consumer still feels like they’re getting to know the person, not just just the persona.

“You’re getting a window into their morning routine or whatever,” Freixes says. “Or, ‘Here are my dogs, aren’t my dogs cute?’ Because people want to feel like they know this person. They want to feel like they understand this person.”

The pandemic has only increased the desire for that, says Ward. Over the past few months, her fans have sought more personal interactions, sometimes consisting of just conversations. She says her goal is to keep it sexy, but also find a way to take people’s minds off the coronavirus, or their struggles with work, or the stress of quarantine itself. She’s hosted livestream karaoke parties, video sessions with other performers that include just as much talking as they do sexual content, and even a “corona dance party” in her shower, where she showed people how to wash their hands by washing her body. She’s also baked cookies wearing nothing but an apron. (“I realized I didn’t have any eggs, so that was a disaster,” Ward says of her first try.) It’s a more intimate online experience with a popular porn star than was ever possible before. And while the industry had been trending in this direction for a while, Ward says it feels more relevant in the days of self-isolation and stay-at-home orders.

“There’s a human on the other end of it that’s reacting to you, and back and forth, so it’s actually comforting to talk to everybody,” Ward says. “It’s just very communal.”

Performers like Ward provide more up-close, intimate content than the studios, but they also have another advantage at the moment: They can actually shoot scenes. Even as states begin the slow process of reopening and weigh which industries can start again, the porn business remains mostly shuttered. But in April, a light bulb went off for Bree Mills: What about a virtual orgy?

Mills is a director and the chief creative officer for Adult Time, an erotic streaming service and studio that features over 100 channels of original content, essentially making it the Netflix of its industry. Among its most successful titles is Teenage Lesbian, a 2019 partially autobiographical film written and directed by Mills that tells the story of an 18-year-old girl coming to terms with her sexuality. The studio wanted to celebrate the award-winning movie’s success with a reunion, but of course, it was impossible to convene the cast and crew. But Mills had an idea: a video-conference reunion bringing together six of Teenage Lesbian’s key actresses. On April 23, she opened the event with a Q&A not dissimilar to what you’d see in retrospectives for any number of mainstream movies and TV shows. (“If you’re familiar with the Survivor reunion shows, it was kind of like that,” Mills says.) From there, however, Mills removed herself from the proceedings, flipping from host to director. The actresses started taking off their clothes, and soon they began performing for the camera, encouraging and interacting with each other, until Mills had enough material for Teenage Lesbian: One Year Later, a special that began streaming on Adult Time on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.

“The pandemic has meant for us going back to the drawing board and saying, ‘OK, we can’t shoot content in a traditional way, so what alternative and creative ways can we put it out?” Mills says.

The entire industry could soon look more like the Teenage Lesbian reunion. Adult Time has roughly 50,000 films or episodes in its archives, and more shoots yet to be edited and released. But Mills’s company is in a better position than many during the nationwide lockdown: Xbiz’s Freixes says that while larger studios may have a few months’ worth of planned material in their stores, smaller operations live shoot-to-shoot. “They’re suffering pretty badly right now,” he says. Studios are already trying to adapt, increasingly turning to the performers themselves to produce content. Many are offering to buy videos directly from the stars—both Starling and Rose say they’ve been approached to produce self-shot content; Starling sold two videos to MindGeek, while Rose has considered selling them only pictures. (“It’s hard for me to do video in the quality that I consider it needs to be for a studio,” she says.) In some cases, Freixes says, the studios have either offered a flat rate greater than what they typically have or do something they’ve rarely considered: giving the actresses and actors a cut of the profits. “All of these studios are essentially having to behave like clips platforms,” Freixes says.

Both Freixes and Mills say that these changes to the way porn is produced and distributed are here to stay, even after society fully reopens and performers can return to sets. The market has shown over the past few years that people are more willing to pay for self-shot content. In quarantine, many more consumers have turned to those platforms, and many more performers have joined them. Now studios don’t have to just compete with the private feeds of their traditional talent like Rose, Ward, and Love, they have to fight for dollars with an increasing number of Little Pucks and Jessica Starlings—content creators who developed outside the studio system and now stand to make as much money as longtime stars. In a few months’ time, every major studio’s website could soon include a self-shot video section. Already, one big operation—Vixen Media Group, which owns Deeper among others—has announced its intentions to include more content in this vein through its Intimates series. The company announced this month that it distributed $250,000 worth of equipment and talent contracts for performers to film more “immersive” videos with studio productions shut down. This spring, Adult Time also launched a new channel for indie-content creators called Model Time, plus new series including Naked Yoga Life and a daily talk show, Super Horny Fun Time.

Mills likens it to the beginning of the previous decade, when studios faced growing threats from piracy and the rise of sites like Pornhub. Many studios weren’t willing to work with the emerging platforms, and most aren’t around today, Mills says. In 2020, those that understand the landscape could thrive alongside talent. Those that don’t—or those that have developed a reputation for taking advantage of their talent—could face a similar fate as their defunct predecessors.

“There are going to be studios that are like, ‘It’s eating away at our bottom line,’ or, ‘Nobody is promoting us anymore, they’re just promoting themselves,’” Mills says. “I look at it like this is the future. This is where the demand is going anyway.”

Love—who also coaches performers on how to make money independently—questions whether this personalized model of content creation is sustainable for studios. Sure, they can host self-shot videos and provide more of an intimate vibe, but no platform hosting Larkin Love and Alex Saint content will be able to bring the consumer as close to Love and Saint as the profiles they run themselves. “I don’t think Brazzers, for example, can give models a place where this business model’s going to work,” Love says. “And even if it did, those models should just peel off and do their own thing, because they’re going to make more money.”

But no matter how the industry evolves, the studios will likely never go away completely: The brands are too important, the major players are too entrenched, and the benefits are too great for performers who need a signal boost. And nothing is necessarily guaranteed when creating for platforms like Snapchat (which reserves the right to ban the accounts of nude performers) or OnlyFans (which has been accused of not supporting the workers who helped build it). But for now talent wields more power in the industry than it ever has, deciding whom they want to work with, what the end product will look like, and which self-shot content they want to sell to a studio. And that shift may cause studios to rethink many things, from how they pay talent to how videos will be produced. Mills says that there will be cost savings, and if consumers respond well to the self-shot material, it follows that there would be more of it, even after the industry begins to reopen.

“When we get to reintroduce traditional production, I don’t think it’s going to be a matter of turning one faucet off and turning the other on,” Mills says. “It’s going to be about finding balance. But the power shift toward performers is going to be even greater.”

But even as the industry grapples with disruptions again—this time brought on by the emerging platforms and hastened by a global pandemic—it appears to be uniquely suited to survive the sea changes. The final product and distribution channels may be changing, but the demand remains high, and consumers are spending millions to access the content they want. It’s just that now, the connections are more personal than they’ve ever been. And that may benefit the performer and the consumer.

“I think we’re gonna walk away from this pandemic realizing that the adult industry is an essential business,” Rose says. “And nobody can argue with it at this point, because that’s what’s helping people cope and survive.”

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