Cammers Lena Paul and Nathan Red
Tucked away in Ash Hollywood’s closet, you’ll find some $10,000 in Louis Vuitton footwear. Next to that, the Giuseppe Zanottis. Next to those: a pair of Ted Baker boots.
Whatever craving catches Ash’s fancy, she adds it to her Amazon WishList. It’s only a matter of time before it arrives at her door with a fan’s entreaty to shoot a video wearing said item—those Ted Bakers, let’s say, as she strides around her posh San Diego loft, dominating the fan in absentia.
Her fee: $300 for 10 minutes—a price point that far exceeds most of her peers.
“Just like people save up for their dream car, people save up for their dream custom video by Ash Hollywood,” she tells CityBeat one recent afternoon. “I’ve gone through this for seven years, people riding on my coattails and companies paying me literally pennies on their dollar. I would rather be a luxury brand than an affordable-to-everyone brand.”
More and more, personal “camming” is the face of adult entertainment: sex-centric entrepreneurs rewriting the script for how to monetize their personas, whether that be porn stars seizing control of their careers or camgirls building their own brand from scratch. Theirs is an unregulated domain and one that has forced the porn oligarchs of yore to see their monopoly over the means of production and distribution slip away, one squirt show and Valentine’s Day raffle at a time.
“When the porn industry got hit with a lot of piracy a few years ago, that’s what made cam feel special and thrust it into the most lucrative echelons of adult,” explains Shirley Lara, the 32-year-old San Diegan COO of Chaturbate, one of the top camsites. “Sure you can record a webcam show, but it doesn’t have the interactivity as it does live.”
Armed with an always-diversifying array of digital tools, the teeming horde of webcammers has stepped voraciously into that breach, smartphones and DSLRs in hand, unencumbered by the dictates of Big Porn. In the span of a few years, influence—and revenue—has waned from the rented-out mansions of San Fernando Valley and is landing increasingly in the bedrooms of 20-somethings, single moms and exhibitionist couples across the country.
“Your neighbor next door is probably a camgirl. Or a camguy. Or they cam together,” Lara says.
Webcam companies keep careful guard over their traffic and revenue, leaving financial estimates to vary from $1 billion according to CNBC, to ten times that amount by 2020 according to a recent article on The Conversation website. Or how’s this for perspective: Chaturbate ranks 136th among all websites in U.S. traffic, according to web analytics website Alexa.com. That’s one spot behind NPR and one ahead of the Wall Street Journal.
Pinpointing the number of cammers is a similarly slippery endeavor, but the throng now numbers at least into the hundreds of thousands, camgirls—and increasingly, camboys—bankrolling lavish lifestyles or building nest eggs, or both.
Even Pornhub—part of MindGeek, the shadowy conglomerate that eviscerated the porn industry by posting a lifetime’s worth of pirated content—has gotten in on the act. Last year, the Montreal-based site launched an amateurs program in which average Joes post content for free viewing. Payouts are a pittance, but extrapolate that across Pornhub’s massive viewership (Alexa ranks it 60th worldwide, ahead of the New York Times, Spotify and ESPN).
“That ad revenue, man, it adds up,” says Nathan Red, a 24-year-old former Navy diver who is amassing a small fortune with his porn star wife Lena Paul. “You get like one-tenth of a penny for every view, so every million views is a couple thousand dollars.”
Their two-bedroom apartment in Oceanside is a constantly-churning porn-mill geared to capitalize on their affection. One day it’s a Chaturbate show on the couch. The day after that, they’ve hauled their bed into the living room to catch the light just right for a threesome they’re filming. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, plans are percolating for what is sure to be one of their biggest nights of the year.
“I don’t know if it’s an intimacy factor, I don’t know if it’s just the sense of ‘Oh this is the real deal,’ but they’re invested in the concept of us,” Paul says.
Back in her San Diego apartment, the only company Ash Hollywood will keep that night is her boyfriend, three dogs and two cats. The freedom to unplug is a big part of why the 27-year-old traded the L.A. porn scene for San Diego’s relative quietude two years ago. Her porn persona survives as a mere side project, maybe 20 hours a week filming custom videos, or hosting Skype one-on-ones, or jetting across the country to strip.
Most of her focus falls to her nutritional coaching business, a balance always in flux but one she finds on her own, for whatever reward she deems fit.
“I came here because I love sex and I love money, and I found a way to do them both,” she says. “The people I work with, they have basic human needs, like better communication with their partner, better communication with themselves. I’ve actually helped people, believe it or not. Porn for the greater good.”