>> Gerrie Lim
In the borderless world of the Internet, what better way is there for a "foreign" girl to reach out and touch her legion of loyal fans than via her personal Website? And, verily, who can resist that extra edge of sexual frisson conjured by connecting with someone from far, far away, like some dark and dusky girl whispering nasty nothings in a foreign tongue?
Like some religious ritual, she'll also smile seductively and spread her luscious legs for the Webcam, though only after you've offered your credit card as proof of your timely conversion. After all, and make no mistake, this is business.
Stories abound as to how the Internet has been a true-blue godsend to the numerous "foreign" (read, non-American) girls among us. In an industry where the main vernacular isn't patently verbal (the language is one of camera angles, insertion shots, and facial splatter, in case anyone forgot), the personal site is the strongest connection to fans back home, who are usually devoid of video or print materials due to their local censorship laws.
Any red-blooded fan anywhere can now log on and type in his or her favorite girl's name and read her latest news, download her latest video clips, purchase her latest merchandise, and participate in her live chats and shows, all with an ease and efficiency barely imagined not too long ago, especially in those halcyon days before broadband. And the "foreign" girls, who hail from hither and yon, all see America as their promised land, for one overriding reason: Penetration, pardon the pun, is absolutely highest west of the Atlantic Ocean.
French star Rebecca Lord, for instance, reveals that the majority of visitors to her site come from the United States. "I would say that 85 percent are American, 5 percent Japanese, 4 percent British, 2 percent German, 2 percent Swedish, and 2 percent from elsewhere in Europe," she reveals, "which makes French visitors... very little!
"I left France almost 10 years ago," she explains, "and with the exception of the fans who knew me before I came to the United States or the readers of Hot Video, which is the French version of AVN, I would say my fellow countrymen are too busy with Eastern European porn chicks. Plus, the Net in France is still something that is not that big, and lots of people there are really reluctant to give their credit cards online. Fraud is a bigger issue in Europe than it is here. I'm proud to have run my site for seven years without going bankrupt.
"I'm always careful about processing French credit cards," she sighs. "Hacking is a big thing in France. They love to use these credit card number generators and give you a bogus name and address. Two or three years ago, I had lots of fake credit cards and chargebacks. U.S. companies that process credit cards are not set up for that. They only verify U.S., or at the most U.K., addresses. I now have a pretty extensive database of bogus cards, names. and I.P. addresses, and I also have the advantage of being French, so I can recognize a bogus one really fast."
In effect, Lord has thwarted the system and done what most American credit card companies are usually unable to do. "Credit card companies processing for adult - their databases are really weak when it comes to foreign countries," she laments. "Basically, they recommend you block most of the countries in the world that are not the U.S., and I don't want to do that - it would really be unfair to my fans. So, I decided to take a chance two or three years ago, and it has paid off now, though with some chargebacks. My advice is to hire a European company that has the capability to check if the charges are legit. I am in the process of hiring a German company to do that."
Lord revamps her site every two years, with the technical expertise of her husband Philippe. Her fans get to learn all about her various turn-ons (doggie and reverse-cowgirl, tai chi, smoking) and read about her ambition to open a bar-cum-restaurant, her aversion to DVDs from Netflix, and why she can't accept orders through PayPal. They can check out her dance schedule and even call her for phone sex (available in the U.S. and Canada only), all best viewed with a 1024 x 768 resolution.
Lord first came to America on the invitation of Swedish director Nic Cramer, the two-time AVN "Best Director" award winner, who shot her in many of his films - like Flesh for Fantasy (where she has a torrid three-way with Keri Windsor and Linda Thoren, involving lots of pubic shaving and strap-on thrusting) and his Stanley Kubrick homage A Clockwork Orgy, in which Lord opens the movie by enthusiastically demonstrating her expertise at fellatio. "My guess," Cramer says, "is there would be around 5 percent of non-Americans in the industry at any given time. I include every country but Canada as 'foreign.' The figure may be higher at brief times, but I think spread out over say, a year in time, it's pretty much accurate."
A large percentage of that 5 percent do not actually reside in the United States. Lord, who lives in Las Vegas, is the exception. The ever-popular Silvia Saint, for instance, has always based herself from her native Czech Republic, the same country where Slovakian erotic supermodel Kyla Cole now lives, running her official Website from the somewhat obscure town of Ostrava, 200 miles from Prague.
"The site's membership is 40 percent U.S., 35 percent European, and the remaining 25 percent is from the rest of the world. But, as far as we know, there are two members from the Czech Republic and none from Slovakia," reveals Cole's Webmaster, Adrian Daskalov of the Web design company PegasArt, which Cole co-owns. "We believe it is because the average monthly income in our countries is about US$400, so the membership is quite high for the people here."
Cole's site charges US$19.95 a month, which Daskalov believes "is competitive. Kyla shoots new pictures all the time that will eventually be published on her site, and what she has to offer is her personal touch - her diary, weekly news, backstage reportage, interviews, e-mails, live chat, and so on. We believe that's what her fans like."
The fetching brunette catapulted to fame as the U.S. Penthouse Pet for March 2000 and then starred in three Andrew Blake movies, most notably The Villa, which won "Best Cinematography" at the 2003 AVN Awards. Since August 2003, she has also been a TV talk show host, on Slovakia's highest-rated station Markiza, where she does a show called Laskanie, that deals explicitly with sexuality. She interviews people involved in erotica and does on-camera reports from the likes of the Erotic Festival in Budapest, all of which she writes about on her personal online "News" page. Her site, however, still lacks amenities like online auctions. "We do not do any auctions even though we wanted to," Daskalov admits. "We can't process credit cards and we also cannot sell erotic stuff on eBay in Europe. It's a big problem for us."
Cole has no qualms about posting nude photos of herself on the site, and she happily includes her own vaginal close-ups for the enjoyment of her members. "I love to display my naked body, I am an exhibitionist by nature," she says, revealing that she gets similar amounts of e-mail from her fans on both sides of the Atlantic. "I think it's about 50-50 even, between Europe and America. The only difference I've noticed is that Europeans are better at geography." And is her appeal to Americans primarily because she is a blue-eyed, smoldering, 36-24-35 European brunette? "I don't know if being European has anything to do with it," she modestly replies. "Maybe we are more open about sex."
In a somewhat more vocal vein, Brazilian star Olivia del Rio unabashedly touts the obvious appeal of her site. "I am not that different from other adult stars, but who else could murmur some Portuguese words while having sex?" she says, laughing. "After meeting lots of fans at different conventions in the U.S., I have the feeling that they come to my site to see something other than your usual California blondes."
What about letters from home? "The e-mail I receive from Brazil is not that different from what I receive from my American fans," the 5-foot, 7-inch, 34C-26-34 girl from Belo Horizonte affably discloses, adding that she updates the site daily and answers all her e-mail personally from her home in Las Vegas. Do they gush over her scenes in say, Joe D'Amato's 1999 Sin City film College Girl, shot in Prague and Budapest, in which she takes on three studs who eventually pop simultaneously on her face? "They like to tell me what they think about my sex performances, often in great detail," she exclaims. "The only big difference is that the Brazilian fans ask me when I'm coming back. The adult entertainment scene in Brazil is pretty small - 99 percent of the movies made there are gonzos and they don't have really big budgets. Also, the Internet in Brazil is something for the rich people. Not many poor people can access the Internet."
Her site brims with her unbridled sexual energy. The "Bio" page notes that she loves "beautiful dicks, horny chicks and bondage" and her favorite fantasy is "to fuck a man's ass." Fans can use the site to book her for private photo/video shoots as well as for escorting (Her regular rate is US$2,500 an hour and, alas, only men living in the United States can apply.) The site also has a French version, for her many French fans (she began her porn career as the protégée of French actor/director Patrice Cabanel) and she always has quirky new features, like a "design a screensaver" contest (the winner gets two months' free membership) and her zany live Webcam shows.
"I love Webcams, I'm an exhibitionist," del Rio gushes. "It turns me on very much. It's a completely different experience compared to movies or photos because you have your fans watching you live. I also have a lot of fun chatting with my fans. It's interesting because I learn even more than I do when I receive email - these guys ask me many questions and provide me with many suggestions - and then I can relax and enjoy chats with them and get wild."
Cole, like del Rio, enjoys Webcams and Webchats for much the same reason, and she's been known to take her Webcam with her while traveling abroad on modeling shoots, so as not to disappoint her waiting fans. "I conduct the Webcam shows myself," Cole explains. "I do not do any masturbation shows if I do not feel like it. I do the chats every week and, because I have fans who actually do not want me to get naked on the cam, we just chat. They have the opportunity to talk to me in real time. Of course, at least once a month, I get nasty during the chat and do things I normally don't. And, for the Webcam, I can do whatever I want to. I get sexually turned on, from the spontaneity and the anonymity."
Indeed, as marketing strategists Al and Laura Ries have written in their influential book The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding (HarperCollins, 2000), the critical thing to branding a Website is to offer product differentiation through "singularity." Performing scheduled Webcam shows is one way of doing that, as is offering intimate personal updates from the star herself, with her own choice of text and graphics. On Cole's site, for example, members can browse entries from her personally-written online diary. (For instance, she reveals that she was once a good Catholic girl - a tantalizing tidbit in itself!) "Many girls in the industry have their Websites but the truth is they do not take care of it," she adds. "They have someone else answer e-mails for them, make up stories, and choose pictures. I do everything by myself."
Similarly effecting "singularity," through putting one's personalized stamp on a product, is Jodie Moore, the former Private contract girl now signed to Legend Video. The 26-year-old, vivacious, blonde Australian uses her site to not only promote her porn career but also her political ambitions: As of this writing, Moore was running for office in her home state of Queensland, for the position of Lord Mayor of Brisbane, in the March 2004 elections. (Cries of "Cicciolina!" naturally abound, recalling the '80s Italian porn star, also known as Ilona Staller, who ran successfully for political office.) She comes from the Brisbane suburb of Woodridge and previously ran for the Australian Senate twice (she got 5 percent of the vote the first time, slightly less the second.) Her aim, should she win, is to help unionize strippers and sex workers in the city and also get a Brisbane Mardi Gras festival going. "It will be an all-nude event," Moore says. "Why not? If you get elected Lord Mayor, you can do anything."
Moore seemingly rewrote the book on female masturbation when she appeared in Michael Ninn's 2002 film Perfect; and Private's The Scottish Loveknot, in which Moore starred, won "Best Foreign Feature" at the January 2004 AVN Awards. Moore has also starred in a slew of lower-end, rude-and-crude titles (Fast Times at Deep Crack High 5, Double Penetration Virgins 11, and Buffy Malibu's Nasty Girls 26, to cite but a few).
"I got into this business because there are no adult movie stars in Australia," Moore explains. "I was a stripper for six years and then, one day, someone said to me, 'How come there aren't any porn stars in Australia?' That's when I decided to do films. In Australia, there are production companies but they're only little ones, nothing on the size of Vivid or Wicked. Private signed me as their contract girl but they wanted me to be based in Europe, but there's nothing for me in Europe. I've made a home [in the U.S.]."
Her physical home is in the Los Angeles area, but her virtual home is hosted and maintained in Australia. "The site has been up for four years," Moore reveals. "I give my Webmaster all the images he needs from all the shoots and all the hardcore stuff that I do, and he puts it all up on the site. I do mostly e-mail." Back when the site began, 42 percent of Australia's 6.9 million households (not individuals) had computer access, with PC penetration alone at 26 percent, according to a 1998 Goldman Sachs Investment Research study. Now, says Moore's Webmaster David Harris, her site gets up to 3,000 visitors per day, with half from the United States and half from Australia. "About 20 percent of these are regular visitors," he reveals.
A substantial part of the site promotes Australia as an exciting, sex-positive country, including showcasing the talents of Moore's stripper/sex-worker friends back home.
"One of the advantages of having the site in Australia is that the two different fan bases are looking at the site at opposite times, so the load on the server is spread out a little," Harris adds. By that he means the unique dichotomy inherent in their business plan: Moore followers are either porn fans (mostly in the United States) or political fans (mostly in Australia). Given the 19-hour time difference between Los Angeles, Calif. and Brisbane, Queensland, her site is never short on eyeballs.
Harris says Moore's fan base is a unique phenomenon, since "the political fans soon become porn fans - they discover Jodie through her politics and then enjoy the adult product. When Jodie makes some political statement in Australia, the site really does get hammered. It was overloaded when she appeared on 60 Minutes. At the peak, we had about 10,000 hits a minute."
"I think that the more I get involved with politics, the more people will get to know about porn stars," Moore enthuses. "Now, people are fascinated about us. We have a sexpo [convention] in Australia now. When I went there last February, it was so overwhelming because it was held in Brisbane, my hometown, and so many people came out to see me. You have no idea how that made me feel! I felt so warm inside. It made me realize that Australia will always be my home. My fans in Australia usually e-mail me to say things like, 'It's great, what you're doing,' and 'I remember when you were living in Woodridge, I remember when you were just stripping.' I get a lot of e-mails from girls who say, 'I wish I could be as wild as you!' I'm lost for words when I read that."
However, since she's a winsome white girl, does she think being Australian makes any difference to adult Web surfers? "I don't feel like I'm even competing with the few other Australian girls out here, like Bobbi Barrington and Monica Mayhem, because I'm really the only Australian girl with the publicity, who's just more 'out there,'" says Moore. "However, I don't see myself as a celebrity. Just between you and me, sweetie, this is just porn. I'm just a porn girl. I'm not Julia Roberts.
"I think more Americans now want to see Australian stuff," she adds. "There are things that make us kind of exotic, like the Australian accent and the fact that we're the only country that eats Vegemite." Or, as David Harris puts it, "I would also like to point out that an Australian invented the refrigerator and the black box flight recorder, among other things, so we know innovation!" Harris is already planning to upload a GPS page where, in real time, a fan can see exactly where Moore is anywhere in the world, linked to a Webcam in a public place nearby so she can also be seen. Live broadcasts are also in the works, where Moore will be seen showering or bathing.
At the end of the day, however, all the bells and whistles have to be infused with integrity. Rebecca Lord, for instance, goes against the grain by refusing to include a Webmaster affiliate program. "Nor do I participate in one," she emphasizes, "the reason being that most of these guys are companies that don't care about the people visiting their sites. There are no pop-ups or annoying things like that on my site. My fans hate pop-ups and advertisements all over the place. They also hate lies. Lots of these guys say they have 100,000 pics, 15,000 videos, that sort of thing. That content is all over the Net and mostly for free. Would you participate in a rip-off like that? My site has been successful so far because I don't bullshit my visitors."
One piece of advice she gives to any aspiring porn star with a site is to make it search engine-friendly. "In order to do that, I had to re-do keywords, meta-tags, and links," she explains. "Also, I got rid of the frames on my old site. Frames make it difficult for search engines and fans who have old computers or any old browser with 'no frames' technology. You would be surprised by the number of people who still surf the Net with really old versions of Internet Explorer or Netscape, not counting AOL, which is another problem. As you know, AOL really makes it difficult to surf adult sites."
Ultimately, like any self-respecting porn star, her main concern is to make sure the site serves as a satisfying conduit between herself and her fans - which, in the final analysis, is the very reason for its existence. Lust, like beauty, is very much in the eyes of the beholder, but it cuts both ways: The fans get to indulge their appetite for the exotic, while the girls get to enhance their public profile, particularly in America, where the membership numbers really matter.
And if you're a Webmaster administrating such a site, you'd better do it right - because the field is crowded, the stakes are high, and the challenges never-ending. As Moore summarizes, quite profoundly: "The interest I have in politics comes from my wish to shake up the system and to have my say about the rights of those who like to make their own decisions about adult products.
"If you don't try," she adds, with typical can-do Aussie optimism, "then nothing will change."
Gerrie Lim has written for numerous publications, including Billboard, Playboy, Details, Harper's Bazaar, The Wall Street Journal, South China Morning Post, and The San Diego Union-Tribune. Gerrie now divides his time between his hometown of Singapore and his adopted city of Los Angeles. The latter features greatly in his next book, due later this year, about the adult film industry in America.