Four years after I examined the state of Asian online erotica ("Bring on the
Tsunami: The Rising Tide of Asian Porn," AVN Online, January 2003), some major
Asian companies have perished. At first glance, this may seem odd, as recent
statistics indicate porn in Asia is booming. In the most recent study by
TopTenReviews.com (March 2007), Asia clearly drove the world market. China,
South Korea, and Japan were the top three countries in worldwide porn revenues
for 2006-at $27.4 billion, $25.73 billion, and $19.98 billion (all USD),
respectively-with the US in fourth place at $13.3 billion; the ninth and 10th
places were taken by the Philippines and Taiwan, each at $1 billion.
Additionally, Japan placed fifth in the list of top video porn producers (the
US and Brazil were the top two) and in the list of adult website pages (2.7
million) viewed by country. (The US and Germany finished first and second with
244.66 million and 10 million, respectively).
When mystique loses its charm
There's no doubt the abundance of Asian porn consumers remain. However, how
producers cope with the overwhelming demand-since the pieces of the pie are
shrinking-makes for an entirely different picture.
Concepts such as "brand loyalty" now mean something very different, because
viewers can (and do) choose to take or leave what they see (video-sharing
sites, anyone?), and even "Sunday surfers" now delight in partaking of free
content. Tell that to some of the producers I previously interviewed for that
January 2003 story, and watch them cringe.
Intrepid Brit Sean Clarke, once known as "Pervy" in Asian erotica circles,
wrote of his now-extinct adult portal Flog-On.com: "Well, it had to happen one
day. The original Flog-On finally became a victim of its own success and
security flaws." In 2002, Clarke was confident about his business model,
largely built upon thousands of hardcore Asian-girlie TGPs-but the revenue
stream somehow failed to meet its intended target.
"I've pretty much taken myself out of the adult world," Clarke told me. "I
still have a few adult sites, all movie-gallery posts, which I only maintain
because they provide me with a few hundred dollars a month for almost no work.
My time now, aside from my daytime job-I'm now running e-commerce for a
mainstream site-is taken up with more mainstream Internet activities, like
Similarly, the vivacious Shirley Young, who ran AVWatcher.com (launched in
November 2002 to target Asian adult DVD fans in the US), said she is "no longer
in the business." Her fare largely consisted of Japanese porn, the discs
replicated in Taiwan and available via online order-somewhat innovative back
then, but now commonplace.
In Singapore, the infamous SammyBoy.com, a favorite among Asian sex-tour fans,
experienced a seismic shift. Visitors still can glean information about
Southeast Asian brothels, massage parlors, and karaoke-lounge cathouses, but
those lists now reside on static portals; with the exception of SammyBoy's
visitor-friendly forums' page (which is hosted on a server in the US) the site
no longer is updated regularly. (Offline pornography remains illegal in
Singapore, although the local government conceded defeat in cyberspace and made
a token effort to curtail it by blocking only 100 adult sites.)
"I'm just a webmaster who hosts a forum about Singapore sex," Samuel "Sammy
Boy" Leong said. "I do not determine the direction the forum takes. The
collective membership [is what sets] the tone; all I do is categorize the
content in order to make the forum as user-friendly as possible. The site
itself is no longer regularly updated.
"Everyone owns a [camera phone] and a digital camera nowadays, and as a result,
people make their own porn-they don't have to buy the stuff anymore," he
lamented. "I now run the site as a hobby, and I sell just enough advertising
space to cover overhead. What I did previously was relevant many years ago, but
not anymore. There are scores of sites about the Singapore sex scene nowadays.
Yahoo Classifieds is full of freelance girls advertising their services
directly to the public."
Survival of the freshest
The sites that seem to survive are those hell-bent on exploiting specific
services, such as live video chat, although no one yet knows the perfect
business strategy for endurance. Once-major Asian-adult players like AVE
Entertainment, A6 Inc., and Typhoon Pictures-which were omnipresent as recently
as five years ago-apparently foundered. Two existing companies-Fantadream and
Oriental Dream-declined to comment.
These companies were chasing after the same consumer dollar, but the consumer
has become smarter and more sophisticated. The old "pay-per-minute, free
user-account, and click-to-buy-time" model of online procurement clearly
doesn't work as well anymore. How else could one explain the ongoing success of
niche businesses like Grooby.com, which features Asian transsexuals? Grooby
Chief Executive Officer Steven Gallon told me four years ago that his business
model primarily relied upon membership retention. "Memberships are still most
of our money," he said recently. "We have started becoming affiliates to other
sites, especially ones like Adult Friend Finder and those doing live video
Grooby planted the flag on the specialty niche in 1996 with its first Thai
transsexual sites, Ladyboy-Ladyboy.com and ShemaleYum.com. The company now
hosts six other sites, including BlackTGirls.com and hardcore site
"Probably being the first at what we do helped us a lot," Gallon noted, "and
also having such a head start on the plethora of other Asian shemale sites
[that] have come out since Ladyboy-Ladyboy started. We haven't sat back but
changed and adapted with the current technology, spent a lot more on getting
new affiliates working with us, and tried out a bunch of advertising. I've seen
a lot of lady-boy sites close, but ours seems to be doing quite well. Our
business strategy was, and still is, making sure people know how good our sites
are. Once people have joined one of our sites, they will most likely join
another, and the personalized customer service encourages them to stay."
The fundamental mistake his competition made, Gallon observed, was in not
harnessing and retaining mindshare. "It's hard, though, ensuring that people
come to see our site when they're presented with so many slick options," he
noted. "Unfortunately, many sites don't deliver great content within their
members sections, or [the members sections] consist of licensed and
non-original content, or they are just one of multiple front doors to the same
site. A customer will lose faith if he feels the sites are taking advantage and
not providing what they promise." Interestingly, Grooby's membership stats
remained rather unchanged in four years: Its largest membership base remains in
the US and Canada. "Over 50 percent is definitely US traffic," Gallon revealed.
"Western Europe and Australia are not far behind, but Japan has risen very
His staff-now six full-time employees plus 18 freelance photographers, graphic
designers, and others-collates Asian transsexual content shot in Southeast
Asia. "Thailand and the Philippines not only have more transsexuals per capita
[than] anywhere [else] except for Brazil, but they're also easy to shoot in,"
Gallon remarked. "We have also shot in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and
Brunei. I'd desperately love to break into the Korean and Japanese models
market and am currently actively seeking partners."
His affiliate program is evolving: Grooby, which once paid 40-percent revshare
four years ago, now pays 50 percent. Still, Gallon has one pet peeve: "The bad
thing for us is that a lot of mega-companies who have no interest in the scene,
just the bottom dollar, have jumped on board-as have producers who previously
would never have associated themselves with transsexual erotica." His
competition has become stiffer (pardon the pun), and he said his latest
project, Asian-American-Girls.com (launched in March), will help Grooby compete
in the heterosexual market.
"I love Asian women. I think they're the best looking in the world," Gallon
said. "Ninety-nine percent of Asian porn is from Asian countries, yet the
United States has some of the best-looking Asian women. We've been working on
this for over three years, and we now have photo and video shoots of more than
100 Asian-American girls of all types. I think many guys want to see these
girls rather than the country-girl look we seem to get from the Southeast Asian
countries and the overdone porn from Japan, which has become predictable."
Predictability is a curse
Consider the case of Thai-girlie site ThaiChix.com, the homepage of which
claims "100,000 Asian photos, plus 20,000 Asian videos and daily updates, full
access with your membership to 24/7 customer service, and much more!" Monthly
dues at $24.95 USD (or $44.95 for two months, with a starting three-day trial
at $4.95) give members access to various Asian porn stars (by letting members
post questions on message boards), and all in-house content is fully searchable
Not at all predictably, according to its longtime photographer Mike Legge,
ThaiChix.com is run by a Spain-based Swedish girl named Sue. That's certainly a
novel way to beat censorship, since Thailand has outlawed pornography and,
between 2002 and 2006, the Thai government blocked access to some 35,000 adult
"It's all client-driven," Legge, an Englishman based in Los Angeles, told me
about his own site, MikeLegge.net. "They prefer it that way." Legge's "Sexy
Asians" collection offers photo sets priced per image (starting at 35 cents USD
for up to 10 sets and trending downward to 12 cents per image for 101-plus
sets) zipped for download. "Some American sites specialize in Asians, others in
Latinas or black girls, so they want to go straight to that particular section.
I also have clients in the Netherlands, Denmark, England, Canada, and Germany.
People seem to like the same stuff all the time, as long as it's new; they get
bored with the same models. Whenever I put up a brand-new girl, sales go up.
People want to see the next great, new, pretty, sexy girl."
What's Legge's perception of the so-called "yellow fever" phenomenon? "When I
started out in London as a fashion-glamour photographer, I met a very pretty
Japanese girl, Yazuko Nagazumi, and we went out for a couple of years," he
said. "I photographed her a lot and she became, I think, the first Asian model
in London and possibly in Europe-she also worked in France and Germany. I also
traveled through Southeast Asia for some years. But, I realized, finally, that
a beautiful girl is a beautiful girl, period."
Exploiting the lure of personality
While the celebrity status of the "Asian porn star" long has been a mainstay on
the Internet, even that seems to be changing, according to fetish model and
porn diva Mika Tan, star of and box-cover model for recent films like Lorraine
Sisco's Façade and David Stanley's Yours Truly and winner of the 2007 AVN Award
for "Underrated Starlet of the Year (for Unrecognized Excellence)" and the 2006
Adam Film World award for "Best Asian Starlet."
Tan, whose heritage is Okinawan-Taiwanese-Japanese-Samoan, in 2001 said many
webmasters fail to optimize the page-view potential of ethnic-niche imagery,
which she said is a veritable gold mine. "The Internet has changed since then,"
she recently said, "which is why I never really cared about putting up a
members area on my own site since 2001. There is way too much competition. I
think the only way a model can make money now is to offer something people
cannot get anywhere else: her real self."
Tan's personal site (MikaTan.com) has no membership section and mostly contains
biographical information and her work schedule, along with a referral page for
models seeking fetish/BDSM work. Tan herself started out as an Internet model
on HollywoodAsians.com and GeishaHouse.com. "I had a chat-room member who
called me his 'cyber-geisha' once, and I thought [it] pretty much hit the nail
on the head," she explained. "Buzzwords and metatags mean nothing; treating
everyone with respect and sincerity gains new fans and members. I think it all
comes down to personality.
"Chat rooms are good for someone who is naturally a tease," she continued.
"Guys pay by the minute, so the longer you can flirt with them, the more
successful you will be. You only have to worry about the one camera angle, and
if you don't like someone, you can boot them out of the chat room. Internet
chat rooms are so different than video work. New girls in the business need to
understand that it takes more than a willingness to open your legs to be in
It also takes more than the courage of one's convictions to compete in today's
Asian adult arena. The Internet still serves to feed insatiable mass appetites
for the fresh and the fanciful, but it's anyone's turf war to win. While sexy
Asian models with winsome figures once provided an auspicious vehicle and
fueled retention, they now are only pawns in a larger gambit. Worrying about
inevitable things such as chargebacks has become trivial, since winning the
loyalty and trust of so many fickle consumers now is the real goal-and it's a
harder challenge, since nobody can afford to paint by numbers anymore.
Nevertheless, no one has all the right answers.
AVN Online, reprinted with permission.