Las Vegas Sun

November 18, 2018

Currently: 64° — Complete forecast

Cyber porn: Internet’s hot money maker

NEW YORK -- Madeleine Altmann has just sent moving images of her naked body to a guy in Iowa, via computer. Still sweaty from studio lights and wearing little between her yellow hard hat and leather tool belt, she plops down at the terminal.

Bump and grind, open file and transmit. She is as adept at the keyboard as she was moments ago -- and feet away -- before the camera; she is as much a master of cyber finance as she is a mistress of sensuality.

"Sex is still the most searched-for word on the Internet, and that's why our service is growing so well," says the 33-year-old porn model and entrepreneur, who designed and runs her own Web site, "Babes4u."

Easy access to virtual sex has turned pornography into one of the few industries actually making money through the Internet, and lots of it. The flood of cash is pushing the computer industry to invent better, faster technology, and new ways to charge for it.

Altmann, for example, has invested more than $100,000 in phone lines and equipment for her small site to provide "streaming" video images to users' computers virtually instantaneously. The cost has been too high for many other small businesses, which are struggling to make money online.

"They (porn businesses) are the ones who are developing the tools that the mainstream will use," says Donna Hoffman, associate professor of management at Vanderbilt University.

It's not a new role for the porn industry. Before the spread of home computers, the possibility of watching and recording sexually explicit material at home accelerated the development of the VCR, the video camera and video rental stores.

Now, X-rated online sites are among the first to use expensive T3 phone lines capable of transmitting compressed, high-resolution images that appear to move naturally. Penthouse recently announced a $10 million venture offering computer video channels in a format that mimics cable television. And the industry has invented sophisticated charging methods to recoup their investments.

Although no exact figures exist on how profitable cyberporn is, a recent survey by Interactive Week magazine estimated that about 10,000 adult sites may be bringing in as much as $1 billion a year. Most of that is from customers who use credit cards to access private sites -- like Altmann's -- that are advertised on the Internet but dialed directly from computer modems.

More than one-quarter of households that own computers visit adult sites each month, says Bruce Ryon, vice president and chief technical anaylst of the Port Washington, N.Y.-based PC Meter, which tracks usage of online services.

When Penthouse first went online in April 1995, the crush of users overwhelmed the system and forced the company to upgrade its capacity, said spokeswoman Jackie Markham.

The boom has nurtured a new breed of porn entrepreneurs like Altmann, who holds master's degrees in interactive computer technology and video art, and speaks five languages.

"I would never be a stripper or a prostitute," she says. "I don't want to be near the clients or see them."

Cyberspace provides a distance between customer and performer that makes it easier for women to take a leading role in the virtual-sex industry.

Several woman-run sites promote their models' brains: Porn star Asia Carrera describes herself as a physicist's bright daughter who fled an unhappy childhood and became a stripper to support herself. Danni's Hard Drive, a video and picture marketplace run by former porn model Danni Ashe, lets viewers see a photo of the site's female Web designer.

Unclothed, of course.

Babes4u models engage in sexually explicit computer "chat" with customers, weaving in double entendres about construction sites, laptops and software.

"If you're the kind of person who's good with words, you have a chance to shine on the Net in a way you wouldn't in real life," said Shannon McRae, a Seattle-based researcher on Internet erotica.

Actually, the Internet is a place where porn businesses only advertise for customers; the private "bulletin-board" sites must be accessed separately, and usually with a credit card.

The industry's defenders say that makes it tougher for children to gain access to its hard-core wares, although critics say online pornography is still far too available to children, who need only say they are 21 to gain access to free sites.

Altmann says her customers are mainly young professionals in the Midwest, looking to the virtual version of Times Square.

"A lot of computer guys have no social skills and are having cybersex. We're almost a social service to them," she says.

archive