Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Adult Webmaster School or any of the companies listed in this article. Some of the companies listed used to send me a paycheck, but no longer do. Any links to TGPs or TGP lists are examples picked at random and I have nothing to gain from them.
So you want to be an Online Pornographer? This was the title of the story on Slashdot, and it had a link to a story of the same name on Salon.com. The story is about many laid off 'dot-commers' who have started selling porn online to make ends meet. Part of the article is about Philip Brandes, the self appointed dean of Adult Webmaster School. He discusses how very easy it is to make money selling porn over the internet, and how you can do it with only 1 hour a night's work. The only catch is you have to pay them $140 (US) for access to their web site, to find out their secrets.
So I thought about it for days. It's probably a scam, I thought. It would just be a waste of money. Finally I decided- I've wasted a lot more than $140 before, I might as well give it a try. So I warmed up the Visa and paid the price.
I spent that whole evening reading through the web site, and it was exactly what was promised. You don't actually sell the porn yourself, your job is to entice potential customers into buying a subscription to a pay porn site through your TGPs (Thumbnail Gallery Posts). A TGP is simply a page with 15-20 thumbnails on it. When you click on the thumbnails, it takes you through to the actual picture (usually about 640*480 resolution). On the TGP, you also have several banners or text links to a pay porn site, using your referrer ID. Hopefully the person buys a subscription to that site. The payouts are quite good- a month's subscription cost $40, and I would get paid $35 of that (I see the amount has now gone down to $25 per signup). I even got $35 a few times for the purchase of a $3.95 3 day trial. And you get paid every week, by cheque. The site gives you step by step instructions for setting up TGPs (Thumbnail Gallery Posts), and also provide a web based discussion forum, where you can talk to other students, and the "experts".
Easy right? The devil is in the details.
First, you have to buy 'content' (pictures). You can't just use pictures that you have downloaded from the web or newsgroups, even if they have no obvious copyright. This is very important- if you use this kind of material, it will likely end up with your web hosting account cancelled, your account with the porn site cancelled and any money owing to you voided (it's in the agreement) and serious damage to your reputation. Reputation is VERY important when selling porn. There is a small amount of legal, free content to be had, but you're unlikely to be able to make any sales off of that because of the poor quality and over use.
So, you have to buy porn from companies that sell it for specifically this purpose. This means you end up paying $1 or more per picture. You should be building one TGP every day, and many sites don't allow you to re-use pictures, so content is your major expense. A week can easily cost you $140 for content, and that's assuming that all the pictures you buy are worth using (they come in packs of 20, 40 etc). One more thing- there are a limited number of companies selling content, so it can take hours of searching to find "fresh content" (pictures that haven't been over-used) or pay big bucks for exclusive content. Remember there are thousands of people out there doing this and you have to have some way of differentiating yourself. You can also take your own pictures, but you need to get all kinds of releases signed, it quickly gets more expensive than buying content, and they do have to be very high quality pictures (cheap digicam snap shots need not apply).
Now that you have the pictures, all you have to do is create a page with 20 pictures, a few links, and that's it right? Nope. It takes a lot of thought, and even some psychology to make an effective TGP. The idea is to entice the web browser to click on a link to take him to the pay site, and eventually to subscribe. You have to get the surfer hot and wanting more. Here's where questionable practices can come in to play. Some people do what is called blind linking. This would involve taking one of your thumbnails, and instead of linking to the actual picture, it would link to the pay site. Other examples are exit consoles, and banners with audio. Most TGP list operators (webmasters) will not tolerate these practices and the punishment from doing this ranges from just having your TGP rejected, to being blacklisted from the TGP list forever. If for example you are banned from The Hun, it could literally mean the end of your porn selling career.
Now, you've created an enticing page with great content. You have to take take this TGP, and submit it to many (40+) TGP Lists. You've probably came across these before, they are sites like The Hun, and Persian Kitty, which are just big lists of TGPs submitted by people who are doing the same thing you are. TGP list owners make money from banner ads on the main page, and through 'selling positions'- more on that later as well. Most TGP List owners require that you have a link from your TGP back to their TGP List, so, once you've created your page once, you have to create a separate version for each TGP list you're submitting to with their logo at the top. This means over 40 different versions of your page. It's nice to have a program which automates this, but there's always some manual work that needs to be done.
Once you've created your TGP, you have to upload the pages and images to a web host. Of course, this is not as simple as you would think either (noticing a trend here?). You can't use a regular web host for this kind of thing. Bandwidth requirements run upwards of 10GB/day and even a slow day is going to be around 1GB (on average, for a 150KB total size TGP submitted to 40 TGP Lists). Even if it wasn't against geocities acceptable use policy, they wouldn't want you anyway. Regular commercial web hosts are no good either, as you'd be hard pressed to find a hosting company that would want you, at an average of 300GB/month without wanting a fortune from you. Fortunately, there are a number of free hosting companies out there who specialize in adult web hosting. They will usually give you unlimited bandwidth, storage space and (hopefully) great uptime. In exchange they put their banner ads at the top and bottom of your TGP. Uptime is particularly important, because even 5 minutes of downtime can mean being permanently blacklisted from a high profile TGP list. There are a few commercial hosts that will do this for a price, without the banner ads, but there's not much point in using them, as the extra banners are expected by TGP List operators. Yet another problem- free hosts come and go, like anything else on the internet. Every TGP has a list of free hosts which they have banned, usually due to problems with the hosting quality, or shady dealings with the banner ads (virtual girl, and any kind of popups are considered particularly evil). The host you're using today might be banned tomorrow (I used to use Bestsexhost.com).
The last step is submitting your TGPs to TGP lists. This is easily the most time consuming task. There have been attempts to automate this that work to varying degrees, but it's still mostly a manual process. All TGPs have a set of rules for submitting, and everyone is slightly different. You might need a 10, 30 or 2 word description. Certain words (lolita) in the description might be banned. You may need to enter a username and for some you even have to be pre-approved to submit. What you do is go to each site's submit page, put in the URL of your TGP, usually a description, how many pictures, and your name (or a handle to identify you by), and submit it. Genrally there's some automated checks, to verify that all the links work, your images are of an appropriate size, the server is up etc. If it doesn't get rejected outright, one of two things happen. If it's a fairly small site, your TGP will be posted to the TGP list immediately. For the majority of sites though, the TGP goes to an approver. A human being will look at your TGP and decide if it is worthy of being listed on their page. This is time consuming and can take anywhere from a day to several months, for big sites like The Hun. (It is very difficult to get listed on The Hun, I only ever got listed there 3 times. But due to the sheer volume, getting listed on The Hun means well over 100,000 page views & several sales at least) This is why you must submit every day, you have to build up momentum, a backlog of sites to be accepted each day. Occasionally, some owners will begin to recognize you and if they like your work, they will approve your TGPs right away, but this is not the norm.
Don't forget to repeat this process 40+ times, once for each TGP list (Adult Webmaster School provides you with a list of sites to submit to) because the more sites your TGP is shown on, the more potential sales.
Don't like the whole submit routine? Are your TGPs being rejected by sites like The Hun? There's another option. The Hun sells his top 5 listings on the page. These are a major source of traffic, and you would probably get 500,000+ page views in 1 day. When I was selling, the top listing cost $500, for 24 hours. 2nd, 3rd 4th and 5th were 400, 300, 200, and 100 dollars respectively. It would be very unusual if you didn't make your money back on any of those. Other sites sell top listings for considerably less, but The Hun is the undisputed king of TGP Lists.
The last step is to wait. You will do a lot of this. I used to refresh my stats page so often I could practically see sales happening in real time. It's easy to get discouraged and it's not abnormal to go your whole first month without making a sale.
You have to submit every night without fail, a missed day can mean a huge decrease in traffic and lost reputation with TGP List owners. Throughout the first few months you see your traffic slowly increasing. 100 page views per day. 2000. 3000. 5000. 25000. By the end of 3 months I was at over 1 million total page views. On a well designed page, you will probably get about a 1:1000 clickthrough rate; that is, one in one thousand viewers will click on your banner ads. About 1 out of 200 of those people actually will buy a subscription. The numbers are terrible. It took me over a month and about 100,000 page views to make my first sale. After that the sales slowly went up as my volume went up. I actually made 4 sales in 1 day once. Traffic was ramping up, and eventually, I hit a break even point, I had spent about $1000(US) and had earned $1000 in sales. I could have kept going, and probably made about $500 profit the next month.
Instead, I chose to quit. Why? Was it the ethical implications of selling porn, of convincing people to subscribe to pay sites that I had never even seen myself, the possible exploitation of the models? No. Once I had got my pattern down, it was taking me about 3-4 hours a night (every night) to get the content, create the pages, upload them, and submit them. And there was no such thing as weekends off, on weekends, I'd have to spend 8-9 hours looking for fresh content in addition to building pages. All of this was on top of a full time job- I'm a laid off dot-commer. It turns out, there's practically no limit to the amount of money you can make, but it's really hard work. Let me repeat that. It's really hard work. I could have gotten a part time job at McDonalds, and it wouldn't have taken me 3 months to be making a profit (and I could tell my parents I was working there).
Do I have regrets now? Most definitely. It's now been almost a year since I quit. When I think about the kind of money I could be making now, there would be little reason for me to have kept my (much hated) day job. The next logical step from doing TGPs is to create your own TGP List (They were working on instructions for this around the time that I left), and from there, the sky's the limit on how much money you can make. The owner of The Hun is a rich, rich man. I'm still tempted every now and then to get back into it.
So there you have it. You really can make money selling porn. It's really no different than being a consultant: you can make a lot of money and there are great tax advantages for working for yourself. Just don't ever kid yourself that it's easy, or something that can be done in an hour a night. It's damned hard work, especially if you already have a day job.