It’s not easy being a trailblazer in a fledgling industry. As a rapt audience of her colleagues murmured sympathetically, the cam girl — one of the tens of thousands of women who every day shed their clothes and varying degrees of sexual inhibitions for appreciative live web audiences paying $3 a minute and up — complained that her attempts to market her talents on the social-media application Snapchat had been obstinately thwarted.
“They banned me,” she declared indignantly. “And my video didn’t even have any nudity. All it did was show me spitting in a guy’s mouth!”
Welcome to the shameless, silly, sometimes surprisingly studious and always surreal world of Cam Con, a worldwide convention and trade show for the adult entertainment world’s newest frontier, the so-called camming trade.
Since Tuesday (they’ll wrap it up on Friday), some 1,200 camming-industry nabobs — from the on-camera models to the financial and web-hosting executives who service them — have been holed up in the SLS South Beach hotel, swapping business tips, striking deals and planning the conquest of new sexual frontiers.
The hotel’s poolside is festooned with half-or-more naked women shooting selfie videos. Wednesday’s dominant motif: doing indescribable things to Popsicles in the afternoon heat.
The hotel’s corridors and restaurants echo with a bizarre blend of techie jabberwock, business-school jargon and cheerful professional critiques — “Who needs a vagina that big?” one model asked of another as they viewed a rival’s website on their cellphones — that sounded like the mating calls of a herd of sexually psychopathic MBAs.
The hotel’s decorations (giant inflatable penises), advertising posters (for websites like Chaturbate) and reading material (most frequently seen magazine: the Pompano Beach-based industry journal FUBAR Timez) are eccentric even by the elastic standards of South Beach.
And interviews with the mainstream media were like tip-toeing through a minefield.
“I’m trying hard to think of stuff I can say that you can print in a newspaper,” sighed Pensacola camgirl Kimmie KaBoom to a reporter as she tried to explain what she does on her website.
For all the weirdness and double-entendre humor (when the host of one panel discussion had trouble unfurling his microphone cord to reach an audience member with a question, a shout of “It’s long enough, it can reach!” brought down the house), Cam Con is a serious business meeting about a booming industry.
“These women are entrepreneurs, they’re managing a small business, they’re marketing, they’re figuring out their tax structure, they’re incorporating,” said Ela Darling, a content manager and model for the Los Angeles company Cam4R. “But because we get naked on camera, people don’t take us seriously.”
Camming is believed to generate about $1 billion a year in business, and some figures in the adult entertainment world believe it will soon poise a challenge to traditional pornography for leadership of the industry.
“It’s exploded over the last three to five years,” said Vanessa Eve, director of recruiting for Seattle-based Streamate, a camming site with more than a thousand models and 300 employees on its business side.
“We have models who make six figures a year on our site,” said Eve, who abandoned making adult movies to join what she believes is the future of adult entertainment. “These are real figures that I see every day on our database.”
The basic premise of camming is simple enough: Models (mostly women) take off their clothes and (usually) perform sexual acts on camera for customers (mostly men) who generally pay from $4 to $20 a minute to watch.
Aside from the per-minute charge, the men can also pay tips to encourage exotic — or, depending on your sensibilities, depraved — sexual antics. “That’s where the real money is,” said Pimpstress Mistress Thick, an online New York dominatrix with a booming business in online bondage and sexual submission.
(Like nearly everybody else in the camming industry, she uses a stage name for all public matters. Cyberstalking is a constant worry, not only at the hands of cockeyed fans but puritan avengers. “One guy got a hold of my real name and called my mother to tell her what her daughter is,” recalled Darling. “Luckily, she already knew, so the joke was on him.”)
Mistress Thick specializes in what’s known in the trade as race-play — white men who want to be debased by a black woman — and what she calls “toilet slaves,” of whom the less you know, trust us, the better you’ll sleep. She also goes for the more traditional “impact play,” though most of those clients eventually want to meet her face to face, because having somebody actually whip you with a cane is apparently more satisfying than talking about it.
“This is a great way to make a living,” Mistress Thick said. “I do what I’m passionate about, I pick up and travel wherever I want. All I need is a laptop to do my business anywhere, anytime.
“This industry is revolutionizing the work force, especially for women. Women are no longer in the control of a giant porn company. They set their own hours, work from their own homes, do what they want. I’m all about female empowerment, and that’s what this is.”
If Mistress Thick’s customers are at the outermost fringe of the camming landscape, nearly every model has stories of customers whose fetishes aren’t obviously sexual at all.
“I have a guy who pays to watch me do homework,” said 22-year-old Summer Day, a model at cam4.com. “I’m not in school, but I pretend. I have other guys who just want to talk.
“Actually, I prefer having sex on camera — when my parents found out I was doing this, they weren’t surprised, they’d predicted it, even as a little kid I was fascinated with Playboy magazine — but it takes all kinds.”
Like many camming models, Day began as a porn actress (yes, you saw her in Boffing the Baby Sitter) but took up camming as a way to make some money while waiting for movie deals. It’s become a major source of income that has already enabled her to pay off half her college loans just a year after graduation.
“I can’t imagine stopping now,” she said. “And I think it’s got a much bigger future than dead-tree pornography.”
If porn printed on paper is so-20th-century, conventional camming itself may be headed for the dustbin of history, too. Much of the chatter at Cam Con concerns so-called virtual-reality camming, in which cameras are set up to give the viewer a 360-degree, 3-D view of the action — by turning around their cellphones, viewers can discover sex going on behind them and to the sides.
“It’s got intimacy, immersion and presence, which are the watchwords of camming,” said Darling, whose company is one of the major providers of virtual reality material. “And the next big thing we’re working on is teledildonics.”
In that, viewers will wire their nether regions with devices that will enable them to actually feel sensations as if they’re participating in sexual acts rather than just watching them.
“It’s a young industry, and there are patent issues,” said Darling. “But I think in a year or maybe two, it will break out.”