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Porn is seducing crowdfunders

Crowdfunding has worked its way into just about every corner of everyday life these days. Donors can pledge money to new tech, upcoming major motion pictures and even potato salad, so it really shouldn't be too much of a surprise that they can also contribute to adult entertainment.

While porn and sex toys are a no-no on Kickstarter, they're just fine on Indiegogo along with a number of other crowdfunding sites. There is even a pair of porn-only crowdfunding sites. And, just as with other industries, people are putting down a lot of money.

Joos Mind | Stone | Getty Images

While you won't see the multimillion-dollar hauls of well-known Kickstarter campaigns, several adult-themed projects have taken in hundreds of thousands of dollars in pledges. And that's helping some companies find wider retail distribution.

"If you do well on Indiegogo, the retailers are definitely looking at that and using it as a gauge," said Suki Dunham, co-founder of OhMiBod. "If that retailer sees the promotion on Indiegogo has been successful, and the product works as promoted, they're going to be excited."

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Dunham—and her husband/co-founder Brian—raised $37,535 for blueMotion, a pleasure device that can be controlled from a partner's (or user's) cellphone.

For the Dunhams, it was enough to bring the product to market—and that pleasure product gathered a bigger crowd at CES earlier this month than many other items on display. But they're far from the leaders in adult-themed crowdfunding.

Because there's no go-to hub for adult products, it's impossible to say exactly which crowdfunding proposal has raised the absolute most money, but there are several likely leaders in the category.

"Trials in Tainted Space" is an erotic text adventure game that pocketed nearly $194,000 on Offbeatr from 2,711 supporters. Crave, an adult novelty company, collected more than $275,000 for its Vesper vibrator necklace. Entrepreneur Brian Sloan saw pledges top $280,000 for the Autoblow 2—an oral sex simulator for men. And the Eva wearable couples vibrator fetched $575,452 for Dame Products, more than 11 times its funding goal.

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Crowdfunding doesn't just supply funds to adult-themed projects. It also can provide good exposure, which can boost retail sales. One thing it doesn't do, though, is act as a free focus group.

"There is a misnomer that you can take an idea and crowdfund it," said Sloan. "In order to attract people to your project it must not only be novel, but it must exist at least in the form of a prototype. And the project owner has to credibly demonstrate their knowledge of manufacturing and a relationship with a manufacturer who can produce the item. ... Researching demand comes far earlier in the process."

It's also not the best environment for products that are familiar to the audience. Knockoffs and minor updates to well-known products tend to do poorly.

"When we think of crowdfunding, we think about introducing a new tech or something that's dramatically different from what we've been doing," said Brian Dunham. "You have to be selective."

Unfortunately, that's not something that most entrepreneurs realize—and the failure rate for adult-themed crowdfunding efforts seems to be higher than other projects.

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"I think from the failed adult campaigns I've seen, the niche does attract more yahoos launching projects than other crowdfunded categories, which in some way hurts the credibility of good adult projects," said Sloan.

The big lie about crowdfunding, say veterans, is that there's no risk in a crowdfunding campaign. The Dunhams note that success actually requires that you spend money on public relations and in creating a professional looking video and prototype—and even then there's no guarantee.

And Sloan notes that he had already started production when his campaign started, effectively betting on a successful drive.

While crowdfunding is certainly making its mark in the adult industries, no one expects it to become the primary source of income for most porn and adult toy companies. While some performers (like Camgirls) make their money from one customer at a time and sites like GoGoFantasy (which the owners have up for sale) allow individuals to post solo projects, those who have seen success in crowdfunding say they think the status quo isn't likely to change anytime soon.

"I think that the adult toy industry will stay essentially the same with a few rock star adult projects here and there," said Sloan. "The majority of adult toy brands manufacture many SKUs—sometimes in the thousands—and focus on volume, not innovation. They are in most cases, traditionally run companies, and not super Web-savvy."