Telecommuting is shaking up the porn industry.
Camgirls—models who earn their living by stripping (and more) in front of a computer webcam for hundreds of people watching live online—are taking advantage of the Internet's freedoms to work anywhere.
The adult webcam industry currently tops $1 billion in revenue a year and is growing fast. Collectively, the sites are estimated to be visited daily by some 5 percent of the Web's global users. And the number of models is increasing.
But while many of those models may claim to be from the U.S., the large majority operate overseas. The percentage of cam girls who are based in the U.S. ranges from 15 to 35 percent, says Theo Sapoutzis, chairman and CEO of AVN Media Network.
That number varies from site to site, but some sites have higher concentration of non-U.S. models, adds Ophelia Marcus, a camgirl better known to her throngs of fans as LittleRedBunny.
"On the performer side there are more Americans on MyFreeCams," she said, adding that on her site, Jasmin, the geographic mix has changed of late.
Before the recession, the number of U.S. models was actually a lot lower, said Ross Love, owner of the Best Kept Secret Talent Agency, which focuses exclusively on the webcam market. At that time, Eastern Europe made up the majority of the market, and still has a sizable stake.
As webcams became a bigger part of the adult entertainment landscape, though, U.S. models began to focus more of their attention there, in part because of the significant earning potential.
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In Romania, the capital of European cam operations, models can make thousands of dollars per month. They pay taxes on their earnings and often work in studios that offer fast Internet connections, high definition webcams and a variety of studios catering to all sorts of themes (including bedrooms, showers and dungeons).
In exchange for the workspace, the studios take a percentage of the model's pay from the website (which, in general, takes a 50 percent cut of what viewers donate).
"Lots of models are able to negotiate their rate," Love said. "Most will start at a 50/50 split. And as they become a much better model, and if they earn a certain amount or work a certain number of hours, that split will slide a bit."
Russia is something of a gray area for camgirls. Solo performers are legal, but the country's strict laws against homosexuality and cyber prostitution prohibit any sort of performance with other models.
Meanwhile in the Ukraine, any sort of sexual webcam performance is illegal, though that doesn't prevent girls from doing so.
Other big hubs for camgirls include Colombia, the Czech Republic and the Philippines, Sapoutzis said.
Ultimately, of course, the location of the camgirl matters significantly less than her ability to connect with fans. Marcus, who has been on LiveJasmin for 5½ years, competes against a largely European base of models but has been a top performer.
Some reports put her monthly income at $100,000, a figure she says is wildly inaccurate though she declines to go into specifics. Love says one of his top models on the competing site MyFreeCams earns $10,000-$20,000 per month.
That success has come by working 12 or more hours per day and establishing relationships with her regular fans. And, since Marcus is based in the U.S., she often doesn't have to compete head to head with top European models.
"Because we all live in different places, we don't all work the same hours, which is a good thing," she said. "I have a feeling that the behavior is slightly different as well. There are a number of girls who will type rather than talk, so that gives me something that works better for me."
Also, unlike some of the other models on Jasmin and other sites, she focuses solely on a single operation. Others, though, will work simultaneously on several sites to increase revenue. That's a practice that seems to be more common among models who aren't based domestically.
"U.S. models tend not to work multiple sites," Love said. "It's a very common strategy for European models to work multiple sites. … If they have a very limited vocabulary, then they're relying on their (bodies) to get them tips, so they put them on multiple sites, since the (bodies) are the bait."