Why a PSA on sex work hurt the users, not the business

Director James Hirons was released from the sex industry website, which had curbed membership fees to 1,000, to paid subscriber. A report by researchers at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the…

Why a PSA on sex work hurt the users, not the business

Director James Hirons was released from the sex industry website, which had curbed membership fees to 1,000, to paid subscriber.

A report by researchers at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California have found that the removal of adult content from the sex website Indiegogo involved both collateral damage and higher profit margins.

Their research for a forthcoming paper came out after giving Indiegogo a PSA about the negative consequences of adult content. When Insue froze adult content on the site, its regular members lost followers and money. Of those members, less than half contacted their favorite site.

“This is the third experiment to independently examine the effect of a PSA campaign on the online behavior of sex workers,” the authors note in their paper, “Analysed: Behemoth Porn Site’s PSA Campaign Breaks Online Open,” published online today (February 22).

“After its decision, [Indiegogo] lost the names and email addresses of significantly more paying adult subscribers who gave $10 to $99. These hardcore users were not replaced by older subscribers — most renewals were from (x) $99 monthly subscribers.”

Long story short, they lost 3,736 paying adult subscribers — 130,000 people between the ages of 18 and 30 and 65 percent male — between November 2016 and September 2017. Their abrupt removal of adult content — which was clearly meant to serve sex workers, not patrons — “resulted in immediate and dramatic loss of entire categories of paying subscriber members” on a “massive scale.”

Those they could, only found 137 new paying adult subscribers, at a price tag of $99 per month and larger than those before, with 3.5 times as many older, locked-out users as before (91 percent male).

Compared to the 8,107 new members from the following two months, 38 percent saw a decline in members and 55 percent said they didn’t renew their subscriptions.

“Payment signup went down 81 percent among virgins and 83 percent among recent virgins, despite the fact that new vandals frequently gave a warning about the ban, detailing how they planned to behave with an employee from customer service,” the authors note. Virgins who heard a warning of the ban were “the exact opposite” of what the company expected: They increased to 36 percent.

The normal, younger, more frequent breed of subscribers “were not displaced in any substantial way” in terms of fees they pay or activities they engage in, which is important when you can’t get them to show up in the first place.

“Adult users are, by nature, younger, less stable, and have lower disposable income, hence all these factors will hurt the heterosexual subscriber base most,” researchers concluded. “While this didn’t result in universal cancellations, the adults who really wanted to protect their reputation online quit because of fear.”

After the PSA, they knew of only 62 new paying adult subscribers, at a higher price, in the following two months, with 39 percent of them having “not registered in any month since the suspension of adult content” (19 percent), compared to just six percent with older, locked-out users.

“Perhaps the most striking finding from this study,” they wrote, “is that the exit rate of users who terminated their membership without explanation varied greatly between the groups of women with older profile pages (18 percent) and the adult women with younger profile pages (6 percent).” The men who left were very likely to change their name on the site.

So what’s the lesson here? “You should never underestimate the community of sex workers who work in the sex industry, even when you don’t expect it,” Hirons said in a statement. “The sex worker community is viciously competitive. Asking to stop using their site doesn’t mean you’ll lose all your followers, and it doesn’t mean they won’t keep logging onto your page. But when your competition is yourself, you’re probably doing yourself more harm than good.”

Read the full study:

ANNENCIO 201420

It shouldn’t be surprising that this study would find a correlation between maintaining adult content on the site, and earning money off the site.

For years, research has shown that excluding sexually explicit content is a good business decision for both users and advertisers — pornography is an arguably lucrative business.

But as Hans Muhlmann, a senior doctoral student in marketing at USC’s Annenberg School, put it in a 2005 piece for Modern Luxury, “Even rational actors can make irrational decisions.” They can hold both the consumer and the business interests at odds.

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