If you expand the idea of amateur, though, to encompass a whole new set of outsiders for whom cam sites and tubes have provided a cheap, almost barrierless way to make, distribute, and sell videos of themselves having sex, well, then, we’re living in a grand age of micro-smut, a burgeoning empire of lemonade-stand porn. xTube, for instance, offers a mix of straight and gay movies, some of which are free, others pay-per-view. The majority of xTube’s content was made by a professional studio, but the site’s “amateur” section allows any of its visitors to upload content. A frequent uploader with the username Tnhotbtm has been on the site for six months. “I enjoyed the videos I was viewing personally, so I decided to add my own,” says Tnhotbtm, whose real name is Rob. “I never really liked mainstream porn. I always like guys that look like you could walk up and talk to them in a club, not the perfect shaved guys that never give you the time of day.” Rob had dabbled in shooting his own, self-starring movies, and for the last ten years he had sold them as DVDs through his website atticmen.com or streamed through video-on-demand companies. Then he lost his job as a corporate auditor and started trying to use the tubes to do this full-time. Rob lives in a “small, small town” in the Bible Belt, and when people ask him what he does, he says he shoots wedding and special-event videos. (“If they only knew how special …”)
On xTube, he puts up free previews meant to lure viewers to his pay-per-view content, which he sells for 50 cents a minute. Rob says the average viewer watches ten minutes; of that $5, he gets to keep 50 percent, minus a small processing charge. A video he uploaded the week before we speak has been viewed 2,470 times, but a lot of the viewers watched only the free preview, so he has made just $125 from it. But he says he’s earning around $1,500 every two weeks from xTube, more than he was making in his corporate gig. “The key is keeping new stuff up and answering your friend requests and private messages,” he says. “It’s good to know just how much they like my stuff, and what they would like to see in the future.”
If Rob is just getting started on xTube, a Boston male couple who go by the names Cole Maverick and Hunter are its Tila Tequilas. Cole, a former welder who got his masters in psychology, met Hunter, who had grown up in a devout Mormon family, when he was a college freshman. They’ve been together for ten years. Cole had always been a compulsive picture-taker, and four years ago, on a whim, he uploaded a few snapshots to xTube, followed by some movie clips and, later, movies featuring them with other men, often fans. They weren’t prepared for the enormous popularity that has ensued. Their videos have been viewed more than 90 million times on xTube, where they are currently the “most favorited” submitter. “I remember the first time we posted one and got our first check. I said, ‘Why doesn’t everyone do this?’ ” Cole says. They now film full-time and clear “a nice six-figure income,” according to Hunter.
“Our main goal,” Cole says, “was to take gay sex out of the dark, leathery guilt-ridden realm, into fun sex, in the sun, in an honest, open relationship. We get so many inspiring messages from guys and girls who love what we’re doing.”
Paradoxically, as Cole and Hunter have thrived on the tubes, they have experienced the underbelly as well, increasingly finding their films pirated on tube sites, including xTube and PornHub. “They’re big thieves,” Cole says of the tubes.
In October 2009, the U.S. Secret Service’s Organized Fraud Task Force in Atlanta seized about $6.4 million in funds from two Fidelity bank accounts controlled by Mansef, the Brazzers holding company. By this point, the company was already experiencing internal troubles. Matt Keezer had left earlier that year; his brother Phil then joined as CEO, only to leave within a few months. At least some of the founders had grown concerned for their safety and hired security guards, who for several months patrolled their neighborhood 24 hours a day in SUVs with tinted windows.
In response to the asset seizure, Mansef claimed that it had opened the Fidelity accounts simply to ease payment processing in the U.S., but the Feds said that more than $9 million had been wired into the two accounts over a three-month period from banks in Israel and other countries on financial-fraud watch lists. The founders decided it was time to sell the company and get out of the industry altogether, and within a few months, the auteurs behind TeensLikeItBig and InGangWeBang had receded into a search-engine-optimized fog of web spam and redundant social-media profiles. One of Ouissam Youssef’s LinkedIn appearances states that he obtained his M.B.A. from the Wharton School of Business and is a special consultant at Accenture Plus Limited in Monaco. (Wharton has no record of his attendance, Accenture Plus Limited doesn’t exist, and plain old Accenture says he has never worked for the firm.) Only near the bottom of page three of Stephane Manos’s well-scrubbed Google results does one glimpse his connection to Brazzers. Meanwhile, you wouldn’t believe how philanthropic these guys are. Youssef hopes to build “a foundation that will help impoverished children play organized sports,” his website announces. Manos, per his blog, is a “charity contributor.” As for Matt Keezer, he “strongly believes in our children of the world and supports UNICEF’s Canadian programs.”