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March 11, 2005

Pornography Drives Technology

As exciting as podcasting is, it may be iBods that drive the next wave of iPod and iPod-like device adoption.  iBods are soft porn offered by Playboy for downloading and viewing on iPod Photo.  Pornography often drives new technologies over the chasm to mass markets.  This is a marketing observation on my part, not a moral one.

On the web, the “adult” sites have the kind of successful paid model which almost no other content providers have been able to achieve.  All of us who were involved with ISPs know that viewing porn was one of the important drivers of early demand for dial access.  Demand for broadband is similarly goosed by the desire to download more porn faster.

Camera phones are significantly used for both personal and commercial porn. One great advantage of a digital camera is that no nosy developer gets to look at the pictures you take.  A generation ago, Polaroid filled this niche successfully.

One of the many advantages of cable and satellite and soon-to-be Internet TV are that wardrobe malfunctions are permitted here.

The most important revenue source for AT&T’s “intelligent network” was 900 service which was used mainly for – surprise, surprise – sex talk.  In fact, the PC boards first used for VoIP are direct descendants of boards developed by Dialogic, Brooktrout and others for VARs whose major applications supported call-for-sex.

Going back to ancient history, the skin flick trade was a huge early adopter of video tape technology – beta and VHS.  They produced content which drove VCR sales.  Consumer video cameras helped expand the cottage porn industry.  The popularization of the Super 8 projector was boosted by the pornographic content which was quickly available for it.  The Super 8 camera was a favorite for fraternity house “home movies” although it was a drawback that the film had to be developed.

Why does porn have such a key role in driving the mass adoption of new technologies?

One reason is obvious: sex sells.  A corollary is that sex sells particularly well to almost the same demographic as new technology: young men.  Very early adopters typically care more about the technology they are buying than the content available for it.  That’s a good thing because there never is sufficient content until there is a market of people with the right players to look at and/or listen to it.  The high margin and guaranteed demand for porn encourages its production early in the technology adoption cycle.  Just when the market of early adopters is depleted, sexual content vastly expands the market for the device.

More devices mean both more content and lower unit cost for the devices.  Ironically, “sin” plays a major role in closing the virtuous circle of:

  1. more content creates a broader market for the device
  2. which leads to lower prices
  3. and an even better market for the content
  4. both of which further broaden the market for the device.

Populations obviously wouldn’t grow without sex; many technologies wouldn’t either.

There’s got to be a moral here somewhere, right?  Not really.  But if you’re inventing, investing in, or marketing a new technology, the pornographers may be your best friends.  Usually they’ll figure out how to use whatever you have long before you know how to evangelize them.

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