Amid today’s cable news babble, one bit of good news. The ongoing government shutdown disrupted plans for a State Of The Union speech that nobody wanted to hear anyway. But as I poured myself a celebratory shot of booze, it occurred to me that I never gave you all a report on Kink.com’s extremely rocky — but eventually successful — process of uniting its once-ragtag empire of kinky porn sites under the Kink Unlimited brand.

kink unlimited 70 kinky channels for one subscription price

I have a long and positive history with the company that became Kink.com in 2006. Peter Acworth’s original sites (beginning in the ’90s with Hogtied) were fresh and easily-marketed from an affiliate perspective. The company was professional, easy to work with, and paid like clockwork. As a sex blogger — even one not primarily focused on kink — I had a lot of time for all their projects. And at least in the early years, their models routinely reported safe and happy shooting experiences. They broke new ground with Sex and Submission, combining sex and bondage in a way that no mainstream porn company had previously had the courage to do. So great was their success, they were spinning out new sites like cotton candy. It honestly got hard to keep track of them all. They spent double-digit millions to buy their famous “castle of kink” — a former national guard armory — and ramped up production so much that by 2013 or so we started to need special web pages just to list all the Kink sites. Frankly, it was all getting to be more than just a bit of a wonderful mess.

But by that time, the arc of the profitable porn business had already peaked. Piracy, consolidation, and tubesites were taking their toll. In 2012 I noted with fascination an interview with Peter Acworth about his future plans for Kink.com in which none of those plans involved actual innovations in porn production. Obviously he wasn’t going to just walk away from his company’s core revenue stream, but his entrepreneurial eye was roaming off in other directions. About that time is when I started noticing that the affiliate department stopped being reliably and courteously staffed, too. Suddenly, getting affiliate support became catch-as-catch-can; whomever was doing seemed to be doing it “other duties as assigned” instead of as a core priority. Corners were being cut. Times were getting hard in the porn business.

One response from the company was to shut down or put on hiatus a few of its raunchiest sites (Bound In Public, Public Disgrace, and HardCoreGangBangs), eventually relaunching some of them with softer content, new shooting guidelines, and a bit of metaphorical soft-core Vaseline on the camera lenses. This was explicitly part of an effort to reposition the Kink.com brand as more of a mainstream lifestyle trademark a la Playboy. The unspoken notion, I think, was to license the fancy K on merchandise, and extend the “Kink” brand beyond porn, which was seen as a business in the final throes of ignominious death.

This cost-cutting and brand repositioning culminated in two huge moves in 2017 and 2018. 2017 brought news that all porn production in the huge San Francisco armory building had ceased, due to a search for tenants that were being dissuaded by sharing space with porn production. (That same story included rumors of a 40% decline in porn subscription revenue, driving the need to find tenants to support the massive space.) Porn production reported moved to “Southern California, Nevada and other parts of the Bay Area.” This caused one waggish email correspondent to describe the company to me as “a loose collection of contractors flying in formation” which I think may have been accurate at the time — except, I’m not sure if they were managing much of a formation. Of which, more later. (The move out of the Armory had to be traumatic for the organization. Empathy.)

Anyway, when I heard production was leaving the armory, my instant assumption was that this was preparation for sale of the building. I was not wrong: it sold in early 2018, for $65,000,000. (2006 purchase price: $14,500,000.) I’m not saying Kink.com didn’t make lots of money in porn, but this makes it look like a wildly-successful real estate business to me!

iconic armory building, long the home of Kink.com

But I got ahead of myself. Backtrack to 2015 or so, when nobody much was making any money in porn. Everybody was grasping at crazy straws like remaking themselves as “lifestyle brands” — this was the brutal year when even Playboy briefly flirted with the notion of abandoning nudity because they were bleeding losses and couldn’t get any social media traction due to #pornocalypse anti-nudity policies everywhere.

One strategy, widely adopted by the few remaining big porn companies, was to take all their little porn sites (and everything left was little compared to previous years) and shovel them together into package deals. “10, 20, 30 sites for one low subscription price!” Those were the shouty offers, and to this day they remain the industry’s default value proposition. Some of these offers — if they are backed by a company that’s still actively producing a wide variety of porn — are very good offers indeed.

The way these deals usually work is as follows: a porn company will take all their old sites, the ones that aren’t being updated any more but that have deep archives, years and years worth of old porn. In Kink’s case, this would be venerable old favorites like Wired Pussy (regular production stopped in 2014), Water Bondage (2013), and Men In Pain (2013). These get bundled together with sites that are still producing (sites like Sex and Submission, Whipped Ass, The Training Of O, Divine Bitches, Everything Butt, Hogtied, Device Bondage, Fucking Machines, and the Kink Men family of sites marketed at gay men).

But that’s not even close to the whole megillah. Every test shoot, abortive site concept, and side project that never saw release — why not throw that in? Stuff that only ever got sold via their Kink On Demand porn-by-the-shoot product, that goes in. If it’s got a shoot ID in their shoot database, there’s really no reason not to throw it into the final product. And then, icing on the cake — why not let other porn companies into the action? I don’t know the details of their cross-licensing details, but apparently it’s not hard to cross-license kinky porn from other companies and make that available too. (Presumably the back-end-software tracks views/consumption and compensates the original owners on some sort of negotiated pay-per-view basis.)

The end result? A product called Kink Unlimited. It rolled out in beta in 2016. The price point has fluctuated a bit, but it’s currently about forty bucks a month. That’s the base price. Sales — usually around various national holidays — can dip quite a bit cheaper. It’s also the case that if you’re willing to prepay for six or twelve months at a time, the monthly cost drops radically. Whichever price point you go for: for your money, you get access to a fucking ludicrous amount of porn.

Kink.com no longer makes any serious effort to estimate how much porn you get; the various banners and bullet lists don’t get updated regularly. “Over 70 channels” is their current claim — where a “channel” is code for a former site, or for a collection of content licensed from some third party. They say “Over 10,000 hours of HD video” — and they’ve been saying that for quite some time; I’m sure it’s rather more by now. “Over 12,000 shoots” — likewise. “Over 2,000 photos” — that number has not been updated since perhaps 2016. You get the idea. You get a shit ton of porn for your monthly Kink Unlimited subscription!

But friends, we did not get to “here” without some growing pains. The consolidation was painful.

Consider what the Kink.com porn site landscape looked like in 2015. They had thirty or more kinky porn sites, each on its own domain. Many of them were closed, or at least moribund, not being updated, with discount-priced access to stale archives. They had millions of affiliate links scattered all over the web (using at least three generations of different link structures) belonging to a bunch of affiliates most of whom where no longer active, due to the overall decline in the online porn business. They had millions of expensive “hosted galleries” — free porn, on their servers — to support those mostly-out-of-business affiliates and a bunch of freeloading porn surfers. And it was a world where the conventional wisdom was that the future was video, video, nothing but video. Google was giving all the search listing to porn tube video pages. Still porn photos weren’t appearing in search engine results anywhere in the top results (they still aren’t) because “the time the surfer spends on the page” is considered a powerful page quality factor by Google.

How in the nine frozen hells was Kink.com supposed to transition this mess into a single subscription offering under the Kink Unlimited banner?

In the event, they went with the Leroy Jenkins strategy:

That’s right. In June of 2016, they just burned it all down.

Hosted galleries? Gone. All the old legacy affiliate links? They mapped a few of them, but most of them broke. Gone. Those two million photos? It’s the age of video, we don’t need ’em. “Only…a small portion of our members use or appreciate them.” Gone. (Fortunately, the legacy photo collection did come back after about six months, although new shoots are variable; some sites don’t produce many more than the handful they need to show for free on the shoot promotional page.)

Needless to say, I found all this pretty demoralizing. My increasingly urgent (ok, desperate) emails to affiliate support were getting either no answers at all, or snotty “we don’t have the technical resources to address your issues” non-resolutions to my tickets. At one point one tech gave me a tiny cash credit for all the broken links he was refusing to fix, which I calculate was enough to cover about four hours of link repair work at my normal freelance rate. At this point I had something like 270 posts covering the years between 2004 and June 2016, call it an average of 3 links per post, something like 800 links. In excess of 500 of those were broken — either not going to the right place, or not crediting my affiliate account. Virtually none of these were simple, repetitive links amenable to a bulk find-and-replace. It was a fucking nightmare.

It was also too burdensome and demoralizing to fix. I didn’t even try.

What I did do, eventually, is start making new posts about holiday sales. I explained my reasoning here. And I noticed that people were buying, some, the Kink Unlimited product.

It’s a good product. It has kept growing since it was introduced in June of 2016. It’s fucking enormous now.

Finally, during the long holiday sales event that started in December, I bit the bullet and laboriously went through my 270 old posts, rooting out all the old broken links and replacing them with “new” working links. Everything is a Kink Unlimited link now — either to the main site itself, or to one of the channels (really just a themed subpage within the main site, showcasing the content from one of the old branded sites).

The laborious part was the old hosted gallery links. Those hosted galleries are gone. But, for the most part, each of the galleries had 20 pictures, and those same 20 pictures are now the free photos used to advertise the shoot. Most (but not all) the old hosted gallery links had the shoot ID numbers encoded in their URLs. So it was possible — not easy, but possible — to look at those old hosted gallery links, extract a shoot ID number, deduce a modern shoot URL, and edit the old post so that instead of saying “see more pictures in this free hosted gallery” it says “more pictures available with the shoot” or something.

But it took days and days and days. I drank. A lot.

Why did I do it? Honestly, it wasn’t about the money. Porn affiliate sales aren’t much of a thing these days, and what sales there are, come almost always from new posts. I have stats, and they tell me that old posts don’t see much traffic. A few long-tail searches, but the numbers are tiny. Honestly, rationally, leaving the links broken for 2.5 years didn’t cost me much, and leaving them broken forever wouldn’t have cost me a whole lot more.

Part of it was obsessive-compulsive disorder. It bothers me to have a large body of broken links in my archives. (Don’t tell me, I know, there’s still a bunch.)

But part of it was … the successor product is good. Kink.com has built a good thing with Kink Unlimited. All those hundreds of old posts, pointing at sites that no longer exist? I’m proud of those posts, and it’s worth some effort to point them at the closest thing to the proper modern URL.

In June of 2016 when Kink.com went Leroy Jenkins on us all, I didn’t imagine they’d build anything worth linking to. They were a company in crisis, a company in transition. A flock of contractors looking for a formation, with a boss looking for the real estate payout of a lifetime. I did not trust that it would be worth my time to invest in changing out half a thousand links.

It’s still very much my impression that Kink.com is a real estate company with a serious porn hobby. I don’t expect Peter Acworth to walk away from his porn revenue stream — which obviously remains substantial — but I very much doubt that porn is his primary obsession here in 2019. I don’t think it has been his first focus for many years. If he sold the business to MindGeek or another one of the big players, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. But that shouldn’t (fingers crossed) affect subscribers or affiliates too dramatically, at least in the short run. Kink Unlimited produces, licenses, and distributes a colossal volume of iconic kinky porn at a value-package price. It was worth a week out of my life to fix all my broken links. You might find it worth a twenty (or two) to subscribe.