Interview: Colin Rowntree – The Renaissance Man of Porn

October 5, 2014
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Colin Rowntree has one of those mid-western brogues you can’t trace precisely, but if he wasn’t busy being the multimillionaire entrepreneur that he is, I’m sure he’d be doing gentle, authoritative voiceovers for PBS documentaries. Maybe that voice and the garrulous manner are the secret. He doesn’t have just one resumé, it seems, but three. In one life he’s an artist. A painter. A composer. A conductor. A classical pianist of the first order. A scholar with a PhD from Moscow Conservatory, mentored by Leonard Bernstein, Rowntree has done pretty darn good for a farm boy from Michigan. Farther along, he’s a true pioneer of the online adult entertainment industry, as a writer, director and a producer with his own studios and production company, Wasteland. 

Colin’s stature as a big mover within the industry is reflected by the many honors and the recognition he has received, including his 2010 XBIZ Award for Excellence in Alternative Erotica and a 2011 Leadership Award from the Free Speech Coalition. And then there’s Pheonix Media Communications, a company he runs which he describes as a means of “monetizing online content”. With an eye always open for the main chance, Colin is always looking for new investments, especially startups with a need for capital infusions. He is no ordinary guy.

Interview: Colin Rowntree - The Renaissance Man of Porn

Q – Too much information on you. You’ve got your fingers in many, many pies.

A – [Laughs] Jack of all trades. Master of a few.

Out of Boston?

Nashua. New Hampshire. A little bit away from there.

But you are kind of an under-the-radar kinda guy?

No. No. No. I’ve been inducted into the AVN Hall of Fame Founders Division and I’m a spokesman for the adult industry. I was interviewed on Fox News just a week ago. I’m a spokesman for the industry and I talk about technology in and for the industry and [he laughs again] I use my real name.

I’ve been talking to Rebecca Bardoux and I asked her about the industry being less and less of an L.A. thing and spreading throughout the country. You don’t shoot in L.A., right?

No. No, we shoot in New Hampshire. Local area models who come in just for a day.

Local models from New Hampshire?

Well, local… New Hampshire, Montreal, New York City. We fly some up from Florida… And I’ll let you in on a secret. There are two states where it’s constitutionally okay to shoot pornography. How’s that for…

Thanks to William Loeb and…

No. No. It’s down to the Freeman Decision in California about 20 years ago. A finding by the Supreme Court allowing it to be constitutionally protected. A similar thing happened in New Hampshire, where some guy got busted for shooting porn and then they took it all the way to the Supreme Court and the court said, “This is not constitutional. This is protected free speech.”

What’s your feeling about them banning bareback porn shoots in L.A. County? I mean, if the city of Boston, say, or Nashua came along and ordered no bareback shoots, would you have to consider moving?

We’re pretty flexible at Wasteland. We work so much with couples and people, or ‘married-couples-for-women’ porn product, along with actors who deal with the media and the swing scene. A lot of the people we work with, they work together and sleep together so that it becomes a non-issue. In the instant where we bring in hired talent from New York, Boston, Montreal…. You know, the thing is, if they want to go through testing and they want to do it without condoms, then that’s an option. If anybody does not agree with that then we use condoms.

So the talent can be sometimes adjustable?

A lot of the table of content we shoot doesn’t fall under the generic standard vanilla porn stuff where there’s a certain kind of expectation at this point. So we most often work with lifestyle couples and it kind of takes on that kind of realm.

Interview: Colin Rowntree - The Renaissance Man of Porn

I gather you feel strongly about the current situation with Internet porn, where so much of it has gone bootleg and a lot of the adult industry’s profit margin has gone down substantially.

We’ve got some very strong beliefs about piracy. Piracy is really, really disruptive and has just taken such a huge chunk out of the adult entertainment industry.  Not just the studios and the websites, but the performers have suffered from this also. There’s just been such a dramatic loss in revenue for people actually paying for their porn, you know, and it trickles right downhill. The studios don’t have a way to monetize it like they used to. People in the industry just don’t shoot as much right now, ergo you’ve got the performers not getting as much work.

One performer I know from Facebook, Brandon Iron, was really strong on this issue a year ago or so and said it had ruined him as a performer/producer, but now it seems a lot of the sites have changed and instead of showing the whole scene or movie, now they give little tastes, like a five minute excerpt or a trailer.

Yeah, that is the way it’s happened. A lot of the industry is giving away, you know, short bits of content, just to be able to compete… So that is the reality of the moment. That you want to get someone interested in the quality of the product so that they come along and buy it.

Does that work for you as a compromise?

No! But, umm, as a compromise, there’s just no way not to do it! I mean we would prefer not to give it away. Not to give away any free stuff, but that is the reality and one needs to do that because that’s the marketplace.

Interview: Colin Rowntree - The Renaissance Man of Porn

Legally speaking, and I’ve got a few names like XHamster, XVideo, and PornHub, how is it that? I mean, there’s a lot of money in the business. How come you can’t get your high-powered lawyers and shut them down?

We-ell [he laughs heartily], that’s probably an hour’s interview by itself. What you want to look at is something called DMCA, The Digital Copying Millennium Act, which goes back to the Clinton administration, and, basically it proposes safe haven… and it was basically intended for the protection of YouTube. The company was viewed as a provider of mutually provided user content. Now we all know that this is so much bullshit because the actual companies are putting up their own stuff, you know, to lure more people in so they can sell more advertising. But the important thing is that it is protected under the U.S. Federal DMCA law that says, “Okay, you can have anything you want on there, but if anyone sends you a takedown writ issued by a judge, you have to take it down within 24 hours, which they comply with. But it’s a big game of whack-a-mole.

So they take it down, put it back up. Take it down, put it back up.

Exactly!

Rebecca Bardoux has a radio show and she wanted me to ask—not you in particular, but someone in your position—about what you would think about syndication for the actors. Like, you could compare it with the NFL where they’re now talking about the players getting old and how they get senile, Alzheimer’s early, or they have very bad injuries that affect them in later life. They’re maybe never going to get the proper care they deserve, but maybe they should be. Is that a little too abstract…?

No. It’s not abstract at all and if you look at the mainstream film industry, the Screen Actors Guild, they pay their dues over their career. They pay their dues and the Screen Actors Guild sees to it that they’re placed in old folks’ homes. I think that’s a lovely idea. Implementing that in the adult space, though, it turns into all kinds of complications because you’re not dealing with just three major studios. You’re talking about thousands of independent performers and producers and there’s no essential body in place to pull it all together. An infrastructure is not there… There is something out there run by James Deen, an idea for a kind of performers syndicate. He seems to be making inroads into that idea.

So you wouldn’t be disagreeable, if the time came when things got better in the porn industry, that the actors might get residuals just like syndicated shows on television.

I have no argument with that at all. I think that’s quite fair.

Talk to me about your opposition to Google. I mean, it seems apparent to me that the country is headed to the left in one way when we can pass medical care-type legislation, but to the far right when we see a new age of monopolistic, gratuitous greed.

I think our focal point has to be our launch of Boodigo.com… A couple of years ago we could see the Internet slipping downhill quickly. Not just Google, but music media and the alleged news in general. At the same time, maybe slightly more slowly but surely, they were trying to ghettoize the adult entertainment industry. So, if you were to go to a search engine and, say, type in ‘Blowjob’ at this point, you’d end up on Google with some strange, staid listings. You know, Wikipedia exploring the etymology of ‘Blow job.’ Maybe [he laughs] Ladies Home Journal giving you ten tips on how to give a better blowjob. You might not get to the adult content till you reach the third page, though. And then it might be any kind of content. You know, one of those file services for any kind of film or music… So that was one of my big frustrations, just constantly trying to stay relevant while corporate America was trying to marginalize us. So, a couple of years ago we thought up this search engine for adults.

Interview: Colin Rowntree - The Renaissance Man of Porn

But isn’t that an act of kind of ghettoizing yourselves?

Well, privacy is the issue! You know, everybody knows, that, every time you go to search engines or when you join, like, Hustler, join and get a subscription, and you log in to the site and pass on your Google+ account info that your data is being mined within an inch of your life. So when you’re typing in naughty search terms, remember that your cookies are being gathered with the sole intention of being sold to certain advertising parties. I also don’t want anyone else allowed. And I’ve got urges sometimes to search for fisting videos. Do I really want my grandmother, who might be doing some random searching on my computer to find, slapped into my inbox, “Fisting videos on sale!!!” So, one of our core things with Boodigo.com will be that it does not record your core address and that all search research and evidence become anonymous.  Your computer won’t even memorize any of this stuff. You type in what you’re looking for. You get quality results. If you’re searching for Belle Knox, that hit is going to be Belle Knox right away, not 25 hits in! And not 25 hits of Belle’s stolen video sites. So, you come, you do your business, and then you go and it doesn’t even know you were there.

Sounds pretty good. How does it make money, though? Especially if you’re not using the usual pull-up cookies?

Next week we’re actually going to put it up [Monday September 29, 2014, by now]. We haven’t actually named it yet. The latest is Bootiwords.com. So… if you spend time at porn sites and you wouldn’t mind putting some money into it, consider advertising with us. You would pick out your own key words. Like you can pick out key words for your own site like ‘blonde’ or ‘amateur’ or nylons’ or ‘high heels,’ whatever! It’s like you bid for the word. Over to the right there’s a little sidebar similar to Google and Wikipedia that will use the highest sponsored systems. So, if you bid the highest, you’re going to be at the top… Wait! Somebody just corrected me and it’s not Bootiwords, it’s BoodyAds… B—O—O—D—Y—A—D—S.

Do you have a business partner in this venture?

I’m in partnership with a tech firm in California that we’ve worked with for the better part of over fifteen years of developing projects.

Can I ask you about your personal feelings about intellectual property? I see it mentioned a lot in pieces about you. It’s important to me, too. I’ve published two books but hardly been paid for all the sales they’ve made. Everybody in the arts has something they love to bitch about, that’s for sure. My youngest son is a serious rock musician and we’ve been talking a lot about how musicians don’t get paid… It seems that more and more, because of Spotify and Jeff Bezos, artists are being ripped off in a brazen kind of so-what way.

Well [he laughs], I agree. You go to work. You do your work, and I don’t care if you’re a musician or a porn director, a game developer, an author of books or blogs or whatever. It’s your intellectual property! It’s all stuff we created and we all have a right to make a living off it and not have people hose us, either stealing it or be railroaded into such deep discounts like Bezos is into. One of our other interests is in erotic e-books and what Amazon is doing right now to independent publishers and authors is just horrifying. If he’s going to give away free stuff, let it be his free stuff. Not yours or mine. It will be interesting to see what happens to the news now that the shoe is on the other foot and he owns the Washington Post and is a content producer.

Interview: Colin Rowntree - The Renaissance Man of Porn

Tell me about the fellowship between you and art. Porn and art. Are they strange bedfellows? Do they inter-connect?

You’re talking about me? 

Yeah… You’re a musician and a painter, right? You know every time I read about an entrepreneur, it’s always that they didn’t finish college and they’re Green and they love Humanity.

Well, I’m 55 and I’ve got a PhD from Moscow Conservatory and I was a Fulbright Scholar. I had Leonard Bernstein as a mentor at Tanglewood, so I think I’m a little bit different to the people you’re talking about. 

And before that?

High school in Michigan. I applied for a Fulbright and got one. I was given the choice of going to Beijing to the Chinese Conservatory for Chinese Opera versus Moscow Conservatory for conducting and… [he laughs], if you’ve listened to Chinese Opera, you’d understand why I went to Moscow. So I was there from ’78 to ’81.

Right into the Cold War.

I was there when we boycotted their Olympics after they invaded Afghanistan. [He laughs] I had KGB handlers. Everything you could imagine there. It was pretty wild.

So how did you, umm, I was going to say ‘fall’ into porn? Maybe that’s the wrong word.

‘Fall’ into it is basically accurate. It was 1994 and my wife and I had a mail-order jewelry company, mostly Celtic pendants and things like that. We were at a gift show and me being a typical kind of bored guy while she shopped, I spotted this little company called Babylon Leather and it was kinky corsets and leather bondage cuffs. Stuff like that. So I talked to them and said, “Do you have any catalogs for this stuff with photos?” They sent me a couple of things in the mail and we made a catalog of our own and looked at this new thing called the Internet. And then we went, “Maybe we should take our own photos and put them up on our site and maybe people will order a catalog”, which they did. And printing and photography was expensive while everything was really just folks looking at the pictures, but nobody ordering the catalog, so we wondered, “What if we hide the pictures of all these girls in a sort of member area and charge $10 for customers to use the member area. And within 24 hours we made $360. I couldn’t believe it… And we said, “Oh, people want to look at dirty pictures. They don’t want a catalog!” And that’s how Wasteland was born.

So you weren’t born rich?

Oh no. Not at all. I grew up on a farm in Michigan.

Kind of like Superman. But you guys can draw your own parallels…

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