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What you don’t see on Chaturbate A former model turned studio recruiter explains St. Petersburg’s adult webcam industry

Source: Baza

Last month, the news outlet Baza published “the confessions of a calculating guy from St. Petersburg” — a brief memoir by a man who runs an adult webcam studio, recruiting models and living off a percentage of their earnings. Called “Arthur” in the story, he describes how he got his start in the industry, initially working as a cam model himself, before helming his own studio. Baza’s story describes the economics behind the adult streaming in St. Petersburg and the industry’s personal impact on those who sell images of their flesh to lonely Internet users on the other side of the planet.

Arthur’s first supervisor in the adult webcam business was a taskmaster who fined any model who failed to smile on camera or report on time for a shift. Within six months, Arthur says he was easily earning 200,000 rubles ($2,700) a month — a hefty sum of money that made other, more conventional jobs seem far less appealing. Young, attractive women can earn even more cash, he says.

The adult webcam industry runs on “donations” from audience members (primarily Internet users in the Western hemisphere, says Arthur), but most of that money never reaches the models themselves. The online platforms that host the actual content grab 50-70 percent of all payments. Studios that host webcam models then take half of what’s left. Though the adult webcam business ostensibly empowers individuals to broadcast from their own homes and work independently, models generally earn more money when working through studios, says Arthur, thanks to the discipline, equipment, reliable Internet connections, and dedicated workspace these collaborations provide, he explains.

In the past two years, moreover, finding webcam studio space in Russia has become much easier, thanks to lawmakers’ decision to crack down on hostels, which left the owners of giant apartments divided into small rooms with few renting alternatives but enterprises like Arthur’s. Transforming a shabby basement into a half-decent streaming studio runs about 600,000 rubles ($8,115), says Arthur, while a good studio can cost as much as 2 million rubles ($27,040). 

Most webcam platforms automatically hide Russian broadcasts from Russian viewers, both to protect models from harassment at home and because Westerners are typically willing and able to spend far more money. Arthur recalls one married asexual man from Britain who doted on him for years, even flying to St. Petersburg to spend time together in person. Despite the usual distance between models and audience members, however, various pornographic websites record and catalog all adult webcam content, meaning that models are never free from the fear that the general public and even their loved ones might discover their pornographic activities. 

In his “confessions,” Arthur acknowledges many of the pitfalls and challenges inherent in his industry, but he depicts himself as an ultimately benign, caring studio manager. He contrasts his own gentle approach to the work of a group of “Chechen raiders” who once tried to muscle one of his friends out of another webcam studio. The Chechens later opened their own shop, where apparent negligence led to a young woman’s death by self-asphyxiation in September 2019.

Arthur says he recruits models by seeking out former colleagues and approaching total strangers online, scouting prospects in St. Petersburg’s online communities and on Tinder, where he targets anyone whose profile includes casual talk about “sex, 4:20, and that kind of stuff.” He tells models that performing sexual acts on webcam can pay for their education, finance their independent business, or cover their parents’ rent. He’s seen many women manage all this, he says. Not everyone responds to Arthur’s overtures, obviously, but those who agree to visit the studio for an interview always end up trying at least one streaming session, he says.

Though officers raid St. Petersburg’s webcam studios from time to time, the police are more a nuisance than a genuine threat. Arthur says law enforcement can either treat studios like brothels or drug houses, seizing hard drives containing nothing (because the adult content is streamed, not stored locally) and catching models using narcotics. 

Arthur rejects comparisons between webcam services and prostitution, and he says he strictly forbids models from bringing drugs to work (though he says he doesn’t mind if they arrive already under their influence). One of his other bugaboos is allowing male performers with large audiences to appear in sex acts with women — a stunt he says can alienate a model’s gay audience and diminish earnings. Arthur says his own modeling days are largely behind him, though he occasionally volunteers for oral sex scenes with models who need a partner for “couples” activities.

One of Arthur’s favorite models now working for him is a trans man who streams almost nonstop, sleeping on a sofa in the studio’s kitchen between shifts. A vacation is probably in order, Arthur says: “I cooked up a way to do it according to the labor contracts: If you work for six months without any fines, we’ll give you paid time off as a way of saying, ‘Thanks for choosing us.’”

Meduza is you.
We’re only here thanks to you.

Summary by Kevin Rothrock

Cover photo: Pixabay

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