Another year has gone by, and on 23rd December 2014 Dreams of Spanking celebrated its third birthday. Three years is a coming of age for a new business - the point at which you stop being a start-up and become established. If you haven't made it by the end of year three, you aren't going to make it. Happily, after our profitable first year, sales have been steadily increasing and we're going from strength to strength. It's time to look back on the year just gone and take stock. Here are ten ways in which Dreams of Spanking changed and improved in 2014.
1. Saying hello to Girl on the Net
In March we added sex blogger Girl on the Net to our team, and since then she has been writing all the copy for our spanking scenes and free hosted galleries, as well as being a regular contributor to this blog and our twitter stream. She puts up with me sending her pieces at the last possible minute, and is remarkably patient about working around my irregular schedule - while always staying friendly, cheerful and professional. It's a pleasure to work with her, and her advice on marketing, advertising and SEO has been incredibly useful. She's become an invaluable presence behind the scenes.
I commented a while ago that I would gladly pay Girl on the Net just to write nice things about my work and send them to me every week. Not only do I get the ego boost of a writer I admire providing regular positive feedback on my creations, it also means I'm freed from the emotionally exhausting labour of marketing my own porn. I hadn't realised how much it was costing me until I stopped. I think most creatives resent having to sell their work, and would much rather spend their energy making more art instead. Since hiring Girl on the Net, I have had more creative energy to spend on film-making, editing, business development and activism - and my quality of life, wellbeing and business success have been all the better for it.
2. Handing over photo editing to AJ Levi
Around the same time, I started handing over photo editing duties to my amazing executive assistant AJ Levi. It was a wrench - I'm a massive control freak, which isn't a great trait in a manager, but AJ has handled the transition with grace and skill. She has edited every photoset published since her debut gallery Introducing Alexander - 44 in total by my count. Over the last few months, as she's proved that I can trust her with the all-important visual imagery on the site, she has taken on more and more of the work. She now selects which photos from any given shoot will be published, edits them (including the behind the scenes photos), chooses preview images, creates thumbnails, handles the data entry in the CMS and creates new free hosted galleries for our affiliates. Not only that, but AJ has just started handling our updates on Clips4Sale and Spanking Library.
Add in her regular responsibilities with tech support, processing payments, answering emails and keeping the site organised and it's an impressive list. AJ has an amazing eye, and you only need to look at her recent galleries (such as Sing, Muse) to see that she is an artist when it comes to photo editing. She is consistent, dependable and continues to surprise me with her technical and creative skill. Hiring her was a coming-of-age moment for the business, and now I honestly don't know what I'd do without her.
3. Saying goodbye to Thomas Cameron
I haven't written about this yet publically, but in March 2014, with regret, I ended my romantic relationship with Thomas Cameron. We had been together for nearly a decade. It was my decision in the end, and not one I made lightly. Times change, and our lives had been moving in different directions for several years. I eventually found the courage to accept that it was time to move on.
The break-up was amicable, and afterwards Tom continued working for Dreams of Spanking behind the scenes, updating the clips stores and affiliate galleries. It was only a few weeks ago that, looking at the finances and the logistics of liaising with three different freelancers on a tight weekly update schedule, I made the decision to hand over his duties to AJ in order to keep things more streamlined.
Thomas was a huge presence in my early adult life and in the development of this website, and I can honestly say that Dreams of Spanking would not exist without him. He provided inspiration, support, enormous stage presence and acting skill, and a huge number of scene ideas - from the first embryonic inkling that I wanted to produce my own content, to the launch of the site three years ago. He was instrumental in launching my career as a spanking model, and in encouraging me to start producing my own films. He was my dominant, spanker and top for many years. My spanking kink was greatly influenced by his taste and personality.
Tom let me move in above the real ale pub he managed in 2010 and 2011, refurbish it with decor that would look good in spanking films, and trade work for his business for a place to live, work and shoot. The scenes we shot together were a core part of this site's launch content, and the work we did together that year made launching this site possible. Tom's skills as a performer, top, scene writer and consulting historian raised the bar of the UK spanking industry and made an indelible impression on the development of my style. I will always be grateful to Tom for his contributions to my personal life, my spanking career and to Dreams of Spanking.
4. More behind the scenes content
A direct consequence of bringing AJ and Girl on the Net on board is that 2014 was the year I had time to edit more behind the scenes content. In the first two years of the business, struggling to keep on top of all these responsibilities single-handedly, I simply didn't have time to do everything. Editing behind the scenes videos was a job that often got dropped in busy weeks, and I never had time to go back and catch up.
In the last year behind the scenes content has been a priority, and more scenes than ever now feature candid making-of videos, hilarious out-takes, performer interviews and behind the scenes image galleries. Not only do the image gallery feature candid photos taken on set, but I've also started adding hand-picked screengrabs from the behind the scenes videos. If you like to reassure yourself that an edgy spanking video was produced ethically and consensually, look no further.
5. HTML5 video
2014 was the year that we upgraded our streaming video player from a Flash popup streaming .flv files to embedded HTML5 video streaming MP4 files. Better video quality, better usability, better cross-browser and cross-device compatibility. Better for everyone.
In theory, HTML5 video should even work on mobiles and tablets, although I've had reports from some users that it's not playing for them. Following on from this development, I've made a personal commitment that 2015 is going to be the year we finally get our website and streaming video player fully operational across all mobile devices.
6. Recurring memberships and Mastercard payments
In January, D extended our back-end code so we could offer you the option of recurring memberships for the first time - a real milestone. And in June, a year after CCBill slapped an extortionate annual fee onto porn sites that wanted to accept Mastercard payments, I decided we could afford it, and we started accepting Mastercard payments again - making it easier for you to support ethical porn by buying a site membership. Finally!
7. More transgender performers
2014 was the year we added two new out-and-proud transgender performers to our cast - world famous queer porn star James Darling, and budding UK newcomer Ron Beastly. In the past, trans porn performers often kept quiet about it for fear that being open about their gender history would make their work less popular or make them targets for abuse. Although transgender people still suffer from appalling and unacceptable stigma and violence worldwide, it's wonderful to see an attitude change start to ripple across the online community which is more accepting of non-binry identities and transgender bodies. This is no small part thanks to queer porn, which has centered trans bodies from the beginning.
The next step is for us to make a pro-active effort to expand our cast to include some hot transgender women. I've already had exciting talks with a number of suitable performers. The only limiting factor is that a number of them are in the US or Canada, and so shooting will have to fit around my international travel schedule.
8. More performers of colour
In 2014 we uploaded three new scenes starring stunning UK porn star Lola Marie, and we shot not once but twice with brand new spankee David Weston, who is (as far as I know) the first ever black male spankee to make a name for himself in the UK. Mind you, given how few fetish sites name or celebrate their male sub performers, he hasn't had much competition.
Of course, we still have a long way to go - two exceptions to a mostly white cast is nowhere near enough, and we're looking forward to making new connections and improving the chromatic and gender diversity of our cast further in 2015.
9. Consent, consent, consent
2014 was the year the conversation about ethical porn and showing consent behind the scenes started to take off - from my talk on establishing consent in kinky porn at the Feminist Porn Conference in April to Zoe Williams' guardian article in November. It was also the year that UK legislators showed just how out of touch they are by making a whole swathe of consensual acts illegal to depict in UK-produced online porn.
The Sword of Damocles is still hanging over our heads, in that at any time in 2015 we might receive an initial letter from ATVOD demanding us to comply with these regulations - which we intend to refuse to do, thereby kicking off a lengthy and expensive court battle. But in the meantime we have no intention of stopping producing, and we won't be limited by these regulations and self-censor when filming new content in 2015. What we can do is take additional steps to demonstrate the consent and well-being of performers on all our shoots. Previously, consent was established in contextual behind the scenes materials and links surrounding the main fantasy film. Since these regulations came into force at the start of December, we have brought some of this context into the main feature, so that even if a particular film is watched in isolation, outside the context in which it was originally published, performer consent will still be explicit.
Five weeks into this new system, I'm increasingly seeing the positive side of this method of publishing feminist kinky porn. It centres performer consent in every production, sends a strong message about ethical porn, and as an added bonus, it brings the behind the scenes content to the front of my editing process, making it even easier to get out-takes videos and performer interviews ready for publication alongside every spanking film.
10. Best Spanking Site 2014?
Dreams of Spanking collected some impressive kudos in 2014, including this glowing review by My Sex Porn and lots of love during sex blogger spanking month. It was a good year for our mainstream press profile, too: as well as the Guardian feature on ethical porn, we were mentioned in The Sun and BBC News.
The Loose Hem was nominated for a Feminist Porn Award, and we were in the running for Honoured Website second year running. Also in 2014, My Inner Little Girl was screened at Cinekink film festival, and Instructed, our collaborative film with Ms Naughty, was screened at the Berlin Porn Film Festival.
We've taken a lot of runner-up prizes in the Spanking Awards 2014 hosted by SpankingBlogg, with this blog coming second in the News Blog category, my personal blog Spanked, Not Silenced coming second in the Creative Blog category, and me coming in third as Best Female Spanker and Best Female Spankee 2014. I was the only person to qualify in both categories, so I guess that makes me a jill of all trades. I'm happy with that!
Female Spankee of 2014
Winner: Alex Reynolds
Runner Up: Amelia Jane Rutherford
3rd: Pandora Blake
Full results can be seen HERE
Female Spanker of 2014
Winner – Sarah Gregory
Sarah has topped at many sites but check out her own at SarahGregorySpanking.com
Runner Up – Dana Kane
Dana has topped at many sites but check out her own at DanaKaneSpanks.com
& 2nd (very close) Runner Up – Pandora Blake
Pandora features at many sites but check out her own DreamsofSpanking.com
Congrats to Alex Reynolds, Amelia Jane Rutherford, Sarah Gregory and Dana Kane on their wins - you deserve it, and I couldn't be in better company!
The award I really care about though is Best Spanking Site 2014 - and I'm thrilled that Dreams of Spanking is in the running. After all our performers' hard work in this last year it would mean a lot if we could get the top spot, so please do head to their page and vote for us!