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!
Winner: Alex Reynolds
Runner Up: Amelia Jane Rutherford
3rd: Pandora Blake
Full results can be seen HERE
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!
What do female ejaculation, full bondage with gags, face-sitting and spanking that leaves marks all have in common? They're all now banned in UK porn according to new laws that went into effect last week, the Audiovisial Media Services Regulations 2014.
These regulations apply the existing BBFC guidelines (controlling what can and can't be sold on DVD) to the world of online porn. In other words, an out-of-date set of restrictions to a medium few porn customers bother with anymore are, rather than being brought up to date, now being applied to the internet - the last bastion of freedom of expression for British porn.
The guidelines disproportionately affect acts of female dominance and female sexual pleasure, as well as banning all spanking and BDSM content that produces marks beyond those deemed "transient and trifling". This will affect every spanking site in the UK, and countless more British fetish and feminist porn sites besides.
Dreams of Spanking performer and independent Australian feminist porn director Zahra Stardust is writing her PhD on the legal regulation of pornography. She says, “Those of us who are making queer, feminist, and kinky porn are doing so as an act of civil disobedience, because we know from lived experience that the cost of censorship in our communities is too high. These laws actively produce a heterosexist, misogynist sexuality as ‘normal’, whilst pathologising and closeting practices that are actually life-affirming, consensual and meaningful."
These laws apply to publication, not possession. UK consumers can still legally still access porn produced and published overseas - for now (although expert obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman thinks this is the beginning of a sinister attempt to block foreign sites as well). Meanwhile hundreds of independent British porn producers are being criminalised, including every UK spanking site you can name. We, and many of our fellow fetish porn producers, stand to be closed down if we let this go unchallenged.
You can read more about exactly what's banned and how this will affect UK porn in my post Online porn: the canary in the coalmine, and I've also posted link round-ups tracking the international outcry against these new restrictions.
How does this affect us?
If Dreams of Spanking were to comply with these new regulations, we would have to take over half our scenes offline. Our future production would be heavily censored: we would never be able to film any spanking, caning, birching, belting or tawsing again - anything that resulted in welts or bruises. We would not be able to show any bondage with all four limbs bound as well as a gag. We would not be able to use any outdoor locations which someone might possibly have overlooked. Age play and school uniforms are problematic if there is any suggestion that the actor is playing a character under eighteen. Wrestling is problematic. And on and on.
Here are a select handful of scenes that we would have to delete if we chose to comply:
Drunk and Disorderly - Vincent's cane marks definitely go beyond "transient and trifling" in this judicial police caning scene.
Pandora's Belt Whipping Fantasy also fall foul of the new restrictions - never mind that the film explicitly shows my enthusiastic consent.
Our comic "hammer horror" parody Doctor of Pain features four-limb bondage with a gag - which according to the AVMS means that I, the director, was unable to signal my consent, despite the fact that a) I had written the scene, b) I could still waggle my fingers and bang my hands and feet, and c) I could in fact have spit the gag out and wriggled out of the rope if I'd wanted to - but I didn't.
The whipping Nimue orders her manservant to give her in My Lady's Pleasure is definitely banned - even though she is in control of the scene the whole time and telling him to go harder.
If these regulations are enforced, the only spanking scenes any UK producer will be able to make will be light hand spanking leading to a mild pinkness. No caning, no implements, no bruises, no welts.
Hywel Phillips, who runs UK glamour bondage site Restrained Elegance with his wife Ariel Anderssen (known to spanking fans as Amelia Jane Rutherford) thinks this sort of paternalistic censorship dismisses and denies the consent of porn performers. "The idea that the people who do this for pleasure, or for a living, cannot possibly know better than the father figure censor what is acceptable, what is safe practice, what they want to do and what they want to have done to them. This is called denying their agency- telling them that they cannot possibly know their own mind or make their own minds up."
Another potential casualty of these new regulations is free preview content. The censors want all adult content to be behind a paywall, so that children can't accidentally click through to it. If they start to take a close look at spanking sites, they will demand that we take down all our free video trailers and preview pictures that show spanking or nudity.
So what are we going to do?
First of all, we refuse to censor ourselves. Dreams of Spanking will continue doing business for as long as possible. We won't take half our archive offline pre-emptively, and we won't stop shooting the hot spanking scenes we want to - welts and all. If we are contacted by the censors with a demand to comply with the new regulations, we intend to challenge it.
We have always prioritised performer consent in our films, and you only have to take one look at our blog, performer interviews or behind the scenes videos to see that our films are made with love. All our cast members are genuine spanking enthusiasts, and our top priority on set is that everyone should be well looked after and have fun. We think it is ludicrous to ban depictions of consensual adult spanking, and we don't intend to go down without a fight.
However, we have taken legal advice and we're up for trying one or two things which might help our case. For instance, we've been advised that it might be a good idea to include performer consent in the spanking film itself, as well as in the surrounding contextual materials. So from now on, as well as publishing full-length out-take videos and performer interviews alongside each spanking film, we'll cut some edited highlights from the out-takes and interviews into the scene itself, so you'll get to see an introduction to our lovely performers before and after the in-character scene. Our latest two films, Provocative Housework and Curious Pleasures, are both examples of this new format.
This idea fits in to our existing ethos of being transparent and honest about where fantasy ends and reality begins, so we're happy to make this change if it will help viewers understand without a doubt that all our performers are consenting, kinky adults.
In refusing to self-censor, we aren't standing alone. A number of the Dreams of Spanking cast and crew have joined the outcry against these ridiculous new laws:
Is that it?
Far from it. This is only the beginning. These regulations are a worrying step on the path to total state censorship of the internet in the UK, and we need to work together to get them repealed - and prevent this harmful, worrying censorship of free expression from going any further.
Julian Huppert MP has tabled an early day motion requesting a debate on this issue - only two other MPs have signed it so far. The more MPs sign, the more likely this will be debated in the Commons. We think that if this issue is debated then we are likely to see change. The AVMS regulations were decided undemocratically by an unelected quango, and all the UK media coverage so far has been highly critical of the new law. We need to lobby our MPs to add their names to the motion in order to have a hope of getting this overturned.
So what can you do? Well, if you're resident in the UK, you can:
And if you aren't in the UK? Well, this will still affect you, as if British fetish porn producers are forced to comply with these regulations, you won't be able to watch our films any more.
You don't have to be in the UK to submit a complaint to ATVOD using their own complaints form. This form is intended to be used to complain about "inappropriate" TV content, which just makes re-appropriating it funnier. Let's spam them with complaints about their own regulations.
We at Dreams of Spanking believe that it is perfectly possible for adults to give informed consent to hard BDSM and spanking play, and to ethically create films depicting it. Our films are ethical, consensual, and an authentic expression of adult consensual kink. We refuse to be complicit in the state censorship of the porn we love, and we won't take anything down before we absolutely have to.
The only way we can keep on making the films you want to see is if we get these regulations overturned before we attract the notice of the censors. And we can't do it alone. Whether you are a Dreams of Spanking member or not, we need your help.
If you love kinky porn please share this blogpost, sign the petition, turn up to the protest, complain to ATVOD, write letters, talk to the press, and kick up as much of a fuss about this as possible. And please keep supporting your favourite porn sites by buying a membership - while you still can.
I know you haven't heard from me for a while, but it's been a long hot summer already, with all the Dreams of Spanking ladies flitting around like dirty little butterflies; Pandora's been up and down the country sampling the delights of the countryside in between mad bouts of video editing and volunteering; Girl on the Net has been firing off some amazing copy for us, and keeping sales afloat during the admittedly difficult summer months; and I've been desperately trying to keep up with tumblr and fetlife, while juggling a whole gamut of interesting life events. It's been amazing though, I've done some editing I'm really proud of (keep your eyes peeled for today's update, Day Ten of her Training, a classy vintage domestic discipline scene featuring Leia-Ann Woods and Thomas Cameron), and I no longer remember what it was like before I was working with so many talented and fascinating people every day!
Tuesday just gone presented itself with the rarest of opportunities - Pandora, her partner D, Girl on the Net, myself and my partner were all in town and without plans! Grabbing the chances with all ten hands, we headed off to a quirky little pub in Borough to eat pie, drink beer, and set the world to rights. We quickly occupied an upstairs room, and covered a great many salacious topics, including (but not limited to):
The depth and breadth of the discourse ensured that we always had the room to ourselves, which I'm calling a win.
However, socialising wasn't our main aim for this meetup. We ultimately got together so that Pandora could give Girl and I our super shiny new business cards! I don't know about GotN, but I have never had a proper business card, let alone one that included the word "manager", so this was a big deal for me. We were both so chuffed with them that we posted them on twitter the next day. I mean seriously, what is there not to love about business cards with bottoms on them?
Aren't they great? I can't wait to start handing them out to people.
I hope you've enjoyed this wee glimpse into some of the fun stuff that goes on in the staging area. It was excellent to catch up in person and we're feeling a lot more refreshed as we go into the last few weeks of summer. There's some fantastic material coming up and, well... you're gonna love it!
I wrote recently about the uncertainties of running a porn site during the holiday season - not knowing whether or not you, our lovely viewers, will be here on any given week, ready and waiting to watch our latest update, or whether you're all off having fun in foreign climes. The truth is that it's not only your absence that affects things over the summer months. Running a spanking website is hard work at the best of times - it's even harder when the director goes on holiday.
I went away for a week at the end of July, and if I hadn't had AJ and Girl on the Net in London to hold the fort, things would have fallen apart. I edited and uploaded the week's film (The Evacuees - Part 2) before I left, but it was Girl on the Net who wrote the scene blurb and the blogpost, AJ who kept on top of email and tech support requests and posts pictures on Fetlife and Tumblr, and both ladies took turns managing the Twitter account.
In fact if they hadn't been around, there wouldn't have been an update that week. On Saturday, two days before I was due to come home, I got a call from AJ to tell me that the server was down. It was terrible timing - our new scene goes live at the weekend and Saturday is usually our best day for new sign-ups. Instead, the server was down for 8 hours during the middle of the day. Not only could users not log on, neither could AJ, so the new scene hadn't even gone live yet. It was AJ who posted updates on social media until the site was up and running again - and AJ who logged in straight-away and pushed the new film live. I really am very lucky to have a team who care so much about the site that they're willing to work weekends and take the initiative in an emergency.
Anyway, tomorrow I'm going away again til Monday, and once more I'm relying on the Dreams of Spanking ladies to keep things ticking over in the meantime. It's good for me to take some time off (those of you who know me will know how rare this is!) but it's good to know that my baby will be in safe hands.
The downside of going away is that I have to rush to get everything done before I leave. That's why I'm typing this at 2am, while waiting for an audio effect to process on this week's forthcoming spanking film. I've done the multicamera edit, nailed the music (if I do say so myself), and am just tidying up the audio. Next it's colour grading, digital zooms, frame cropping and other finishing touches - and I still have to make the trailer and pack for my long weekend before my friends come to pick me up tomorrow lunchtime. Somehow I don't think I'm going to get much sleep tonight.
Still, it'll all be worth it in the end - I'm looking forward to a wonderful four days away, and I'm looking forward to seeing what you make of this week's scene when I get back. It's from our location shoot with Leia-Ann Woods last year and is a dark, sinister vignette which implies, but doesn't show, a longer dominance and submission narrative. This is one of the scripts I wrote before the site even existed, and it's a pleasure to bring it to life.
I think the finished film is going to be just as atmospheric as I imagined - if I get it done in time. My audio's finished processing now, so I'm going to get stuck back in. In the meantime, I'll leave you with an exclusive preview photo...
It's been quite a week - in a good way. Last weekend I attended (and presented at) an erotic fiction writers' conference, which was a fantastic opportunity for inspiration and networking. Among other things I took away the desire to do more sex blogging, which led to me writing about the breast punishment scene D surprised me with on Monday night. I also made a number of useful connections including - most excitingly - hiring a new professional copywriter for this website.
If you like spanking, hate patriarchy and read sex blogs, you probably already know Girl on the Net. I'm over the moon to be able to announce that she is joining the Dreams of Spanking team as a freelance copywriter, and will be writing film blurbs, blogposts and other bits and pieces. I love her sharp, punchy writing style and am really excited about this collaboration. She loves spanking, loves porn and has an eye for hot men, so I think she'll be perfect.
The other exciting news behind the scenes is that my assistant AJ is expanding her role to take on some of the photo editing. This should hopefully make it easier for us to include midweek photosets in our update schedule, and well as freeing more time for me to focus on video editing, business development and promotion. AJ has a background in photography and has done image processing before, so when I spent the afternoon showing her the ropes last Thursday she picked it up without any problems.
It's a pleasure to be able to delegate more of the regular work involved in the running of the site, and to give AJ's level of responsibility a boost. I'm confident that she will deliver fantastic images and can't wait to share her work with you.
On Friday night we found ourselves both working on Dreams of Spanking photosets at the same time - her on a forthcoming gallery introducing new male spankee Alexander Knight, and me on the stills accompanying our latest film, Slight Damage to the Rear End. It was lovely to have someone sharing the load behind the scenes, and we chatted away in IRC and even co-ordinated preview tweets!
I hope this is the start of two long and happy collaborations. Watch out for updates from AJ and Girl on the Net this week - and if you haven't read GotN's brilliantly filthy blog yet, take a look, I highly recommend it.