Pando

Is Snapcash a tool for the porn industry in disguise?

By David Holmes , written on November 20, 2014

From The News Desk

Earlier this week, the disappearing-messages app Snapchat took a huge leap into an industry few people would have expected from what's still considered by many to be a "sexting app": Payments.

With Snapcash, the company has partnered with Jack Dorsey's payment company Square to allow users to send each other money as easily as adding a debit card and texting a dollar amount. It's an inspired idea that capitalizes on Snapchat's overwhelming popularity with young people and its super-simple user interface. This video, which despite all the ridicule lobbed its way is totally awesome, explains the service with all the pizzazz and panache of a 1950s musical:

But there could be another killer use case for Snapcash that hasn't been widely discussed: pornography.

In an article at the adult lifestyle site BaDoink, Joseph Viney writes that the biggest differentiator between Snapcash and a host of other mobile payments options like Venmo and Google Wallet is Snapchat's core functionality as an ephemeral messaging service and one that therefore lends itself, whether the company admits it or not, to sending sexy sexy photos. And by throwing payments into the mix, that gives adult stars a secure method for receiving payments for lascivious photos without having to go set up their own ecommerce solutions or to go through an existing adult platform. The joys of micro-entrepreneurship!

Viney even provides Snapcash with its own elevator pitch to porn stars: "The messages disappear but the money doesn’t."

Viney's argument makes sense. Porn consumers (aka everybody) are rightly reluctant to provide credit or debit card information to sites they don't trust -- and it stands to reason that porn sites are near the top of that list. While Snapchat has hardly been a paragon of security, its payments will be powered by Square, a company for whom security is of the utmost importance. And the exchange of texting a dollar amount and receiving a disappearing nude photo or video in return eliminates all the wrong kinds of friction from porn transactions.

But his case has a few holes in it, both in terms of logistics and demand. First off, the argument that the messages disappear, offering privacy or copyright protection to the sender, is a total non-starter considering almost everyone who would use the service for a nude photo is going to screenshot it -- particularly because these exchanges are taking place with total strangers where there are no personal consequences for doing so. Also, there is no guarantee that if I send a dollar amount to a porn star that I will actually receive the picture -- and I have little confidence that there would be much legal recourse to recover my funds. And finally, according to a Reddit post on r/bitcoin, Snapchat asks for a social security number if a user sends over $250 in a week.

Then there's the reality that, as in most every content vertical, nobody pays for anything anymore. I made this argument when Porn.com's marketing director David Kay referred to adult content as "Bitcoin's killer app" because it offers "fast, private and confidential payments." But while Bitcoin (or in this case, Snapcash) may be a preferable payment method when compared to entering your credit card information on a shady adult site, only four percent of Internet porn consumers pay for this content, according to a poll by sex toy retailer Adam and Eve. Offering more secure payment options could increase that percentage, but with the wide availability of adult content on YouTube-esque content hosting platforms like Pornhub, not to mention illegal pirated content on BitTorrent sites, I'm doubtful that we'll see a huge shift in consumer spending habits here.

The narrative of porn stars collecting micropayments using Snapcash is an attractive one. And I wouldn't be surprised if a few try it and maybe even successfully build an audience that way. But the notion that Snapcash will be a significant revenue driver for the porn industry is its own kind of sexual fantasy.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]