Cam-studios conjure up grainy images of trampy girls that broadcast from STD-ridden bedrooms, exploited by cigar-puffing men, bodies sold in pixel-form. But cam-studios have been refined, invigorating Romania’s online industry.
It’s a big, open-armed welcome to the new generation of cam-studios. Reading as a girl you may be raising your feminist hackles already, as a boy you may be inundated with a sudden hero complex. But sit back down, because these girls don’t need saving.
The elevator doors to Studio 20 open to a typical office environment. PR manager Andra Chirnogeanu bounces into the conference room, wearing a shirt emblazoned with ‘PORNO’ on it. But this upfront nature is representative of Studio 20 as a whole – they know what they do, and they own it.
You could be forgiven for thinking the office is a kind of hotel. As we stroll the hallways we only enter bedrooms where the door is open – if it’s shut, a model is working. We pass cam-girls, chatting, laughing, and making kissy sounds at each other as goodbyes.
Each bedroom is tastefully decorated within certain themes: ballet, French colonial, red leather, or Victorian. Inside a purple room, Chirnogeanu tells me it looks particularly good with blonde hair. The model’s belongings sit on the walls: teddy-bears, books, and souvenirs. In one room, the girls’ perfume lingers.
Towards one wall loom bright stage lights. Wide-screen televisions face the bed. Almost unnoticed are the 2000 euro webcams on steroids, the eye of the room, panning and zooming via remote control.
US Dollar Dollar Bills
Despite studios attempting to seduce potential cam-girls by promising $5000USD in their first month, Chirnogeanu thinks that number is closer to $500-$1000 max.
“That means she’s inexperienced, she doesn’t know how to sit in front of the camera, she doesn’t know the tricks,” she says.
According to Studio 20, none of their girls have ever finished a two-week period without at least $500 – that’s after the studio commission of 50 percent. Given Romania’s low cost of living, that wage is more than double the $230 Romanian minimum wage.
The average for an experienced model, according to Studio 20 estimates, is between $5000-$6000 for a two-week period, with some earning up to $11,000. The Romanian President earns just over $1800 in the same amount of time.
But then there are other benefits. Models receive English tutoring, make-up courses, psychologists, and a massage therapist, because many experience back problems from lying in bed all day.
But not all cam studios in Romania are positive. Many are implicated in fraud and tax evasion, leading to closures or ‘renovations’ each month, according to Chirnogeanu.
It gives the cam industry a bad name. Chirnogeanu often invites people to see the studio and meet the girls, but is regularly rejected. “It’s easier for them to think that this is a brothel, and the girls are prostitutes. They don’t want to change anything, not their perception. That’s the reality of the cam industry”.
The cam-business has in the past been linked with exploitation and human trafficking. But Chirnogeanu insists Studio 20 is perfectly legitimate. “I can’t just take you by the hand and drag you into one of the rooms and log you on. Every girl who comes here wants to be here.”
Stroking Members Egos
The regular users are not as concerned with getting off, than with having a companion. Chirnogeanu says that the girls do form emotional attachments to members.
“I can pull any girl out of her room right now and ask her about one of her members, anything about that person: if he has a wife or not, if he has eaten that day, how his health is,” Chirnogeanu explains, “they talk to them, they have a real conversation, it’s more like their therapists.”
Of course, sex is a part of the job. The girls get naked two to three times a day max, but the end goal is to create a client-base. Most girls aim for three to four continual member relationships.
The models are encouraged to be creative, to dress up, wear wigs, or even have romantic candle-lit dinners across from their customer – or at least across from the camera. In one of the bedrooms Chirnogeanu shows me a lucky-dip full of paper. Pulling one out she and I both expected dares or compliments, only to find insults instead.
But everyone has bad days, cam girls included. Behind the scenes there is a support team watching every move. If a girl needs help with a fantasy, she can request it via Skype chat.
Studio 20 has to stay ahead of the grain. They were the first studio to try virtual-reality cams, tells Chirnogeanu, “We will be the first to try the hologram in a few years, I can assure you of that.”
An Explosion of Many Kinds
Romania has the largest cam industry in the world, a result of a big-bang of location and innovation. Romania’s late introduction to internet moved them straight to high-speed fibre networks. Today, Romania has the fastest internet in Europe, and the 10th fastest in the world, according to a 2015 report by technology service Akamai.
But Chirnogeanu believes there is more that lures their mainly US customer base to like their girls. “Romanian’s are exotic, outgoing, cute, and lovely,” she tells me.
Chirnogeanu estimates there are more than 2000 Romanian cam studios. “It’s the only job on Earth where a person from Romania can earn as much as a person from anywhere else.” This couples with Romania’s low job offering, a youth unemployment rate of 20.1 percent compared to 15.1 percent average in the EU.
“If you want to have a decent life, and you want to live well, you need a job in IT or as a cam-girl,” Chirnogeanu says matter-of-factly, “Romanian’s are not used to getting things for free, so they strive and they work and they are more fun.”