Weathering winner-take-all. How rankings constitute competition on webcam sex platforms, and what performers can do about it

Niels van Doorn
Olav Velthuis
Working Paper

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Forthcoming in: David Stark (ed.), The Performance Complex: Competitions and Valuations in Social Life, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Over the last decade, the global sex industry has been radically transformed by the rise of webcam sex platforms. In this essay we show how rankings are constitutive of competition in this new, emerging part of the sex industry. The ranking algorithms are highly contested among performers, in particular because of their opaque nature and the strong winner-take-all dynamics which they propel. Creating deep uncertainty and anxiety among performers, the algorithms are widely seen as unfair. However, the wider assemblage of market devices constituted by webcam sex platforms, enable performers to circumvent the rankings at least to some degree. Moreover, on discussion forums where performers negotiate strategies to make a living, they actively share experiences of algorithms on competing platforms, discuss which algorithm suits their interests best, and consider vacating to rival platforms. Indeed, how market competition is organized within platforms, is constrained by competition between them.