Egg Auction Site Hatched on Internet
WASHINGTON -- Ron Harris has a nice little deal going.
The photographer whipped up controversy, then drew millions this week to his web site hawking the donor eggs of gorgeous women, which he pledged to auction off to bidders seeking pretty babies.
But the enterprise may be nothing more than a scheme designed by an experienced purveyor of sex-related web sites. According to Network Solutions Inc. in Herndon, Virginia, the domain names for ronsangels.com and 14 erotic sites are all linked to the California-based Harris, 66. He has been operating his sex sites for about three years, said a former employee who did not want to be identified, and while those sites have provided a steady stream of revenue, "it's a very competitive industry, and he may want to branch out."
A Harris spokesman, who asked that his name not be used, said the photographer "is not involved with pornography." He said, "Ron got into the Internet taking photographs that he shot for Playboy [television] that he owns, and he put up a few beautiful sites."
Harris' philosophy of building better babies is available free on the site: "This is Darwin's 'Natural Selection' at its very best. The highest bidder gets youth and beauty."
Others who know him from the erotic-photography business have a different view of Harris' intentions. "My immediate reaction was that it was a very clever scam designed to draw traffic to the site," said Humphry Knipe, webmaster for the site of erotic photographer Suze Randall. "I wish I'd thought of it. I would have grabbed myself a million hits."
The supposed auction site charges $24.95 a month for complete perusal - the same as the sex sites. But the other real currency of the World Wide Web is eyes. As with television, advertisers pay much of the freight for web sites, and rates are set by how many visitors a site attracts. By Monday night, more than 5 million had visited www.ronsangels.com, the Harris spokesman said. He did not know how many of those visitors had plugged in their credit cards to become members, but added that the memberships, which automatically rebill each month, "are not a revenue source for him. The revenue will come from ad banners."
Harris himself "had been up since 12:45 this morning opening up his house for the satellite trucks" broadcasting television interviews and was unavailable for comment, the spokesman said. And he has been too busy to field requests from 52 models who wanted their faces and eggs to be added to the site or from potential bidders or sperm donors who have asked to be included on the site. Federal law does not appear to prohibit the sale of ova and sperm.
The online dirty-picture market has become much tighter, said J. Stephen Hicks, another well-known photographer who sells his wares via the web. Crass marketers, he complains, are driving out the true artists like himself. "The only way to get traffic on an adult site," Hicks said, "is with a big media splash. ... It's exponentially more valuable than any other marketing tool right now to get mainstream media attention."
And Harris expertly parlayed his entrepreneurial gusto into widespread coverage, with major stories in The New York Times on Saturday and USA Today on Monday that took his offering at face value and quoted outraged reproductive ethicists. "It screams of unethical behavior," said Sean Tipton, spokesman for the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.
Harris' models say they are offering to undergo painful ova extractions for prices up to $150,000. The process remains rare among reproductive technologies, and when egg harvesting does occur, donors typically have been paid between $2,500 and $5,000 for their trouble.
But there is no evidence on the web site that the women pictured have any intention of selling their eggs. Harris is acting "more as a caretaker to the site. He will be the first one to say that this site is for very few individuals in the world," his spokesman said.
Instead, the site employs classic Internet come-ons: the sultry pose for free, with a promise of racier fare available to "members only."
In the case of ronsangels.com, those who pay $24.95 learn merely that one of the three models - labeled Model No. 99- is 26, 5-foot-7 (155 centimeters), 34D (86D) and wants an opening bid of $50,000. Her occupation, according to the site, is "mother, student, model, actress, married, daughter five [sic]," and her reasons for auctioning off the product of her ovaries are "I want to help others" and "I have healthy genes." There is no mention of IQ.
The Harris spokesman said the women have not been compensated or paid to be on the site. "They are not supermodels," he said. "They are aspiring models and actresses, and they know they are getting some exposure."