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Too Much Free Porn?

Too Much Free Porn?

November 5, 2001
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" "Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?" "

For nearly two years now, I have publicly decried the glut of free porn available on the Internet, and its adverse effect on industry revenues, as well as the easy vehicle it provides to minor's in search of those oh-so tasty "forbidden fruits." After much contemplation on the current state of the online adult entertainment business, as well as the most likely future scenarios, I stand before you today to tell you that I was wrong.

It has been a popular crusade, with many Industry pundits jumping on the bandwagon; all merrily singing the familiar refrain that sales are down because "there's too much free porn available." While I too have been more than happy to "preach to the choir" in this regard, I now believe that I have been doing you all a disservice. It's time that I told you the "truth" about the free porn issue — no matter how unpopular my "opinion" may be, or how many of you might become offended. But first, a little groundwork:

A Convenient Culprit
An excessive amount of readily available free porn provides an easy scapegoat for the growing problem of soft revenues. On its face value, it's quite simple to understand why an increasing number of savvy surfers are unwilling to pay for porn, when so much is free for the taking. But can the problem of declining revenues be solely blamed on the glut of free porn?

Many of the Webmasters I have spoken to claim that their revenues are off by as much as 50%, and this is year-to-date: a situation not fully attributable to perceived summer slow-downs, a dwindling economy, or the events of September 11th - although those factors do weigh heavily into the equation. The answer must be all that free porn! What else could it be?

There's an old saying: "Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?" and this viewpoint handily illustrates the basic problem at hand. The "old school" method of marketing online erotica where Webmasters would build free sites to attract prospects, and then make an effort to up-sell the surfer on a pay site membership, was extremely valid in its day, but that day has long since passed. Unfortunately, many Webmasters have failed to grasp the speed at which our industry is evolving, and have likewise failed to keep pace.

Not Just A Porn Problem
Framing this problem strictly in terms of the adult industry does not acknowledge that this is a 'Net wide issue affecting nearly every content provider. I use the term "content provider" not in its far more familiar context as "a company that makes photo sets and video feeds available to Webmasters," but in the broader context of "any site that disseminates online materials for public consumption."

One reason that so many mainstream "dot-coms" have gone "belly up" is because their business models which relied on providing free content as a magnet for traffic, with revenues derived almost exclusively from paid advertising placement, are no longer feasible. This common model reflects the experiences and skill sets of many of the principals, especially those coming from traditional media backgrounds, as well as relying on Madison Avenue's finest for advice.

With more and more surfers becoming "click shy," the old paid placement model has become unattractive to most advertisers, initiating the predictable result of a shift towards performance-based advertising - a shift that quickly tightened advertiser's purse strings, despite the best "benefits of branding" banter so frequently espoused by traditional media marketers. This shift dried up many content providers revenue streams to the point where bankruptcy was the only alternative, as these firms were simply not flexible enough to respond to changing market conditions in a timely manner.

A Pavlovian Ideal
A surfing public conditioned to endless amounts of free content, whether comprised of thumbnail photo galleries or stock recommendations, streaming video feeds or the daily news, is simply not going to be easily led into a whole new mindset that requires them to actually have to pay for their content.

Mainstream media outlets, including even the largest players in their respective industries, are all trying to find a workable solution. One of the most attractive models currently being evaluated involves providing the surfer with "dinner for free" - but then charging him for "dessert." In other words, offering a base core of services with an up-sell to more desirable, premium level offerings. This is different from the standard "adult" model of offering free galleries with a sponsor up-sell, since it is an "in-house" process, more akin to pay sites that market their own free "feeder" sites.

This brand-based approach makes a lot of sense, since it is so much easier to keep a customer than to find a new one, or to refer him to an unknown site (such as a sponsor). This is predicated on the belief that your visitor is at your site because he wants what YOU have to offer, and if he cannot satisfy his needs there, he may go elsewhere (and not necessarily to a for-pay provider) or he may even re-evaluate his needs entirely. So how then do you condition the surfer to change his expectations of finding porn for free on the Internet?

An Adult Approach
So how then do you condition the surfer to change his expectations of finding porn for free on the Internet? The adult industry is attempting to do this through the TGP2 initiative, among several other less publicized vehicles, as a means of restricting the widespread availability of free porn. Regardless of any Webmaster initiatives, however, no matter how "unified," well intentioned, or widespread they may be, the availability of free online porn will not be dramatically reduced, because these voluntary initiatives all fail to address the real problem.

Given the tremendous abundance of free porn currently extant, the number of Webmasters who will not voluntarily alter what they perceive as a "proven formula," those who will never hear about any of these initiatives, or will simply not care enough to take action, and dozens of other factors, I cannot believe that even the slightest dent will be made in the glut of free porn. While I applaud the concerted efforts of so many in this business who are trying to make a difference, the fact of the matter is that they are looking in the wrong direction.

The Real Problem
The glut of free porn is not the cause of dwindling profits: we are. The low barrier to entry and allure of instant wealth driven by media hype led many to enter this business seeking a quick buck, all the while forgetting that IT IS A BUSINESS! The product just happens to be porn! And just as being able to cook does not mean that you can successfully mange a restaurant, being able to whack your pud does not qualify you to build a successful, adult e-commerce operation.

Just as those mainstream companies we're unable to keep pace, so too are many Webmaster's unable to innovate and compete at the level required in today's market. This goes back to my previous article about the Need For Continuing Education. It's just too easy to rely on outdated articles, old techniques, and non-original thinking — and when you follow the herd off of a cliff, you end up at the bottom.

This isn't meant as criticism or scorn, but as a wakeup call. It's not free porn that needs to change; it's the stale marketing model that dictates "sending traffic to your sponsor's pay site is the key to profits" that needs to change. While you can still profit using this model, those profits are increasingly hard to obtain, and unless you can find a different solution, you will be part of the long anticipated "industry shakeup" — a shakeup that I maintain is already well underway, and I for one welcome the chance for those of us who take this business seriously to shed some dead wood.

If You Can't Beat 'em, Join 'em!
I will not recite a litany of alternatives business and marketing models for you today, but in the months ahead I will give you an intimate look "under the hood" at some of my current projects, and some of the innovative approaches that I will employ, as I now set out to build no less than "the largest collection of free porn on the planet!" Too much free porn? Only if you are unable to embrace change, innovate, and move forward.

Keep your eyes open, because it won't be in what I say, or how I actually say it, but if you can read between the lines, you will stand a much better chance of being in this business for many years to come. Think I'm full of shit? Then keep up with business as usual, and I'll see you in the funny papers!

I'm sure that this article will garner its fair share of controversy and criticism, but that's the nature of the beast. Regardless of what my critics will think, if I can help save just one company from bankruptcy, then I will have succeeded. Think about what you are doing, and how you're doing it. Then think again, and stay tuned — there's much more to come! Good Luck ~ Stephen


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