Riches in the Niches
In the beginning, there were bulletin board systems and then the adult web. Amateurs and established offline players reached out into the Internet to see who grabbed back. The very existence of pornography on the Internet was something startling. Demand for content increased the supply, as it did the myriad means for providing the content and making money from it.
Mike South, an Atlanta-based webmaster who runs the site SouthernBukkake.com as well as 22 other niche sites, got into the adult business in 1993 shooting video but gradually adapted almost his entire workload to the web. He cites the webmaster mantra "There's riches in niches" when discussing the paring-down process required to target porn consumers' wallets.
"I identified two niches before I got into the Internet," South told XBiz. "One was girls peeing on each other, the other was bukkake. I chose bukkake because at the time it was an under-exploited search engine term."
SouthernBukkake.com mostly features amateur actresses with Southern accents, a regionalism that South credits with attracting a certain customer. "I use some porn chicks," he said, "but Atlanta in particular is known for pretty girls, and for the most part they are who I am shooting."
South had taken a more scientific approach to finding his niche. He had searched the major engines and found a lack of content. That undiscovered country of income, combined with his own interest, coaxed him into opening Southern Bukkake in 2003. He ventures back into the world of video once a year, he said, but mainly to feed his sites.
He also said, business decision or not, that success with a niche requires an understanding and enthusiasm for it.
"Fans of amateur niches have definite things they like," South said.
"They don't want to see a girl in fake eyelashes and made up by a pro makeup artist. They don't want to see video that looks like it was shot by Michael Ninn."
The same intuitive leaps influence the choices of "Gag Factor" studio JM Productions, headed by Jeff Steward. Steward's "make porn for perverts" motto was nurtured with Legend Video before he left to form his own company. JM producer Tony Malice said that the company never made extreme content for extremity's sake; there always had to be a desire to see it.
"Of course it's a business decision," Malice said, "but the high volume of certain types of porn makes you jaded; you want to see something new."
Malice links the desire for extreme niche content to an over-saturation of what he calls "vanilla" content. "Sometimes the most extreme thing is what is actually exciting," he said.
From a commerce standpoint, especially when content providers are divorced from the process of being involved in the production of the niche material they're selling, niche creation can be accidental.
Charlotte, N.C.-based video-on-demand company AEBN regularly adds niches to its offerings based on little more than customer demand. Advertising director Bishop told XBiz that a few customer phone calls imply a much-larger craving for a particular product. "If surfers want it, we make it available. We don't necessarily understand what the thrill is, but if they are willing to pay for it, we will do our best to find more."
Bishop noted that his staff is always on the lookout for new things, and external demand has to take the place of personal instinct. "I would have never thought lots of niches would be popular," he said, referring to categories like Pedal Pumping — women in stockings pushing the accelerators of specific cars, like a 1973 Valiant. "Lactating, squirting, smothering, casting, enemas — it does it for some people."
Many themes that now have niches built around them started out as individual or accidental scenes in other movies, and "when we get enough content on a new topic, we add an entire category on our sites just targeting that content," Bishop said.
Across town in Charlotte, Porn2Go's John Harris compares a solitary customer's request with a termite infestation. "If one person asks for something," he said, "you know there's a much larger audience out there right now searching for it."
One of Porn2Go's niches is games. Having recently released a plugin that allows porn downloads to Sony's new PlayStation Portable, Harris admits that when his company started in 1999, he didn't perform demographic analysis.
"In the late 1990s you could put anything out," he said, "but then, as far as converting on webmaster traffic and gaining retentions went, we started listening to the people asking for games."
With Bishop and Harris, niche building involves the studied process of making mountains out of molehills. "Somebody came into the office with a PlayStation Portable one day," Harris said. "We thought, 'We should put porn on that.'"
Further, Bishop states that AEBN's belief is that exposing customers to certain niches cultivates the desire for more specialized fare. As a marketing tool, niche building can then become viral.
PPPCard, the "Porn Phone Card" company based in New York, relies on niche marketing to drive sales of its prepaid porn access card. "The card doesn't sell itself," PPPCard President Greg Moss said. "We need to build awareness and get the customer into the store to buy our card." The card is marketed on the company's own niche sites.
"Niche marketing is a prerequisite for us," Moss said. "We need to ensure that we connect with the customer and trigger their desires. Once that card is bought, we have a paying customer, then comes whatever got them there — MILF, gay, reality."
Everyone interviewed for this story mentioned a niche that surprised them, a category that they hadn't previously imagined could make someone money. Bishop talked about pedal pushers and amputees, Moss mentioned teen girls with MILFs, Malice marveled at lesbian bukkake and South wondered about feeders, in which a pudgy, not fat, woman is filmed ordering and consuming food until, over time, she gains a lot of weight. The drawn-out process helps with customer retention.
South said every feeder fan he's talked with pointed to Augustus Gloop's character in the movie "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" as an inspiration. "If you are going to do a niche site, you'd better understand that niche," he said. "If you don't, you're going to either learn the hard way or fail."