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Sex.com Evolves

Sex.com Evolves

June 4, 2008
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" Escom set a new record that still stands by paying a whopping $14 million for the Sex.com domain "

A lot of people in the industry have been wondering what the brain trust of Sex.com has been doing for the past six months. Towards the end of March, they got their answer when the mega-domain launched a new version of its website. While the launch was limited to North American beta users, following a model that Google successfully used with its Google Mail, those who have seen the site were struck as much by its implications as by its features.

"Right now, there's nothing that would be considered explicit on the front page of our site," reveals Del Anthony, president and CEO of Escom, LLC, the parent company of Sex.com. "Some people do not understand our approach, but we feel it is the right way to market ourselves. We don't want explicit content to be the one thing that jumps out at you. We are doing everything we can to keep that from happening. We are trying to create an environment where couples, and particularly women, can go to without being confronted with explicit material. We plan on having a lot of information for adults, by adults. There is more to adult-oriented content than just explicit material."

Anthony explains that the philosophy behind keeping explicit material off the free pages of the new site was the result of careful research and thought — work that produced a clear goal.

"We believe that Sex.com is a mainstream brand, and we intend to access that market," he says. "It's something that is a bit difficult for adult companies to go after, and we've tried to take all of the necessary steps to do that. In fact, we bought the domain for that specific purpose. You don't spend that amount of money to just run a typical adult membership site."

A couple of years ago, Escom set a new record that still stands by paying a whopping $14 million for the Sex.com domain, according to press reports. Anthony, who came onboard after the purchase, has been the driving force behind the focus on a new direction.

"Our goal has always been to penetrate mainstream," he says. "The Internet is huge, and explicit content has its fair share of the overall pie. But we are trying to branch out and go after the total market. There is no reason why a brand like Sex.com can't do that. We feel we have a strong enough brand that that can be pushed into the mainstream. We've had the publicity. We can access media outlets that are not traditionally available to adult. We've even had a book written about the domain's history. We firmly believe we can transition into the mainstream."

"We're looking to change the paradigm of how people view adult sites. For example, if you want to buy a vibrator, you can find them on drugstore.com. Since some adult-orientated products have already moved into these mainstream markets, our goal is to do that with our brand."

Anthony stresses that the goal of altering the mainstream conception of adult sites will not happen overnight, and that cultivating a long-term mindset is essential to success.

"It's not going to be quick," he says. "We will take the time to do it right and slowly build momentum. We've hired a PR firm to help us with the mainstream market. We intend to try things out and make sure they work. This is not something we're throwing against the wall and saying, 'Let's make a quick buck.' I have met a lot of people who think they can get rich quick in adult, to get in and get out quickly, but that's not what we're doing here. We believe we can integrate Sex.com into the mainstream marketplace, and we're willing to do what we need to do to get there. If it takes two years, so be it."

The main components of the new site will be its community and its store, according to Anthony. The store has been integrated into the community, and will offer channels for content producers and others.

"A user will be able to go to the site," Anthony explains, "and develop a profile, with all of the same functionality of similar community sites. Users will eventually be able to upload photos and videos, to blog and communicate back and forth in a variety of ways. We also built a store within this environment that will contain channels that offer products — both explicit and non-explicit — of our partners. We'll create profiles for them, as well as sell their goods and services within their own channels."

Another unique feature of Sex.com is the fact that its partners will come from both adult and mainstream.

"We're partnering with major adult companies, as well as non-adult-industry companies." Anthony says. "There are a lot of products out there that are adult oriented, but are not explicit. We'll eventually have a travel channel, for example. There are a ton of adult destinations around the world, travel destinations, and it's hard to find them. We'll also have our own video-on-demand system. We're signing up columnists, and the columns won't necessarily be adult industry-related. They will be writing about sex education, love horoscopes, travel and fashion. We'll even have someone who will tell you what's the best chocolate to buy your sweetheart on Valentine's Day — from within our online store, of course."

It's not surprising that Anthony has guided his company toward the mainstream, since that's where he spent 15 years in business development after earning an MBA from Pepperdine University. His introduction to the adult industry took place seven years ago, while he was working for a web development and hosting company that transitioned to adult content. He's taken what he's learned since then, and applied it to the new strategy of Sex.com with a clear objective in mind.

"Our long-term goal is to make a vibrant adult Web 2.0 community," he states. "We want to be the model for how explicit content gets accessed on the Internet. Our objective is to build an adult-oriented portal that is everything adult, rather than just having a banner farm or typical adult membership site. We want to be all things to adults, with the community, with the store, and with the channel partners we have. We will be signing up a lot of non-adult-industry channel partners, who will be providing content and products for us.

"If we do things right, we believe it will be the norm for women and couples to go to the site, feel comfortable putting up a profile, having a wallet, and feeling right about buying their next vacation or adult movie on Sex.com. After all, sex is still the No. 1 searched term on the Internet. We just want to be a good citizen in what we have to offer."

One of the strategies that Anthony stresses most in talking about the new site is his determination to aid and protect content producers. He doesn't like what he's seen happening to the studios lately, and he intends to reverse it.

"We feel that the people who develop content are losing control," he says, "and we want to try and give that control back to those content producers who have a channel on our site.

"Our site allows them to decide how their content is priced and displayed. It's hard to understand why content providers allow their content on sites where a user pays $15 a month for unlimited viewing and downloads. What type of long-term value is there for the content producer? If the market continues this way, how are content producers going to stay in business? When our channel partners put their content up for sale with us, it is totally up to them whether they want it sold by complete movie or by scene, and how much they want to price it at. It's important for us to support the content producers, and their talent, because they need the ability to maximize profit so they can continue making quality product."

Anthony stresses a patient approach in developing the new Sex.com, and cautions against expecting too much too soon. His conservative approach marked the preparations as well as the launch.

"We spent a lot of time over the last six months refining what we were doing with the site," he stresses. "It would have been very easy for us just to take the domain and throw in a lot of affiliate programs and banners, and make money off of it. But we did the research to decide what we wanted, who would be the right channel partners, and to really build the site up to something different from what's been done previously in the adult space."

Escom has provided ample manpower to support the venture, having opened a new office in Calabasas, Calif., which will employ as many as 12 workers, according to Anthony. In the not-too-distant future, there will be cause to add more help when Sex.com unveils a European version.

"We're building that now," Anthony reveals. "The content would be different, along with the way people interact with each other. Obviously, the wallet would be different, and the language on the site would be specific to each country."

But for now, Anthony carefully watches his experiment exclusively in North America. So far, he likes the results. Sex.com remains one of the top domains in the world, owing to its massive traffic. And those in the industry are starting to get what the new site could mean for them.

"Many in the industry expected to see a typical adult site," Anthony says. "But the people we've sat down with understand that we're moving in a new direction. And we are glad to have them onboard."


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