Building A Strong Foundation
Porn’s perennial appeal means that there is a never ending flow of entrepreneurs that enter the business seeking their slice of the pie — but knowing where to start isn’t always easy and many prospective operators lack a cohesive business plan, or the industry savvy needed to come up with one. This however, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give it a go; since taking a small bite and learning as you progress may mean the difference between success and failure in the long run.
Starting a profitable adult website can be quick and easy and doesn’t have to cost more than a few bucks for a relevant domain name, scalable cloud hosting, a free copy of WordPress, a good idea and some time to implement it — of course at this basic level, nearly any “good idea” you will come up with may be 10 years too late — but miracles can and do happen…
At this juncture, acquiring content and traffic are the biggest concerns you will face regardless of the type of website you choose to build.
Although in many cases the cost of adult content has dropped considerably over the past few years (impacted by economic doldrums, market saturation, piracy and surfer indifference as to what constitutes “quality,” which can squelch the need for HD videos), without content you have no product, and there remains a tangible cost associated with it, even when your business plan relies on “free” or “user submitted” material.
For example, if you start a blog, where will the content come from and what will you hope to sell? If a TGP/MGP/Tube or other site featuring user uploaded material how will you prevent stolen or otherwise illegal content from appearing on it?
Your content has to come from somewhere…
As a result, you must either buy content or have it given to you, such as through an often legally questionable tube site video upload process — or by a sponsor for affiliate promotional purposes — such as through a private “white label” or co-branded website.
White label websites are a very popular alternative, with cams, casual dating, and tube and video-on-demand sites all available in co-brand configurations that provide a fast and easy path to market, with a low barrier to entry — all that’s needed is a decent domain name, a little knowledge (and time to learn) and a reasonable budget for traffic.
Building your home on another man’s land is rarely ever a really good idea, however; with some sponsor’s fine print making it as likely for you to collect a payment as you are to be struck by lightning on your way to cash in that winning lottery ticket — which is sad when they have products that would be profitable to push for a true “25 percent of everything everyone spends on your site,” regardless of how many times that white label customer had visited (or been a customer of) the white label’s parent website or any other site’s in the sponsor’s portfolio, where a previous referral prevents you from getting paid.
While many prospective adult webmasters view white label sites as a traffic building opportunity to feed other properties in their network, relying on the white label’s “SEO” features to deliver profitable search engine traffic, recent moves by Google show that the company is serious about penalizing “thin affiliate and doorway pages,” with no amount of custom category headings able to obfuscate the fact that “your” white label website is essentially identical to many thousands of similar sites.
I’m not hating on white labels, it’s just that the common notion that you can build one in five minutes flat and immediately have a ton of search engine traffic fall from the sky to make you a boat load of sales (earning you a new Ferrari every week), is a pipe dream — and not a good approach to building a strong foundation.
But if traffic generation isn’t their strong suit and content is, can white labels be used as a profitable destination for traffic acquired from other venues — without relying upon any search engines as a traffic source — reversing the flow that many operators embrace?
The answer is “yes,” and while you do want to take every opportunity to optimize the white label for search engine marketing (SEM), a two-step site approach where, say, that cloud hosted WordPress blog is used to market the white label, which is on a sub domain, or associated domain, to carry across your branding, may be the best approach.
For example, a video-on-demand white label could be part of a blog of video reviews, where social media can be leveraged by allowing website visitors to comment and vote — with the blog using free clips and screencaps from the white label as its main content.
This is also an easy avenue for testing white label sales against straight affiliate sales. For example, a blog feeding a white label dating site could readily make use of A/B split testing to send half of its traffic to the white label and the other half to the parent website, to see which one the sponsor is really paying more on. The same process works for cam, tube and other white label sites.
Once you know which of a sponsor’s offers earns you the most, split test that sponsor against other sponsors until you find the winning combination. All this testing takes a lot of traffic, but there’s a better chance of generating traffic through your blog than through a white label site, and you also have to measure its profitability, making testing essential.
It sounds complicated and there’s a lot to it, but in practice, the day-to-day operation of such a setup is simple (and even mundane) and makes a great starting point for those who are just entering the business — or those seeking a new approach. Of course, many other options exist for starting an adult website in 2013 and your budget and skills should guide you along the right path to profits — but for getting the biggest bang for your buck, a WordPress integrated white label website is a tough combination to beat for porn today.
AEVC II Exceeds Expectations
I was honored once again this year to deliver the welcoming address at the second annual Adult Entertainment Virtual Convention (AEVC), where I took time to discuss the need for excellence and innovation; how technological change drives opportunity for entrepreneurs; and how the extremely diversified nature of adult entertainment fuels an industry with no end in sight.
XBIZ recognizes excellence and innovation in adult entertainment, with AEVC and its parent Red Light Center exemplifying this commitment to quality by delivering a sexy and technologically sophisticated experience, which provides a platform adult developers can build upon.
AEVC and Red Light Center are at the crossroads of sex and technology today, attracting consumers and producers to its virtual world. No mere novelty, this environment showcases a vision of the future, as well as provides a new communications medium for the present. Interactivity and social media are keys to online success in 2013, and Red Light Center is an often overlooked example of the confluence of computing and carnality that has widespread implications.
There is something for everyone here and an environment where lone performers, smaller mom-and-pop players and other operators can still compete — there’s not a lot of pressure from tube sites and Google algorithm changes because the virtual world is its own walled garden that provides a closed but permeable ecosystem, where links to the outside web allow Red Light Center-based marketing to extend out to the real world — although that may not even be necessary, as there is a vigorous economy developing in this realm that is centered around offering products and services to other participants.
It is an example of how technological revolutions drive entrepreneurs to enter emerging markets, bringing new blood that combines creativity with new ideas, energy and optimism.
I emphasized these points by relaying details of my personal journey in this regard; such as how when as a young man in 1986, flying erase head technology revolutionized the video market — opening the door to my first production company and allowing me to profit from what I could demonstrate as a visibly superior product, simply by embracing something new — or at least new to my market level.
My initial competitive advantage was based on this new technology alone, however; and as that advantage disappeared due to product maturation, my skill and style became the primary differentiators between me and my competitors.
A similar pattern played out when Hi-Definition (HD) video hit the marketplace, but the lessons remained the same: excellence and innovation work together hand-in-hand.
Fast forward to 1993: I’m living in the Virgin Islands, feeling isolated, but hearing about this new Internet thing, which sounded like a great way to market my landscape photography and production services, via “billboards on the Information superhighway.”
I once again recognized that a watershed technological change was underway and once again I wanted to be a part of it. There was a new opportunity and I could smell it — and I understood the value of being an early adopter.
I began developing web pages using DOSEDIT from the command line, with a big keyboard in one hand and the HTML1 reference book in the other. There was no mouse or stylus — this was before Microsoft Windows and just as JPEG images where arriving.
While we take the Internet for granted today and indeed rely upon it to facilitate our day-to-day existence, 20 years ago it was a different story, and a technology that many dismissed as a fad, or scorned as being too clumsy to be worthwhile.
It seems odd today, but back then, I literally went door to door to the big name resorts that I was a photographer for, as well as the main street jewelry shops, condo rentals and attraction operators, such as sailing charters and the like, trying to explain what “e-mail” and “the web” is — and how it would profoundly impact the way they do business. Like a missionary at their front door evangelizing some intangible concept, I was greeted with much disbelief, accompanied by the polite (and not so polite) closing of those doors with a “no thank you, it’ll never work.”
Just because you might recognize the value of a new technology, it doesn’t mean that others will see that same value — yet. I’ll also note that way back then, commerce was not something you did on the Internet, due to the academic culture that controlled it — my first web pages were greeted with threats, hacks and denial of service attacks because “the Internet is for education, not for selling things.” That’s real hard to understand today, when the Internet is all about selling things.
I’ll also draw a parallel to this situation and to that of today, where some naysayers, including folks who have not actually experienced the event, criticize AEVC’s concept and execution. If you haven’t been to Red Light Center lately, or attended AEVC, then you simply do not know what you are talking about, or what you are missing.
This isn’t SecondLife, or a video game, or like something else you have done before. It is a virtual world representing a technological evolution that creates opportunities for a wide range of entrepreneurs seeking a spot on the ground floor of this expanding realm.
Whether you are a porn fan or a functionary, there’s a place for you here — and that is a source of excitement that provides the impetus for commerce and communications, bringing people together, to enrich them in many ways.
How many ways? How many ways are there to get off?
Red Light Center takes social media into the bedroom by providing a level of sexiness that is unheard of on more mainstream platforms and that reflects the diversity of modern sexuality — which takes many forms, shapes and sizes. And unlike the early Internet, at RLC, marketing is more than welcomed, it is encouraged.
While I spend most of my time working on XBIZ World magazine, with its focus on digital media and technology, I also like to read through sister publication XBIZ Premiere which focuses on the video and novelty market segments; providing a glimpse at a whole other “adult entertainment industry” — a novel notion but one that makes sense when one considers the diverse tastes of the global audience. Glancing through the magazine’s pages it is hard to deny the size, scope and universal appeal of erotica and adult pleasure products and services. It also inspires me to see what other industry operators (and fans) are up to, and find either sexually appealing or profitable (or both).
Some folks like to watch adult videos, some want to watch live cams online, others want to play with a dildo or go to a strip club. Others still, will want to chat and have virtual sex at RLC, and some want a bit of all the above — it’s all about different strokes for different folks — and the differences in how that is expressed at RLC are not only entertaining — but can provide inspiration and revenues across market segments.
It is a huge lesson, especially if your idea of “working in porn” centers around, say, promoting paysites or cams, with a daily process that is orchestrated to a strict formula.
You many never notice the stratification within the marketplace, while you drone on and on in your little hamster wheel, doing the same thing for a decade or more; but it is now time to look up, and to look around — and that is a big AEVC takeaway.
The event is also a huge networking opportunity and I had the chance to meet a lot of new people, across many market segments — providing exposure to different ideas and operational concerns.
For example, I chatted with veteran transgender performer Elle St. Claire, a sweet lady who made some insightful comments in the live chat running during the seminars — asking a range of thoughtful questions that illustrated the interactive potential and ease of use of this virtual convention platform.
Elle enjoyed this year’s event but lamented the lack of a transgender category for the AEVC Awards, which offers awards for the year’s Best Working Girl and Working Guy — as well as for Transsexual Site of the Year — but that’s a different product, not a comparable category.
“I don’t want special treatment, I want equal treatment,” she told me, which set me to focusing on a theme of comprehensive inclusion — there’s a place for everyone in adult, and I viewed this gathering through that lens of equality, inclusion and open-mindedness.
AEVC is not your typical industry event composed of program owners, affiliates, billers, web hosts and other service providers — but is far more varied in its attendance, reflecting a much broader vision of “adult entertainment” than the typical tunnel vision that many adult industry entities suffer from, and operate in today.
Inclusion is all over the place at AEVC, as my avatar discovered while being hugged by a naked guy who really likes bacon. Of course, the less daring avatars could have their virtual photo taken alongside their favorite CCBill rep, and like last year, “Baddog” was wandering the show floor taking pictures of attendees — just like in real life.
Colin Rowntree and Diane Duke, Greg Piccionelli and Brian Shuster, Quentin Boyer, Alec Helmy and other adult industry mainstays, contributed to the virtual edition of what Rowntree called “our travelling road show” — providing the interpersonal familiarity and experienced presenters found in real world industry events.
But this isn’t a real world event or for that matter an entirely virtual one; it’s a hybrid of the two that combines audio, video and visual elements into the meeting space, at as deep a level of interaction as the participant’s creativity, imagination (and budget) allows — and it’s an environment (and opportunity) that must be experienced to be understood.
AEVC runs until Saturday evening, Feb. 23, so you still have time to get in on the action and see what the buzz is about. Perhaps you’ll become a believer too.
XBIZ 360° Drives Adult Industry Consolidation
The adult entertainment industry’s top movers and shakers recently gathered together in Hollywood for the groundbreaking XBIZ 360° super-show, which cleverly combined six consecutive events that each targeted a specific adult entertainment industry segment. Adult digital media, movies, retail operations and pleasure products were represented in a comprehensive showcase of the tactics and technologies needed to drive success in 2013 — providing a previously unheard of level of cross-segment networking.
Presented by CECash and CitySexCash, XBIZ 360° offered something for everyone in the industry, with this author focused on the Digital Media Conference, which was sponsored by AWE, Epoch, EroAdvertising, FN Cash, GTBill, Adam & Eve Cash, Affil4You, DatingGold, Mobidea, MojoHost, Video Secrets, Netbilling and PussyCash.
This event brought adult business owners and operators to the luxurious Sofitel Hotel, where they engaged in opportunities for learning and exchanging ideas; forging deals that reflect today’s changing realities, while setting a new standard for adult industry events — if anyone needed evidence of the growing crossover between adult market segments and the convergence of business models, there was plenty to be found at XBIZ 360°.
While there were a variety of new faces and companies to be seen at the show, in part due to the inclusion of other adult industry segments and in part due to a surge in casual dating site and other niche market operators, it was the reassuring presence of the veteran adult players that signals the continued success of many mainstay brands.
These survivors of what have been the industry’s most trying times in recent years, constitute a group of determined professionals with immense experience and talent that will carry them forward. The attitude I perceived was that the worst is over and revenues are climbing for small and mid-tier players — even as the corporate steamrollers continue their unstoppable quest for market domination.
The Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) and industry trade organization Free Speech Coalition (FSC) scored big at the 11th Annual XBIZ Awards. Hosted by adult superstar Tera Patrick, this star-studded extravaganza was presented by Fleshlight and is the industry’s biggest and best red-carpet awards show.
At this year’s event, dressed-to-impress industry leaders participated in an XBIZ-hosted fundraiser, collecting more than $81,000 to be split between these two groups. Because these organization’s interests dovetail with those of digital media publishers, supporting them financially makes sense for many companies and enables their continued operation, which depends entirely upon the generous, continued contributions of sponsors and members, along with public donations and backing by mainstream stakeholders.
In other words, without your help, these groups are unable to help you.
The event saw many meetings of minds and the free-spirited mingling of thoughts that spurs creativity and fuels a desire to remain in the game, because there’s no business like the porn business.
From the latest developments to whispers of things to come, including new site and program launches, as well as ongoing, incremental improvements in existing products, XBIZ 360° was alive with hope and optimism for the future.
On a personal note, I was able to spend some quality time at the show with old and new friends; including ASACP’s Tim Henning, as well as folks such as Mike Ackerman from ActuallyHelping, Jesse from HotMovies.com, 2Much.net’s Mark Prince, AJ Hall of Elevated X, Michael of QWEBEC Expo, Alex from AdultCentro, Chris from MiKandi and many others.
Message board posts and XBIZ.net social interactions can’t replace the high level of sharing and thoughtful discourse that our executive environment (and playtime) fosters.
Thanks to Brad Mitchell from MojoHost for the bus ride to the XBIZ Awards (even though Netbilling’s Mitch Farber held us up with a return trip to the hotel *wink*); and a big thanks to OrbitalPay’s Steve Bryson for the limo ride back — he and his lovely wife, accompanied by \the queen of online billing, Karen Campbell, would have had a much more comfortable ride without our motley crew barging in… Steve’s a great guy with a commitment to service, which is exhibited in his feeding of the poor through food drives — as well as feeding Friday’s brunch-time attendees at XBIZ 360°— thanks again Steve!
Thanks also to marketing maven Brad Gosse for his daring exposé of some of the business’ biggest brands — and worst user experiences. He provided an extremely potent presentation that left many attendees shaking their heads in disbelief, never understanding before how poorly thought out and executed some of the biggest sites are, or what typical customers may have to endure.
Tube sites, piracy, the economy and other external issues do not harm paysite sales as much as stalled billing forms, credit card declines, backend errors, thoughtless messages and other usability problems — including an average six clicks to get to content, versus the one click access offered by many tube sites — and the lessons from Gosse’s seminar alone provided enough value to justify anyone’s attendance at the XBIZ 360° event.
The days of making money in adult despite your own incompetence are well over and there were some site representatives in the audience that slinked out the door after Brad’s insightful revelations about their join process and members areas. Clearly there is much work to be done if this industry is to have a future for more than just a handful of super-professional organizations.
These are a few examples of how this year’s XBIZ 360° Digital Media Conference set the stage for the industry’s steady resurgence in 2013 — where long-term business plans are fueling the next generation of adult entertainment success stories.
Whether it was a tip gained from one of the event’s exclusive selection of informative seminars featuring leading experts that reveal secrets for keeping you on the cutting edge of adult digital merchandising today, or strategizing with their peers, attendees I talked to found XBIZ 360° to be the industry source for the best in adult entertainment business information, networking and deal making — a trend which we all hope will continue into the future. I’ll see you at the next show…
The Next Four Years
It was Election Day in America, November 6th, 2012 — an historic date that will determine the course of the next four years and beyond. I did my part by voting and then watched the live action unfold on television, joining countless observers around the world, all eagerly waiting to see which candidate would prevail.
According to most pollsters, the ad-weary electorate seemed evenly split right up until the moment, making “who showed up at the polls” a critical factor that could swing the popular vote one way or another — pushing either hopeful over the top to victory.
The two candidates, sitting President Barack Obama, a liberal Democrat with a progressive vision of society; and his opponent, former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican business leader with strict conservative values, are facing off over an agenda that pits two distinct ideologies against each other in a battle of philosophical, pragmatic and practical approaches towards solving the same problems of the day.
The former needs four more years to solidify his initiatives, while the latter claims that the country cannot afford to continue down its current path and wishes to turn back the hands of time. Both candidates are essentially two sides of the same coin however, as government’s day to day functions remain largely unchanged regardless of whose portrait is hanging on a bureaucrat’s office wall.
While there is no lack of industry speculation about a given politician’s motives, much of it over simplifies the equation to “a vote for a Democrat is a vote for porn,” but no serious political party is going to come out as being friendly to adult entertainment.
The Republican platform was, however, recently updated to include a call for increased porn prosecutions…
By the end of the day, it became clear that the President had his lease renewed on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for another four years — a result that doubtlessly raised a collective sigh of relief for the adult entertainment industry — which feared finding itself under the cross-hairs in the wake of a Republican victory.
News of the Obama win spread quickly, with Twitter reporting a massive traffic spike to 327,000 politically-related tweets per minute at around 11 p.m., when word of the re-election began spreading. Another interesting social media statistic reveals that Obama’s team out-tweeted the Romney campaign by 8-to-1 — illustrating the latter’s lackluster engagement with a significant number of voters and fostering the notion that the Republican Party is made up of old, out-of-touch white guys that just don’t get it…
It was a very close race, with the electoral count balanced throughout much of the evening, while the popular vote often favored Romney. In the end, the Electoral College handed the win to Obama — but it was by no means an overwhelming landslide.
The evenness of the race means that no candidate could claim a clear mandate, especially when it comes to social issues, such as freedom of speech — and your ability as an adult to enjoy “adult entertainment.” In other words, the more things change, the more they remain the same: so keep your head down, do the right thing, and you should be OK for the foreseeable future.
It is hoped that the President will find better uses for federal resources than to engage in a campaign to “clean up” a perceived moral turpitude that a vocal minority of zealots seeks to impose its Puritanical will over. It is not the role of government, but that of the free market, to regulate such matters — and this notion may have influenced a portion of the electorate in its vote.
Even if you are not an American, if you are involved in the adult entertainment industry, you have an interest in how U.S. administrational changes impact the business.
Although much has been made about factors such as beefed-up enforcement of the 18 USC ‘2257 recordkeeping requirements or bolstered intellectual property laws, issues including evolving banking regulations could also arise as a result of the election.
For example, many merchants have faced increased scrutiny over the past few years when dealing with financial institutions, such as having to provide proof of identity documents as part of a process called “Know Your Customer” (KYC). Touted as being an anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist tool, this darling of the Obama administration is used for tracking your money around the world for the purposes of tax collection.
There are few safe havens from KYC, its cousins and descendents, and it is likely this federal cash cow will continue, adding complexity to many company’s tax strategies, wherever their offices are located.
Beyond the national elections, Los Angeles County voters passed “Measure B” — a move that has a significant impact on the adult entertainment industry, as it requires performers to use protective gear against blood-borne pathogens, a.k.a. condoms in porn.
The specter of bio hazard suit clad porn performers may be a new niche, but it’s safe to say that is one that has limited consumer appeal and forms an untenable situation for producers. If left to stand, the law could cause an exodus of adult production houses to another region.
This will provide employment for attorneys and moving companies, but that isn’t necessarily the type of job creation that Americans were hoping for in the next four years.
They say that time is the one thing that everyone wants more of, but no one can buy. Although hiring employees or outsourcing tasks can help you make better use of the time you do have, you simply can’t buy any more; and trying to squeeze more from your time can leave you wrung out like an old dish cloth…
I once had a client, a jeweler in a highly competitive market, who worked from early in the morning, to late at night, every single day. He was older and he likely should have been retired by then, but was still at it. I asked him why he worked so hard when he could have let others carry the load.
“I am the engine that drives my company,” he replied, providing a perspective which has guided my own work ethic in the two intervening decades since that encounter; but this stalwart jeweler spent a lot of his day performing tasks others could have done better, and had he been able to “let go,” he would have enjoyed his life more than he did.
Working for yourself requires a different mindset than working for someone else; with self-motivation and time management key factors to your success. You can’t just sit around waiting to be told what to do next — you have to know what is required and do it. This takes self-discipline and sacrifice — which are two commodities that are not usually associated with today’s youth.
When you’re a solo operator or a key player in a small shop, the hours spent working add up quickly. When you are young and the ground is rich, those long hours seemingly melt away. For example, the first wave of “Gold Rush” placer miners labored tirelessly, partly because their diggings were so profitable — picking up chunks of gold just lying there on the ground — stopping seemed stupid: get it while you can, or the next guy will!
Likewise, the early days of the adult Internet rained cash on those willing to put in the time required to profit from porn-seeking punters — with the more hours you worked the more money you made.
These days, that is not always the case.
While gold can still be recovered in previously worked placers, just as porn profits remain both on- and offline, the time, money and energy invested in the pursuit can leave the holdout solo or smaller operator to determine that “this just isn’t worth it anymore.”
While more money and energy (staff) can be applied to the problem, time is the issue; and taking a temporal tack when analyzing your productivity can be most illuminating.
For instance, a recent discussion about “where does the time go?” led me to analyze the small handful of current, pending and potential projects on my plate — comparing the total amount of time and money spent on each project, with the profit it actually delivers.
Sadly, some of the projects I spend the most time and money on actually make the least money. It’s not that they are “bad” projects, but perhaps now past their shelf life — or are in need of so much attention that they would exclude everything else on my plate — with no clear promise of profitability for 2013 and beyond.
For example, post-Penguin, a site that once relied exclusively on Google for its traffic now sees literally zero visitors from the search giant. The amount of my time and money, let alone the energy that it would take to revitalize this site and boost its traffic, could be ultimately wasted, however, given the realities of the current marketplace.
It’s another nail in the coffin of the lone Webmaster, but not necessarily a fatal one.
Growing bigger is one option. Spend the money to use someone else’s time to help leverage your own by doing necessary tasks that fall outside of your primary skill set — and hope the return justifies the investment.
Abandoning the past is another, final option.
Like a banana that has gone too brown to eat, some once-tasty projects simply need to be tossed on to the compost heap of history. The fact that things change does not have to equate to “failure.” It’s just a matter of adapting to evolving circumstances rather than blindly following past practices: like a caged hamster racing along in his little wheel — expending boundless energy, but getting nowhere.
Making tough choices is even tougher when you realize a project is still valid but that you will either never get to it — or that you may not be the one who can make it succeed. Watching the number of domain portfolios going up for grabs, it’s clear that this process is reaching into even the largest of companies.
The Manwin machine, among others, might be able to squeeze gold bars out of these projects, but for one guy, it’s just too much work for too little reward and an irreplaceable waste of time — no matter how “cool” a domain name sounded when you bought it.
The best you can do today is literally “what you do best.”
By focusing on your core competencies and basic values, you could get better results, even if you are no longer doing what you expected to be doing. For example, I’m certain that readers who have labored through my clumsier concoctions believe I would benefit more from extra writing classes than from studying the latest jQuery usage techniques — and coding not being my core competency, I tend to agree.
It’s not just “adapt or die” it’s also “streamline and prosper,” with those who are able to closely focus on their core competencies and values positioned for a better tomorrow.
The Will to Succeed
At the time of this writing, I am sitting in a hotel room down in the city, awaiting the return of an old pal that has been away for a few years now. In a short couple of hours, his long mission will be over, and his friends and family will meet him at the airport to welcome him home.
He had taken on a task that took him far from loved ones and thrust him into unfamiliar territory, surrounded by strangers and separated by barriers of culture, language, religion and more. Despite this, however, he persevered — overcoming these obstacles and successfully accomplishing his goals through commitment, dedication and the overriding will to succeed.
By all reports, it was a job well done and reflected a work ethic that leads to prosperity in any field.
On the adult entertainment front, experienced, successful operators will know all too well this cost of commitment and the necessity to push forward when it seems that everything is crashing around you. This includes the physical and mental exhaustion that saps creativity and the emotional isolation caused by endless hours spent on the job, in front of the computer, rather than living a healthier lifestyle.
The payoff can be substantial, however — with freedom, fun and financial rewards to those who can remain hungry and continue to focus on building erotic empires in the process.
Building vast empires is not for everyone, however.
While some folks thrive on being king, others are content to be rich, and may decide that it is time to scale back their personal involvement in their company’s day-to-day operations; preferring to cash out rather than to carry on. There is also no shortage of other players wanting to be involved or to get bigger than they already are by gulping down the competition, providing the cash for your retirement.
Whether it is a management metamorphosis or a round of mergers and acquisitions, companies within the adult space are striving to secure their future — and in some cases, making moves intended to obfuscate the company’s true ownership or country of origin. This last measure is an attempt to protect their assets on a legally challenging playing field, while fueling the next stages of their growth.
Growth, or the positive expansion of profits, can take many forms, however.
Some companies are streamlining their operations rather than expanding them; running a tighter, more nimble ship, as opposed to a larger, slower vessel. This trend is in evidence in website closures and subsequent re-launches; combo and discounted membership offers; and domain name portfolio sell-offs by even the largest of companies — along with a wave of new and innovative products and services that are designed to take advantage of today’s changing marketplace realities and generously funded by the realignments of outdated business units.
For these perceptive operators, going sideways may be the best way to move forward. All it takes is a clear understanding of the diverse needs of your company, in context of its fast-changing operations, and prevailing market factors — and the will to succeed at all costs.
The Rehabilitation of Character
As the corporatization of adult continues, some forward-looking operators are seeking to craft, refine and redefine their image; moving beyond past, perhaps “shady” practices, in an effort to withstand the scrutiny of banks, boards and boardrooms.
In today’s interactive, online and socially networked world, your actions, images and words are shared and spread far and wide at the click of a button — which could at times result in long-lasting, unexpected and unwanted repercussions for your reputation.
Indeed, there are a wide variety of online reputation management firms operating on the Internet today, ready and able to help restore your credibility; with top service plans starting at $15,000 per year — a modest investment for someone seeking a new life.
“No one asks people for job references or background information anymore, they ask Google,” states Reputation.com. “And if your name turns up news reports, legal filings, embarrassing party photos, or other questionable material, you’re likely to get passed over.”
But there is hope, even if you’ve been naughty.
The company explains that search engines have taught people to find what they want in the first three search results more than 75 percent of the time — and more importantly, 84 percent of users don’t look beyond the first page of search results — so items bumped to the second page (or lower), are “for all intents and purposes, rendered invisible.”
While the technique will not prevent a determined searcher from digging up any dirt that might be out there, burying unfavorable mentions under more positive ones is maybe all that can be done to mitigate harmful items that the posting site is unwilling to delete…
Bothering with reputation management is important, because other people will bother to search for your past. In fact, Reputation.com cites a Harris Interactive poll that reveals nearly 80 percent of U.S. adults “believe it is very important to look up information about people ... online before [interacting] with them.”
The issue doesn’t just impact people, but companies, too — as the recent heavy run of television commercials for AngiesList.com, which offers ratings and reviews across more than 550 home repair and health care categories, underscores.
Other community forums and industry message boards provide similar functions, with discussions over a company or individual’s trustworthiness; such as the increasingly frequent “does this sponsor pay?” conversations seen on adult industry oriented venues.
When managing your reputation, major considerations include what that reputation is intended to be and how effectively that perception been communicated to your customers and others. This is where a corporate mission statement can prove invaluable, as it clearly outlines the scope and philosophy of a business and what it hopes its reputation will be.
For example, MetArt recently made a public announcement of its mission statement, outlining the company’s commitment to consumers, models and the industry as a whole. The corporate missive centers on the belief that quality, honesty, innovation and social involvement are fundamental core values. Customer satisfaction and privacy, along with a commitment to provide only the very best content, is also part of the MetArt plan, which supports women’s causes, equal rights and fair trade.
“The MetArt Philosophy is our way to expressing how seriously we are dedicated to quality content, top of the line customer care, and our family of staff who contribute so much to make MetArt the very best in erotic art,” MetArt VP of Marketing, Jill Taylor, stated in a release. “Our models and photographers are not just a ‘resource’ or ‘the talent’ — they are partners and family, the face of our company.”
The MetArt Philosophy is a good read, illustrating the type of character exhibited by today’s most successful adult entertainment companies.
It is an example many should follow.
The Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) is another group that has been excellent about promoting its mission of keeping children out of and away from adult entertainment — setting the stage for an easy understanding of its purpose.
This is the essential element of corporate reputation management: defining the reason for a company’s existence and ensuring that this perception holds sway; despite efforts by disgruntled customers, ex-employees and other haters — or your personal stupidity — getting in the way.
Building Bridges Key to Moving Forward
One of the most valuable aspects of attending industry events today is the interpersonal networking opportunities that present themselves — allowing participants to create (or repair damaged) business relationships that benefit themselves, along with the industry as a whole.
While we all want to make new contacts, and understand the value of expanding our customer base, it is the latter case that I want to focus on; where the bonds of business may be strained to the breaking point, due to past grievances or present practices, whether justified or not…
It should come as no surprise, given the constant complaints of no-payments, “shaving” and general scumbag behavior that floats across the industry’s message boards, that not everyone in this business is “playing nice” with their peers. Sometimes, the perceived affront happened years ago; at other times, it is a more recent tarnishing of relationships that slows profits and potential, regardless of the grudge.
Whether it is an individual, an agency or a corporate entity, one group can easily create enemies out of the people that should be its friends. Sometimes this is inadvertent; sometimes the result of criminal deception, fraud or rampant egos; and sometimes, it is simply a situation that has blown out of control.
A case in point is the ongoing saga of “Senior vs. Junior,” played out in prime time over the past decade on The Discovery Channel and its perennially popular “American Chopper” television series.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it documents the timeless father and son struggle between Orange County Choppers’ aging iron king and his egomaniac offspring, as they seek ways to work with and respect each other.
According to the show’s website, “For the Teutuls, what was once a family business is now a family feud, and all bets are off for what new fireworks await in American Chopper: Senior vs. Junior. The series captures the renewed rivalry as Paul Sr. continues to build world-famous custom bikes at OCC, while Junior opens up Paul Jr. Designs.”
Briefly, the old man owns the company and has been building bikes forever. He has the skill and the capital to do so, but lacks his son’s talent at designing for today’s audience. The kid can build attractive, trend-setting bikes, but was wrong when he thought he could do it all on his own — his ego has cost him nearly everything, as he set up his own shop, which simply does not have the traction of the parent firm.
Both parties and their companies have suffered, perhaps irreparably, as their industry continues to change and the market for $100,000+ custom motorcycles evaporates — the last apples rotting on the tree as the pair expends their energies and cash reserves on in-fighting and legal wrangling, rather than on innovation and marketing.
However, the duo is attempting to make amends, perhaps as much out of necessity as out of desire.
This corporate and personal feud echoes throughout the adult entertainment industry, where companies that really could benefit from working together needlessly waste their resources on disputes ranging from back-room deals gone awry, to personnel problems, potentially purloined databases, and soured acquisition deals.
Consider also the transience of corporate animosity in an industry as intimate as online adult, where yesterday’s partners are today’s plaintiffs — and tomorrow’s target of renewed business relationships. Sure, it may not always work this way, but the bigger issues facing the industry may be bigger than the often relatively petty differences that separate some otherwise compatible players from one another.
In many cases, the incidents sparking separation may be forgotten or no longer relevant.
I will point to a moment at the recent XBIZ Miami Summit where a seminar attendee brought up the subject of .XXX — a former lightning rod of controversy that seemed all but forgotten at this event. Here, the virtual sound of crickets chirping lonely in the distance was the only response, as no one in the audience admitted to the purchase of .XXX domain names. It seems that this once contentious issue has passed into history and piracy has once again become the main target of adult industry angst.
If today’s friend is tomorrow’s enemy and yesterday’s enemy, today’s partner, does that mean that grudges should never be held and all should be forgiven? In many instances, “yes,” since the maturation of our industry is tied to the maturation of its operatives — many of whom began this adventure in their late teens or early twenties, a time of imprudence and impatience in most people’s lives, where actions that once seemed wise are now regrettable.
Recidivism is a bitch, however, reminding me of the line from the Canadian comedy television series, Trailer Park Boys, which proclaimed, “A shit leopard can’t change its spots” — or if you prefer a different saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
In those cases where outright criminal activity, rather than a mere bruising of egos, is the cause of separation, perhaps forgiveness should not be on the menu. However, in cases where common ground can be found, now might be a good time to bury the hatchet — smoothing over differences and finding a way to move forward to the benefit of all involved. This business is simply too tough these days to let personal or interpersonal problems add to your burdens, making the building and repairing of bridges more preferable to burning them.
Success Breeds Success
No strangers to controversy, XBIZ events have always featured a wide variety of informative and thought provoking speakers that provide viewpoints that could be considered “beyond the norm” for much of the adult entertainment industry.
From the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the Federal Trade Commission; from lighting rods of controversy such as ICM’s Stuart Lawley, to zealous guardians of free speech rights, such as Hustler mogul Larry Flynt; to outspoken observers such as veteran producers Colin Rowntree and Mike South — a wide range of opinions are available to XBIZ event attendees.
XBIZ does not just tell you what you want to hear, it tells you what you need to hear…
While there is no shortage of “preaching to the choir” at our or any other industry events, the highly dynamic range of learning opportunities that XBIZ presents may sometimes be met with resistance by those who avoid change in a vain attempt to preserve the past.
The recent XBIZ Summit in Miami was no exception.
A case in point is a pair of presentations conducted by perhaps the two largest players in the online adult entertainment space today: Adult Webmaster Empire (AWE) and Manwin — both of which endure a level of controversy proportionate to their levels of success.
In the case of AWE, Douglas and Marcus detailed how performers and adult website operators could profit from the company’s advanced white label webcam system, while hecklers in the audience tried to disrupt portions of their presentation with criticisms of the company’s aggressive marketing techniques.
Likewise, Manwin rep Chris Smith laid out an impressive, systematic tutorial on how adult content producers can monetize their wares through PornHub and its Content Partner Program. As some of you may imagine, not everyone in the audience was receptive to his message — blaming the speaker and his company for the death of the old-school adult Internet through its perceived support of content piracy — an attitude often based upon a misunderstanding of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and its regulation of user-generated content (UGC) websites.
Claims of rampant bastardry aside, anyone paying attention to these two sessions walked away with everything they needed to know about how to make money on the adult Internet in 2012 and beyond — and isn’t that the point of attending moneymaking business seminars?
Even if you do not like the message or the messenger, the information could boost your bottom line.
I am not callous or unsympathetic to the dramatic changes that have occurred within our industry, but the reality is that the industry HAS changed — it is now up to each of you to change with it, or find something else to do. Unfortunately, some in the latter category will do nothing more than complain, resorting to hand wringing and board bitching in lieu of growing their skill sets and knowledge base.
For me, online adult has always represented opportunity. Sure, there have been major sea changes that affected the profits of established players along the way, such as the move from print magazines to videos, to the Internet and beyond — and now perhaps the biggest challenge — the move from paid to free access (a move currently being echoed across all digital media types); but the opportunities remain.
I will offer an analogy from the past to provide insight into the situation today: Consider the plight of horse-drawn carriage makers faced with the growing adoption of automobiles.
Do you think they would have welcomed Henry Ford to their annual buggy producer’s symposium, even if he wanted to discuss how mass-production techniques and integrated assembly lines could make them more money? They would have booed him off the stage; but the Ford Motor Company is still here, and the coach makers nearly extinct.
Have business owners become smarter over the intervening years?
Certainly some have, but just as certainly, some coach makers spent their remaining days lamenting the loss of their businesses — rather than adapting to the relentless march of progress — advancements that enjoyed overwhelming consumer appeal, even as they closed the doors of the past power players.
A line has been drawn — you can either move forward or look back, blaming others for your failures — the choice is up to you. There's one thing you can count on, however: you'll learn both sides of the story at an XBIZ event.
A ‘2257 Turnaround?
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is once again asking for public comments on the Federal Record-Keeping Requirements — something that has been done in the past — so why again now?
One reason may be the fact that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is siding with the Free Speech Coalition over its lawsuit against the Justice Department regarding ‘2257 — and election year politicking aside, feedback from the inspectors has doubtlessly shed some light on the actual issues involved in policing content on the Internet today; leading DOJ to solicit comments that address one or more of the following four points.
As you might expect, I have a few brief comments from my perspective as both a primary and secondary producer under the law:
(1) Whether the collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information will have practical utility;
While I believe that information collection is a necessary component of the agency’s function, it is the scope and methodology that needs addressing; as the current system is based on technology from 1012 (physically inspecting printed records) rather than 2012.
As for the practical utility of information collection, it is essential for determining the age of a performer at the time of production.
The question should then be, “How can proof-of-age be reliably determined with the least amount of systemic friction and expense for both producers and regulators — while protecting the privacy of performers and publishers?”
While traditional adult video production companies utilize the ideal scenario where all performers present their ID at the door, similar to “carding” patrons at a bar before entrance is allowed, it does not address the realities of protecting at-risk youth today — where user-generated content (i.e., live webcams and self-shot digital imagery) prevail; requiring a more accurate and efficient process to achieve practical utility.
(2) The accuracy of the agency’s estimate of the burden of the collection of information, including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used;
I do not believe that there is any validity to the methodology and assumptions used to guide this process, which could have been improved by consulting the affected producers within the adult entertainment industry — those burdened with compliance and best able to provide advice on the realities of modern content distribution and the best practices for compliance, labeling and record-keeping.
DOJ self-characterizes its own skepticism over the verity of its assumptions, with the brief disclaimer that “the Department does not certify the accuracy of these numbers,” — and as an affected party, I can’t certify them either.
The Department based its numbers on five-year-old census data (an epochal eternity in Internet years), that claim around 12,000 companies produce “motion pictures” in the U.S., which they then took 10 percent as a guess (~1,200 firms), as to how many of these companies are in the business of producing sexually explicit material…
While the Department’s honesty in revealing its methodology is commendable, they could have pulled any number out of a hat and it would be just as accurate. Real numbers are admittedly impossible to come by, but better metrics than grouping companies with the same tax code together as the pool by which to measure the impact on a multi-billion dollar industry that likely has few if any companies sharing the same tax code as players such as Sony and Warner Bros., is not the way to go.
Having said this, the Department’s estimates may be reflective of those “mainstream” companies producing simulated sexually explicit content as part of their wares; but does not take in the 100,000 or so adult-focused companies, independent webcam performers, “amateurs” and secondary producers such as affiliates, and countless “casual” publishers, such as a person posting a sexually explicit photo to their Facebook account.
(3) How to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected;
A more practical approach to any problem provides more tangible results, but these results must be based upon the program’s goals: is the Department only seeking to ensure compliance with the current record-keeping laws, or is it actually trying to prevent minors from appearing in adult content?
These are two very different things, despite one being the goal of another.
As I’ve previously proposed, performer licensing and registration solves this problem, at least on the professional front. There are many precedents, such as hairdressers, which are required to obtain a state-issued permit. Having a simple age verification statement with a resulting permit number (perhaps administered by the DMV or postal authorities, which already handle driver’s licensing and passport issuance that requires age / identity checking and registration), would ease the process. Germany has a similar regimen for consumers seeking online access to age-restricted materials, via a local post office visit.
Since it’s only a proof-of-age / identity, it should only need to be done once.
Facial recognition and keyword analysis (the names / aliases / performer nationality), could be combined to produce a database that would show who a performer is, and after which date their filming would be legal.
Technical means would allow a sifting of available content that would remove known legal performers and develop a “hit list” of identities for further investigation, making the haystack smaller and the needle larger; a valuable tool from an enforcement perspective.
Another problem is permanency. While I appreciate that the inspecting agents do not want to play the “oh, he isn’t in today, come back another time,” game and seek tangible accountability from a single, named person, the realities of adult employment instability and address transience, make notices that require both, problematic. This is especially true when dealing with notices displayed on video clips; where unlike updating a line or two of code on a website, costly re-editing and re-encoding of the video clip is required. As it’s impossible to recall videos from the wild, this leaves literally millions of pieces of adult video content displaying outdated and inaccurate record-keeping information. This information (if ever present on the clip) is often removed by pirates and others, making the on-screen notice of online video clips further problematic.
While technological solutions may one day mitigate this factor, at present, it handily illustrates the inefficacy of the current record-keeping regimen, which falls flat upon this insurmountable hurdle for smaller, “mom and pop” producers, that simply can’t recover, re-edit and reissue every piece of content whenever they move (I doubt Sony could do it).
Clarity from the Department about who they really need to keep records would make their numbers and the compliance process much better.
For example, 50,000 affiliates should not need to maintain a duplicate copy of the same material for purposes of inspection. Failing access to these documents, however, how would the secondary producer know the age of a performer at the time of depiction?
The answer is the use of centralized databases to mitigate these problems.
(4) How to minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including through the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques or other forms of information technology, e.g., permitting electronic submission of responses.
As I’ve proposed in the past, if the Department is interested in easing its inspection burdens while dramatically improving both the accuracy of its records and depth of its understanding of this industry, then it must provide covered producers with the tools they need to comply with the regulations — at least on the Internet side where it is practical.
For example, I would have no problem in setting up an account at an official website, listing my name and address along with the base URL(s) that I am publishing content to (not individual web page URLs, such as www.domain.com/unworkable/transient/web-address/1234/this-is-terrible.html, but individual domains, i.e., ‘domain.com,’ etc.).
Investigators seeking records proving the age of a certain performer would only need to check their database to know that I am responsible for the material on those sites — without me having to publicly display my name or home address; and without inspectors’ being stymied by private domain registrations, etc. It would also be easily updateable so as to be current at all times — accuracy that the present record-keeping procedures lack.
Even a voluntary registration system would be a win-win for the department and for the affected members of the targeted industry.
At the end of the day, this is 2012, and technological advancements are more than adequate to render the old record-keeping regimen moot; delivering content producers and records inspectors from the drudgery of delving into dusty file cabinets and simply making this whole process work that much more efficiently.
Finally, I won’t say that there is no need to ensure children are kept away from porn, but as for being a useful tool in this endeavor, the current ‘2257 requirements are no more than a flat-earth approach to a round-world problem — it is outdated thinking that simply does not addressing the reality of the situation today.
Also exhorting affected readers to submit their comments to the Department detailing the impact of ‘2257 on their particular businesses, noted attorney JD Obenberger wrote on his XXXLaw.com website that “DOJ does not want to be in the position of defending obvious stupidity while they stand before federal judges.”
Truer words were never spoken.
Here’s your chance to save them embarrassment, and you, some costly headaches… If you would like to share your own thoughts, you have until April 25.