At a time when consumers already are facing a flaccid world economy and are tempted to download stolen content for free from pirated tube sites, credit card transactional fraud that causes them to be charged hundreds of dollars from a litany of statement descriptors and merchant accounts initiated by what seemed to be a simple paysite membership purchase has greatly reduced their belief that purchasing adult movies is in any way safer or better than downloading them from risky file-sharing sites, tubes and torrents.
Experienced webmasters are well aware that selling adult content online relies on a number of elements well outside the realm of sexuality. When all aspects of the transactional chain are in smooth working order, sales can be brisk and rebills plentiful. However, even when a webmaster manages everything within their control correctly, it often is the things outside of their control that can sour the balance sheet of their own business. The key question in the wake of so many buyers getting burned by unscrupulous scam-artists is: What can honest, ethical business owners do to restore consumer confidence in quality adult paysites?
"That's a tough one," said Q. Boyer, Marketing Manager of TopBucks.com. "There's a perception that adult sites are scam operations that dates way back to the early days and the shenanigans of outfits like IEG, Babenet and others. So the question may be less how do we 'restore' confidence than how we build it in the first place. As for building trust, the answer is to start with your own customers, treating them as valued clients rather than 'easy marks.' If you're going to cross-sell, tell them so, clearly. Email them a reminder notice post-sale thanking them for their patronage and reminding them that in addition to the trial they signed up for, they have also opted for a trial to Site B and that they can check their account status or cancel by clicking a link included in that email."
Using the straightforward approach and transparent billing practices that Boyer suggests is certain to put the industry on a more trustworthy path in the long term, but in the short term, some industry stalwarts already have taken a more hands-on approach to keeping consumers well informed.
"In the current economy, the last thing we need is customers losing all, or at least what was left, of their faith in the adult industry," said Roald of FreeOnes.com. "After complaints from our visitors, about half a year ago, we did a few tests, and the results were shocking to say the least. Without any notification or authorization from us, our credit card got billed multiple times, and to date we are still being billed for additional memberships out of the blue."
In an attempt to regain customer confidence, FreeOnes added a new feature on FreeOnes.com that shows its viewers the potential risk they take if they click a particular link to a specific adult website. This warning system uses a simple icon to inform consumers of unchecked cross-sells or prechecked cross-sells on join pages.
"A cross-sale itself is not that big of a deal when done properly, but the practices we found when testing were just plain credit card fraud, and action needed to be taken," Roald said. "Needless to say, we also deleted all links from suspected fraudsters."
Other major review sites including TheBestPorn.com and TheTongue.net have added similar cross-sale notification systems as well.
Several smaller and newer programs have adopted a doom-and-gloom attitude; some affiliate webmasters have been posting about the sky, as if its fall is imminent; and an even larger number of affiliates have decided to start working on mainstream projects instead. However, among solid companies with strong leadership and lengthy histories in the adult online industry, the mentality seemed to be one of disdain for the scammers, with an underlying confidence that this industry setback will be overcome by the hard work and honest efforts of forward-thinking webmasters.
As an extension of the growing movement to fortify consumers, some industry-leading programs are taking steps to demonstrate their honesty and integrity among the webmaster affiliate community as well. One of the first sponsors to take real action in a commendable manner was PIMPROLL.com
"At PIMPROLL, we believe that restoring confidence among consumers is only one part of the solution," company owner David said. "You also have to empower your affiliates with the ability to make business decisions that follow the dictates of their conscience. Recently, we became the first major PPS company to offer webmasters 'cross-sell-free' link options for every site in our portfolio. This marked a watershed event in the industry as we essentially gave our affiliates control over the join-page sales pitch and billing process.
"Since our inception in 2001, we've always prided ourselves on integrity, transparency and showing affiliates that we have a long-term focus on success," David said. "When you demonstrate this with fair and sound business practices, webmasters trust you and sleep well at night knowing that PIMPROLL sites are a safe place for consumers to purchase adult content."
Terry of Kink.com said doing what is right is about more than just the bottom line. "Ultimately, any company that burns consumers is going to have a very hard time doing business in the long run. There are consequences for every nefarious practice in online marketing, and it all comes back to haunt you.
"Being upfront with the user is critical to running a successful site," Terry said. "but it's also just the right thing to do. Kink.com exists to support the idea that sexual freedom of choice is every human's right, and offering great customer service is very much a part of that."
When short-term events transpire like this recent wave of short-sighted criminals seeking fast money at the expense of everyone else, it seems that companies with long track records and experience weathering past storms carry a much more optimistic and expansive point of view than many newer webmasters. Perhaps at least part of the problem stems from examples of greed and shady ethics that can be found well outside the adult industry.
"Hustler has the advantage of a far longer history than many adult online companies possess, which leads us to look at the future from a longer point of view as well," Hustler President Michael Klein said. "It seems clear that some people in this industry have tried taking shortcuts recently, just as some have been taking shortcuts on Wall Street and in Detroit. Hopefully the pendulum will swing back in line quickly before the short-sighted minority does lasting damage to the consumer base that all honest businesses rely upon."
There is no way to dismiss the recent problems faced by online adult businesses and the erosion of consumer confidence on a scale far larger than any paysite sponsor will be able to overcome on its own. However, the tide might already be turning as card associations, prominent businesses and ethical webmasters take action to strengthen the trust between consumers and join pages that every transaction depends upon.