The AVS Advantage

Ayrora Temple
When it comes to alternative billing options, one tried-and-true method for monetizing adult web content is the age verification service, or AVS. Not as widely discussed as they once were, these gateway systems still provide some distinct advantages; especially for smaller operators and those with specific content distribution needs. Let's take a closer look at the AVS scene and how consumer concern over today's economic climate can be leveraged to increase sales by companies of all sizes.

For those unfamiliar with AVS, the basics are quite simple: webmasters create websites and then apply for "approval" with a given AVS. The approval process ensures that minimum quality standards are met; no illegal material is being offered; and the "pitch" that is being used to sell the site is legal and accurate. Once the site is approved, the webmaster is given a snippet of code with which to create a join page. At this point, you basically have a paysite, with the AVS handling all membership processing and support services for your site and sending you a commission check for any memberships sold.

With its roots as a means by which adult website owners might verify the age of their site's visitors (in a proactive attempt to comply with the proposed terms of COPA, the Child Online Protection Act), the pitch to consumers was simple: pay to verify your age with this service and gain access to all of the sites using that AVS — a number of sites that could easily reach into the hundreds of thousands for a top-tier network such as; which in addition to the independent sites participating in its network also boasts a robust members area of its own construction, increasing member retention.

An AVS provides value for consumers, as subscription prices tend to be competitive with more traditional adult membership sites, but the overall amount and the scope of the content being offered by AVS sites is often greater than that of a typical paysite network — even if that content isn't always of the same high quality or "uniqueness." More about the content issue later; but for now, the value of receiving so many sites, content sets and add-ons for an often modest price, makes promoting AVS sites as a premium alternative to "free," that is still a responsible entertainment value in today's challenging economy, an option that many webmasters should consider — or reconsider.

An AVS also provides value for website owners, especially less experienced webmasters and affiliates seeking to expand into the premium content arena. It does this in several significant ways, which typically include no setup or processing fees (saving webmasters from having to install and maintain their own cascading billing system and relationships with billing companies, which can become quite costly when VISA and/or merchant account fees are taken into consideration); as well as by often offering free hosting and even free content to build a website with. The end result of this generosity is that some AVS' allow even the least experienced operator to build, launch and operate a premium adult website that requires no upfront or ongoing financial investment.

This isn't to say that an AVS is a free ride for webmasters: the price you pay for all of this apparent generosity is a set of rules that can severely limit your ability to promote and profit from your website or your content. For example, while different AVS' will have different rules, one common requirement is a limit on advertising — such as the number of ads you display; where and how you display them; and who and what those ads are allowed to promote. We're not just talking "no kiddie porn" but perhaps "no toy stores" or "no video chat" or "no Bang Bros." — lest you be competing with an offer that the AVS will be making to "your" customers, via the ads they often display on "your" site (especially if it's free hosted by them) — as well as via the upsells within the AVS' own members area and mailers.

Watermarks are another common no-no; and the basis of my earlier content remarks: you see, it's one thing to post your content willy-nilly when it's something you bought at a discount on CD; or received from a sponsor or even the AVS itself — but if it's exclusive material that you've shot yourself or obtained limited distribution rights to — it might not be the smartest thing to release your content into the wild, without your domain name on it — even as limited in efficacy as watermarking may be today as a tool for decreasing piracy while increasing type-in traffic and sales.

Tiered membership solutions seek to redress some of these content and quality issues, by offering consumers and webmasters a choice of website quality level; with corresponding increases in the membership cost, webmaster payout amount and the stringency of rules. In the CyberAge example, these levels would be "Participating," "Preferred" and "Platinum" — and at the highest level, webmasters receive recurring payouts and better placement within the network's link list — a proven traffic source that provides enhanced webmaster appeal for working with these programs.

This tiered approach can also be used to help mitigate some of the unwanted effects of releasing un-watermarked material; for example, a company may choose to release its newest and best material through its established distribution channels, but make catalog titles, standard definition and other "older" material; behind the scenes and "problem" footage available via an AVS, as simply one more channel for wringing out that last dime from your content investment.

The biggest advantage that AVS' have today, however, may be in their offering of the "biggest bang for the buck" — a powerful sales tool for savvy marketers to use to pry open consumer's oh-so-tight purse strings. These days, the widespread appeal of "getting more for less" may sway many otherwise reluctant prospects to pay for your exclusive, but limited in quantity, content — when they know that their membership includes so much more.

Maybe you've never used an AVS before, or maybe you have, but it's been awhile since you took a look at the possibilities that these alternative adult billing systems present. Now may be the right time for you to find a way to incorporate this proven distribution and monetization channel into your digital marketing mix. Try it for yourself and see!