Indeed, today, what seems to be selling isn't really something new at all, but something old — strippers and sex toys — neither of which is especially prone to piracy or otherwise available for free.
For example, at the time of my writing this piece, I'm halfway through another cross-country road trip, which has my lovely wife and I and our trusty dog traveling across America's heartland and noticing that of all the billboard advertisements dotting the landscape, one of the most prevalent products to be pitched is — you guessed it — adult entertainment. From the gentleman's club ads outside Salt Lake City to the novelty shops all along I-90, it appears that sex still sells — at least enough to pay for a billboard.
This is of course encouraging on several levels, in that it shows continued consumer demand for adult material as well as a perhaps increasing level of acceptance of these wares on the part of even the most "upright" (or "uptight") of communities — as well as by those vendors willing to lease them the billboard space; an undoubtedly more profitable option than the many "this space for rent" signs that were also displayed on billboards dotting the countryside.
You know what other message was commonly displayed on these billboards? The message that the economy isn't as bad as some pessimists would have you believe; and that fear of a worsening situation is a self-fulfilling prophecy that initiates a cyclical cause-and-effect that can be avoided — or in other words, "don't worry, be happy — and everything will be alright." Perhaps that sentiment is simply a case of wishful thinking — or perhaps it's the key to getting through this trying time of profound change for our industry. But what about those who think they can resist the tides of change?
For example, how many times have you heard a content producer or adult website operator opine that if only something could be done about piracy, sales would "go back to normal," or that "tubes are killing the business"?
I have news for you: today, the tubes are "the business," and what you see as "piracy," consumers (your customers) see as "expressing their preference" — in this case, to obtain generic pre-recorded adult content (i.e. photos and videos) for free. Sure, some folks will always pay for better quality — but the numbers show that the masses prefer to get their porn for free.
That doesn't fit in with your plan? Well, that's just too bad for you.
The changing face of adult entertainment is driven in part by shifting consumer demands and expectations, including the growing awareness that traditional pre-recorded content isn't something that necessarily needs to be paid for (and if it is paid for, it better be good); and in part by evolving technologies and applications, such as live video chat over mobile devices — the former being the digital version of the ever-popular "exotic dancer" doing a private show for you — something which (unlike pre-recorded content) can't be obtained for free.
This doesn't mean that there isn't a viable market for pre-recorded content; it just means that trying to sell it as an end product to consumers is an increasingly uphill battle with declining rewards that may be better waged through more imaginative marketing approaches. For example, the stripper billboards tell you what you already know: guys have always enjoyed the personal attention and interactivity that is gained by having a beautiful woman dance just for them. This of course translates into the live video chat arena more or less, and illustrates the type of connection I'm hoping that this piece inspires. Also, novelty shops offer tangible goods, and so they too will continue — despite facing their own woes from the technological advance known as the Internet; which opened new doors for some shops while closing the doors of others.
Some readers will doubtless call "bullshit" on all this and insist that they are "the industry" and can control consumer buying habits; forcing consumers to abandon piracy and to ignore the mountain of free porn the industry has given out over the years — despite numerous warnings about the short-sightedness of that approach —but I'll tell you a little story by using another example from the road: the changing face of America's energy industry.
Unless you have been living under a rock (and even if you have been) you have heard about the shift to the "green economy" and how future job growth will center on cleaning up the environment and on providing clean, sustainable energy. Indeed, my inbox is full of emails from adult companies that have little notes at the bottom asking me to carefully consider the environmental impact of printing said communiqués; while a steady stream of press releases tout the energy efficiency of hosting and other adult companies and provide glimpses into the increasing social responsibility of top tier operators.
But how does the traditional energy industry view "use less" and "renewable energy" initiatives?
Do you think their top executives will scoff and opine that they'll always be able to sell their oil, regardless of evolving environmental regulations and the basic fact that the consumable product these companies provide will in fact one day run out and no longer be available? After all, these guys are part of "the energy industry" — the "big boys" that call all the shots… Surely, they must be in charge.
As we drove across the Midwest, we noticed a steady stream of flatbed tractor-trailer trucks heading in the opposite direction. The load they were carrying? Dozens of enormous windmill blades — and on both sides of the highway, as far as the eye can see, was windmill tower after tower; the giant wheels turning with the least amount of breeze — silently and cleanly generating electricity — and ditto for the solar guys who likewise are building a small but thriving segment of a much larger industry.
This is where the movement on the highway was coming from; where the jobs are being created; and where the face of America's energy industry is changing. Doubtless the guys at Exxon laugh at the "insignificance" of these upstart energy companies and technologies in the same way that the major studios scoffed at the tubes and their free site predecessors — and indeed, at the Internet itself — attempting to minimize any real impact on their DVD-selling bottom lines. Equally doubtless is the change in perception that has occurred for the increasingly few survivors in the physical media market; all of whom must have figured out by now that the Internet is not only here to stay, but will outlast their outdated business plans.
In the example above, it's clear to see that the energy industry is broader than it once was; with growth beyond its traditional sectors. Likewise, the adult entertainment industry is broader than it once was and exhibiting growth in sectors beyond traditional video, free and pay sites and affiliate programs; to encompass sophisticated interactive technologies for mobile and other users. It's not that "there's no more money in adult," it's more a case of you're going to have to work harder and smarter to give folks something that they think is worth paying for — or to be able to profitably give them their porn for free while trying to sell them something else they think is worth paying for.
Not doing so will leave you with the whale oil guys, hoping that electricity will just go away so that the oil lamp business "will get back to normal."
Yes, technology is advancing and its incessant march is impacting our industry for both better and worse; and as a technology driven industry, it's up to us to be smart enough to effectively use the new tools that we've wrought — and not be destroyed by them.