This is William Hjortsberg's projection of life in the 25th century in the cult novel "Gray Matters," but it also is a fitting analogy for the contemporary state of the adult entertainment industry — a business that is becoming increasingly insular as it functions almost exclusively in a virtual, not bricks-and-mortar, world.
But questions remain over what business tools are needed to support this burgeoning e-commerce trade and whether the once-stellar tradition of trade shows and industry conventions remain relevant in this faceless, disembodied cyber world.
In a word, yes, they do.
"The various online community options in the market today are just an extension of traditional business practices," Chad Beecher, former vice president of marketing and operations for AVN's Trade and Consumer Show Division, told XBiz. "According to research conducted by the Industry for Exhibition Management, trade shows and conventions still remain the most effective means of generating leads."
According to Tradeshow Week's Annual Report of Consumer Shows statistics, consumer shows overall occupied more square footage in 2004 than 2003, but attendee turnout was not as high. Net square footage of all conventions nationwide rose 5.3 percent, while attendance dropped 4.5 percent compared with 2003.
In an informal poll at the XBiz discussion boards in mid-August, webmasters were asked how many trade shows and/or industry events they attend annually. The results were surprising — and open to debate and interpretation:
6 or more......20%
"Using the XBiz numbers, 62 percent of all webmasters attend industry shows every year, and that is a very impressive stat," said Lensman of Adult.com, who also is CEO of the Webmaster Access shows that are held nationwide throughout the year. "Additionally, more than half of those attend three or more shows per year. I imagine if you were to filter those numbers by the amount of income of the attendees, that we would find that it's primarily the more successful webmasters that attend."
Data extracted from the final registration report for the 2005 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE) reveals that 29 percent of attendees had annual gross sales of between $1-$99,999. Twenty-six percent reported yearly gross sales of between $100,000 and $499,999. Only a meager 10 percent claimed earnings of $500,000-$999,999.
A significant spike of 26 percent appears for AEE attendees with reported annual sales of $1 million or more, proving Lensman's point — more than half (52 percent) of exhibitors on the floor earned either in excess of $100,000-$1 million annually, which perhaps suggests that a lot of webmasters in the adult community are quite content to be modest-profiting Cerebromorphs and possibly do not comprehend the wealth of exposure opportunities that attending a trade show can provide.
Beecher, now vice president of business development for GAYVN, believes that "with as many online communications channels that are available today, it is more important then ever to participate in all of them to maintain a presence" in the adult industry.
"Online options — chat rooms, message boards, various forums — will never replace conventions," Beecher said. "Nothing can beat actually meeting people face to face, seeing product live, comparing products side by side, meeting press in person, seeing what your competition is doing and the ability to put live interaction together with a brand."
In Tips to Newbies offered at Web Overdrive, Tala of adult affiliate program MensNiche.com cautions that adult conventions and trade shows are more than "just show and tell."
"There are some fabulous seminars taught by the adult industry's finest," Tala said. "These people are sharing their knowledge with you, and if you're lucky enough to catch them after their seminar or before it, you can get their tricks on a one-on-one basis. This information can be worth millions in the hands of a creative entrepreneur."
Nothing Beats Face Time
For performer and producer Luc Wylder trade shows are an organic part of business.
"I go to shows specifically to network," Wylder said. "Chat rooms offer a different way to connect, but nothing replaces that face-to-face interaction."
Wylder and fellow performer Alexandra Silk are partners in Fallen Angel Video. They attend 15 trade shows a year. Six of the conventions they attend are adult industry oriented and the rest are peripherally related: Internet, bondage and lingerie conventions.
"We try to saturate our product to the widest audience possible," Wylder said.
And the results of direct interaction in the neutral sales environment provided by trade shows can be instantaneous.
"I hand out business cards to everyone I meet at conventions," said Silk, who has appeared in more than 300 films and videos since 1996, including several signature series for Falling Angel. "We see the returns immediately, the same night, in website traffic spikes and sales."
At this year's Internext Convention, Silk listened to the owner of one high-profile company complain "he might not attend anymore if he doesn't make his money back on the booth."
Anticipating a swift return on the cost, planning and preparation for an exhibit is simply unrealistic thinking, many say.
United Kingdom-based Reed Exhibitions warns their trade show clients to be realistic about its expectations. Exhibitions generate millions of dollars worth of business every year, Reed reports in its promotional material, but it is unusual for exhibitors to do so during an event. Companies selling low-cost, low-tech products may take orders on the stand. But for most companies, those orders will come in the weeks and months after the show. Reed urges its clients to be prepared to pursue leads vigorously and track them on an ongoing basis.
And then there's the opportunity for relaxed interaction — a little R&R amid the displaying of wares.
"The best business deals are done in an elevator or on a cocktail napkin," Silk said.
"Or sitting by the poolside," Wylder added.
Why attend trade shows?
"Ultimately to make new contracts and renew old ones," Lensman explained. "People like to do business with people they know. Sponsors participate because their businesses rely on presenting themselves to the industry as one of the dominant participants, and to sustain their brand as a household name to webmasters. Hopefully the shows have social appeal as well, because if we are going to act like a bunch of accountants it's time to pack it in."