How To Keep Your Customers Paying

Alex Henderson
Historically, niche markets have been a much smaller part of the adult entertainment industry than traditional vanilla heterosexual erotica, but that doesn’t mean that niche erotica can’t be highly profitable. Although niche-oriented adult companies are catering to a smaller audience, they are also catering to an extremely passionate audience. Customers who have very specific tastes when it comes to erotica can be very enthusiastic (or even downright obsessive) about those tastes — even at a time when the adult industry is facing ongoing challenges that include a deep recession and a proliferation of free porn.

Colin Rowntree, who has been operating the BDSMoriented since 1994, explained it in dollars and sense.

“On a pure ROI basis, niche-specific has been more profitable than general sites for the past 10 years — much lower overhead, much higher conversion and retention. But, with that in mind, the folks that are producing the niche content really need to know about that niche or fetish. Otherwise, the customers will spot them as ‘posers’ and cancel in a New York City minute.”

It is important to remember that niche erotica is not just one thing, but rather, a wide variety of niches, micro-niches and sub-niches. Niche erotica includes everything from gay specialties (twinks, military themes) to alt-porn specialties (goth porn, emo porn) to a long list of BDSM specialties (flogging, spanking, steel bondage, tickle torture — you name it). Niche-oriented adult membership sites, Rowntree said, haven’t been hit as hard by the proliferation of free porn because very specific things are harder to find.

“In some respects, (niche erotica) is more profitable — the only rational reason being that the tubes have pretty much made most vanilla pre-recorded adult content ‘free,’” Rowntree said. “But extreme niche content tends to not be so widely distributed on that platform. The one place where vanilla porn is holding its own and making a steady increase in sales is on mobile, as the tube platform relies on flash — which does not work on mobile devices.”

Many BDSM niche websites, according to Rowntree, have held up relatively well during the current economic crisis not only because BDSM enthusiasts are so passionate about their interests, but also, because of the BDSM demographics. The BDSM community, Rowntree noted, includes many upscale professionals who have not been hit as hard by the economic downturn as the audience for vanilla erotica.

“Although the recession did hit the BDSM niche to some degree,” Rowntree says, “we had the luxury of demographics on our side. Whereas the majority of vanilla surfers are younger males with highly varied income, the average BDSM and fetish enthusiast is around 50 years old and from a much higher income bracket. Perversion is reserved for the wealthy, to some degree.”

Jeff Booth, president of the Los Angeles-based Erotic, pointed out that consumers of niche erotica tend to have more of a connoisseur mentality than fans of traditional vanilla erotica.

‘Between the economy going down and the availability of free porn, it has been a one-two punch for the adult industry,” Booth said. “A lot of people who might have impulse-bought vanilla porn before are looking for free stuff on the tube sites now. But I think that in BDSM, you have a more knowledgeable and dedicated base. A lot of BDSM people are collectors; they aren’t just looking for jerk-off material. They’re looking for very specific stuff, and they know what they want.”

Booth added, however, that even the most successful providers of niche erotica cannot afford to be complacent when it comes to technology. Booth stressed that the adult entertainment companies of the future will need to have a thorough understanding of Generation Y’s relationship with technology and figure out as many ways as possible to profit from it.

“Generation Y is really into social networking,” Booth noted. “They’re really into texting; they’re really into Facebook and Twitter. So the porn stars of the future are going to have to spend a lot more time communicating with their fans and using technology to do it. The people who are going to get rich in porn in the future are going to be a lot more interactive and are going to have to offer an experience that involves more than just looking at pictures or video. The adult websites of the future will need to feel like a community.”

“People in the adult industry like to say that content is key, but I think that now, context is really key,” Booth continued. “In the future, people won’t just be looking for material to jerk off to. They will want to feel like they are involved in some type of interactive community that the website has established. And there are a lot of cool technologies that can facilitate that, but they will need to be better utilized. Of course, the adult industry has always been really good at leveraging new technologies and using them in interesting ways.”

Rowntree said that the buying patterns of certain niche customers during the late 2000s / early 2010s recession underscores their enthusiasm for the content. Some customers, Rowntree said, will cancel a website membership only to return and rejoin — which indicates that even if someone is looking for ways to save money during a bad economy, their psychological bond with the niche content remains.

“Of course, we experienced a drop like everyone else did,” Rowntree said. “But what was helpful was the pattern of membership. The main thing we saw was an increase in cancellations after one month, but following that up, we saw a dramatic increase in canceled members signing up again after taking a two or three month break. So, it would appear that some of them cut back a bit, but came back for more to enjoy content that they just can’t get anywhere else.”