Biting The Hand That feeds You

Stephen Yagielowicz

I will always be grateful to my former supervisor at FEMA, Col. Harold Nutt, who asked me what my greatest strength, and weakness was. After a bit of thought, I responded that my greatest strength was my enduring faith, my weakness: commitment. Today, I'm on about living up to one's commitments, and as I work on my own issues, perhaps there's a lesson here for us all:

"Let He Who Is Without Sin, Cast the First Stone:" Well, that isn't me. I can be a serious asshole at times: I'm short-tempered, impatient, unreasonable, unpleasant and generally difficult to get along with (just ask "Twinkley" ). I also tend to be unresponsive, as anyone who has ever waited on a return email from me can attest. I say this up-front because this is not a "Holier Than Thou" rant, but a recognition of some of my personal shortcomings, as well as some of the fairly rampant shortcomings of the online adult business, as seen through the lens of an experienced operator within this Industry.

It's already mid-November; Thanksgiving is upon us, and the Holiday Season is about to swing into high gear - a point driven home by the Christmas displays I saw at the mall yesterday. This got me thinking about New Year's and my "New Year's resolutions" — those both personal and professional. Now might also be a good time for our Industry as a whole to see how and where we can improve upon the ways we treat one another, and come together as a group, stronger than ever. Well, it's a nice thought, anyway:

Most of the problems that I have seen in this business (at least those ones that I'm concerning myself with here) usually stem from people not treating each other nicely, and one party using fraud, trickery, chicanery, and outright deception to gain an "advantage" over another party. While these issues are not exclusive to the adult Industry, I have never seen them so apparent, nor so creative, in any other business. Here are a few brief examples:

Webmaster v. Sponsor v. Consumer
This is something that I have commented on in the past, and will likely revisit again in the future. Every sponsor program "cheats" Webmasters in one way or another, at one time or another; it's simply the nature of the beast. I do not necessarily blame them for this however, as sponsors can find themselves in often-untenable situations where at best the "creative interpretation and application of their Terms & Conditions" is required for their very survival, and at worst, they're just out to screw you.

Consider the pressures that a "legitimate" sponsorship program faces daily: in their incredibly competitive arena, they are faced with unscrupulous operators who boast unrealistic pay out levels to woo new Webmasters to their programs. I will not go into the underlying mathematics here and now, but suffice it to say that on their face value, the numbers simply do not work out. Not if they pay Webmasters for each and every sale they generate.

Inexperienced Webmasters will sign up for the "big number" proggies thinking that's where the money must be, but the fact of the matter is that the more a sponsor pays you per sale, the less sales you will be paid for, a practice known as "shaving." Unfortunately, even "well intentioned" sponsors also need to raise their pay-outs to unrealistic levels to remain competitive, fueling a vicious cycle of deception and "shaving."

Sometimes this "deception" can be more an issue of "creative marketing." This is often apparent in "sliding scale" programs where a sponsor will heavily promote the highest figure, knowing all too well that only a statistically insignificant minority of Webmasters will ever earn the top rate. For example, I know of one sponsor with over 15,000 participating Webmasters, of which only 2 regularly make the highest rate, which (of course) is the promoted rate.

This "creative marketing" can also take the form of heavily promoting the lowest paying programs as being their highest paying. One example that I have cited before was a certain sponsor who offered both sliding scale per-click as well as per signup proggies. As a newbie Webmaster with juicy AVS and SE traffic, I was wooed by the promise of "50¢ Per Click!" Wow! I thought, until the check came in. I sent that particular sponsor three very targeted uniques. He made three sales, and I was paid $1.50! If I had sent those hits under their less heavily promoted per-signup program, I would have earned $75 instead! Was I cheated? No, not really, I just didn't know any better at the time. Still, it left a bad taste. Other ways in which some programs "cheat" Webmasters include not paying for all "exit sales" and in the most egregious examples...

Other ways in which some programs "cheat" Webmasters include not paying for all "exit sales" and in the most egregious examples, popping "entrance" consoles for THEIR sponsors before the surfer YOU sent even sees your sponsor's own site. Not paying for phone orders, check orders, and some other alternative methods is more understandable, as it is difficult to track referrals using these payment methods, and check payments often have difficulties of their own. I don't have a problem with these practices, as we all need to make a living, but they should be clearly revealed to, and understood by, the Webmaster from the get go. There are many other examples that I could list here, but I don't want this to seem like a sponsor bashing party, because it isn't. Heck, some of my best friends are sponsors:

And it is for them that I feel bad. As much as some sponsors cheat Webmasters, they too are cheated, and perhaps more so. Unscrupulous Webmasters have thought of an amazing variety of cunning ways to defraud their sponsors, through falsely generated clicks and signups, to signups with stolen credit cards, and other less savory methods which I will not reveal here. This is all compounded by the fact that an increasing number of consumers deny legitimate charges from the sponsor, often in an all too familiar scenario where wifey-poo opens the new VISA bill and sees a charge for "Teenage Sluts." Enraged, she calls the listed phone number and demands an explanation, and then goes ballistic at the suggestion that her husband (or gasp! Teenage son) has signed up for a porn site membership - an accusation the offending party vehemently denies, and results in what is essentially "theft of service" when the sponsor is forced to either credit the customer or withstand another charge back.

The bottom line is that this Industry could be greatly improved if everyone treated one another as they themselves wish to be treated, and if everyone honored the commitments that they make. I'm working diligently on improving my own shortcomings, and can only hope that my reader's will all look within themselves, and see areas that you can improve upon as well. We'll all benefit from the process as a result: ~ Stephen