trends

The Net Porn Fad

Stephen Yagielowicz
Fad n. A fashion that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period of time; a craze.

Did you ever consider that the whole online porn thing may have simply been a fad and that it may have pretty much run its course?

There's no denying the perennial appeal of sexually explicit imagery; from the first cave paintings and earliest iconography to some of the first uses of the printing press, oldest motion pictures and common examples of every other technological innovation in media publishing — right up to the Internet — porn has been wildly popular with the masses.

But the good old days are days gone by. And while there are many factors that have contributed to the market's recent decline, one that I haven't heard addressed is that it may have all been just a fad.

Fashion, or more accurately, what is fashionable, is an ever fickle commodity; and while I remember the early days of the World Wide Web and how critics claimed that it was nothing more than a rehash of the CB radio craze, no one would claim today that the web as we know it is a fad.

But what about porn? Was the public's mad dash to the darker regions of cyberspace to discover a quantity, quality and variety of adult entertainment never before seen in the history of mankind merely a fad — a fad whose appeal has markedly diminished for all but the most voracious of consumers?

I'm not suggesting by any means that people are no longer visiting adult websites but that the rate at which they are visiting has been declining dramatically, with U.S.-based traffic to adult sites dropping by a third over the past two years, falling from 16.9 percent in October 2005 to 11.9 percent in 2007.

"If you chart the rate of visits to social-networking sites against those to adult sites over the last two years, there appears to be a strong negative correlation (i.e., visits to social networks go up as visits to adult sites go down)," Bill Tancer, Hitwise general manager of global research, said in a recent report. "They're too busy chatting with friends to look at online skin."

This is not news to many adult website operators, nor is it news that the percentage of dropoff in adult traffic is now roughly the same as the percentage of increase in traffic to social networking sites — today's latest fad destinations on the Internet — some of which may already be seeing a decline in their page views, participation and membership rates.

Personally, I believe that what has driven the initial traffic spikes to adult websites, along with social networks and "tube" sites, is the novelty of these destinations — a novelty that can quickly wear off with increasing familiarity with the genre; or as the saying goes, "when you've seen one, you've seen them all."

While there's no doubt that unique and engaging content breeds 'stickiness' and a desire for repeat visits to see what's new; some users seem to have a "been there, done that" attitude, which a fellow expressed to me by saying, "sure, I used to visit porn sites, but I don't bother anymore — there's too much else to see on the Internet."

Maybe so: but do these other things get you off? I hate to think that the very raison d'être for pornography — as a visual stimulus to aid in the process of masturbation, one of the most intimate of human activities — has been replaced by dancing doggies on YouTube. We as an industry are doomed if it has …

What got me contemplating the possibly faddish nature of online adult entertainment wasn't anything to do with this industry, but a totally different one — and one that shares some interesting similarities: the custom motorcycle market.

As some of you may know, I'm a big fan of motorcycles — not girly crotch-rockets — but bad-ass American V-Twins.

As such, I found myself reading an editorial in the latest issue of hardcore biker magazine The Horse Backstreet Choppers, which decried the overall current state of the domestic custom industry while lauding the superior craftsmanship and customer service of some of the players in the foreign markets.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: an industry, no longer rolling in the money that suddenly flooded into it, finds the larger, more professional, innovative and established operators continuing to make profits in the face of an increasingly maturing and more competitive market; while smaller, less professional and unimaginative operators close up their shops; unable to compete or evolve in the face of dramatic changes.

It wasn't too long ago where it seemed that most of the shows on The Discovery Channel had to do with custom motorcycles: from the antics of West Coast Choppers' Jesse James to the familial infighting of the Teutul boys from Orange County Choppers and myriad other shows as well; America's love affair with custom bikes came into our living rooms on a nightly basis. Sure, not everyone can afford a $100,000 motorcycle — but that didn't keep folks from dreaming, or being interested in the products and their producers.

While the boys from OCC are still at it, most of the other shows are in re-runs, or no longer airing — a sure sign that a fad that had a great run for several years has now ended.

People have been enjoying motorcycles for over a hundred years now, and will continue to, well into the foreseeable future — but for now, the party seems to be over, and much the same can and has been said about online adult.

While we can't blame all of our woes on online porn being just a fad; the possibility that it was a fad is something to consider.

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