Jeff Booth, president of the Los Angeles-based EroticUniversity.com, said that in 2008, there is a long list of things that make the adult Internet much more challenging for webmasters than it was in the 1990s or early 2000s. Booth noted that in addition to having to compete with free adult websites, adult webmasters are facing the reality of an economic recession in the United States — a recession in which lower wages and fewer jobs are being combined with skyrocketing prices in everything from health care to gasoline.
"The recession in the U.S. is going to get a lot worse before it gets better," Booth predicted. "Americans are reminded how bad things are economically every time we go to the pump and fill up our gas tanks. We are clearly in very challenging times for adult webmasters, and I think we are going to be seeing a lot of Internet adult companies collapsing."
Historically, the adult entertainment industry has had a reputation for handling recessions better than other industries; many adult entrepreneurs have claimed that adult entertainment is recession-proof or, at the very least, recession-resistant and that in bad economic times, consumers need the pleasures of erotica more than ever. But Booth noted that Internet users who are struggling financially or fearing a layoff won't necessarily be giving up erotica if they decide to quit paying for it — they may simply choose free adult websites over membership pay sites.
The Australia-based CuriousToyBoy, business development manager for LionDollars.com, said: "Free porn continues to be the thorn in the foot of the adult business. The plethora of availability of even more free porn in longer and larger chunks with tubes and torrents and other P2P has certainly smashed a big hole in everyone's business to at least some degree. To remain relevant and competitive, sites must deliver; sites must become even more surfer-oriented and 'friendly,' and they must make good on their promises."
One of the biggest challenges for adult webmasters, Booth said, is the fact that many members of Generation Y or the Echo-Boom/Millennial Generation believe that entertainment — be it adult or mainstream — should be free. "Gen-Y doesn't like to pay for porn," Booth lamented, "and that is a huge marketing challenge for adult webmasters. When Gen-X-ers grow old and die, who is going to pay for adult websites if Gen-Y refuses to pay for anything? So you have to find creative ways to encourage Gen-Y to pay for your content when they think everything from music to porn should be free."
But Booth also stressed that as many challenges as adult membership sites are facing in 2008, the situation is far from hopeless. And similarly, CuriousToyBoy's message to adult webmasters is, "No, Chicken Little, the sky is not falling." CuriousToyBoy said: "I think it is fair to say that the adult Internet still drives the technological advancement of the Web as a content delivery system. We still remain on the leading edge of all major advancements into the future. The key question that still remains is how we get our product in front of the market; traffic is, more so than ever, king."
CuriousToyBoy stressed, however, that complacency is a luxury that adult webmasters don't have. "From sites and programs to VOD and cams, we have seen an enormous growth in what is available both for surfers to join and affiliates to promote," CuriousToyBoy explained. "Like any business, for many in our space, it is simply a case of evolve or die. If you do not keep up with trends so you at least understand what they mean to you and your business, it is almost certain that you will decline and even possibly die. You need to remain relevant, you need to focus on what you do and do it well. Half-baked solutions to large problems no longer cut it."
Companies that are creative in their marketing efforts, Booth asserted, are more likely to come out on top in the end — and there is plenty of creative marketing taking place in the adult industry in 2008, he said. Booth pointed to the popular Australian website AbbyWinters.com as a perfect example of creative marketing; the company's personality-driven, girl-next-door approach to adult entertainment has made AbbyWinters.com one of the late 2000s' marketing triumphs, Booth said. And other examples of creative adult marketing that Booth cited range from SugarDVD.com (he said that being an adult equivalent of Netflix has been a "great hook" for that company) to the "green porn" or environmentalist adult sites. Combining a politically correct cause (environmentalism) with something that often prides itself on being politically incorrect (adult entertainment) might seem like a contradiction, Booth said, but it's the type of creative, attention-grabbing hook that webmasters need if they are going to sell erotica instead of giving it away for free.
One possible way for adult websites to prosper in a competitive market is by finding a very specific niche and sticking to it. For PunishedBrats.com, that niche has been women spanking women. The Philadelphia-based BDSM expert and dominant female Veronica Bound, who has been spanking submissive women for that website, said: "I think catering to a specific sexual inclination or fetish can be limiting your audience, but it also gets you a good loyal fan base. If there's a site with general kink — some bondage, some spanking, etc. — and someone is only interested in the spanking scenes, they are more likely to join a site like Punished Brats — which only does spanking — because they know that every scene is going to be exactly what they want."
America's mainstream media, Booth said, can be an excellent marketing/promotional vehicle for adult sites, but only if webmasters realize that mainstream outlets need a hook other than sex. "If you are going to be noticed in the mainstream media," Booth said, "you really do have to think about how you are going to get their attention and make them want to write about you. Mainstream publications in the U.S. are going to reject any articles that sound like they are endorsing porn; so it can't be about the porn itself. If your hook is 'we've got the greatest sex site ever,' you aren't going to get mainstream publicity."
Booth is confident that despite the challenges adult webmasters are facing in 2008 — especially if they are newcomers — creative marketing campaigns will continue to create adult success stories in the future. "The adult industry is very creative and has a long history of innovation," Booth asserted. "You never know who is going to come out of nowhere with a great idea, and there is still room for great ideas in the adult industry. The adult industry's tradition for innovation will always create opportunities."