trends

BDSM and Affiliate Marketing

Alex Henderson
BDSM erotica was around long before the Internet; in the 1950s, pinup icon Bettie Page participated in some bondage and spanking scenes that although tame by today's standards were downright revolutionary for the Truman and Eisenhower years. But thanks to the explosion of the adult Internet, BDSM erotica has become more plentiful, more diverse and more accessible than ever. And with this abundance of kinky porn has come a greater demand for BDSM-oriented affiliate marketing programs. Vanilla erotica still dominates affiliate marketing on the adult Internet, but the number of BDSM-oriented affiliate marketing programs has been increasing — and those programs are coming from a variety of BDSM websites, including membership porn sites, dating sites and sites that sell tangible goods (which can be anything from fetish attire to whips and ballgags to pricy high-end BDSM equipment like St. Andrews crosses and spanking benches).

On the BDSM erotica side, some of the well known affiliate marketing programs include SpiceCash.com (which is operated by Wasteland.com), Twisted Partners (which is run by Twisted Media, the company that has been publishing the FetishNation.com site since 1999) and Kink.com's program. And on the tangible goods side, affiliate programs range from XR LLC's eXtremeRestraints.com-associated program to the program operated by JT's Stockroom. Alt.com, FriendFinder, Inc.'s popular BDSM dating site also has an affiliate program.

James Medina, affiliate marketing manager for XR LLC, noted that affiliate programs for BDSM membership sites and affiliate programs for BDSM equipment sites are mutually beneficial. Membership sites that create kinky erotica need equipment, and they go to sites like ExtremeRestraints.com to purchase it. "The sites naturally upsell off of one another," Medina explained. "BDSM membership sites give people ideas and introduce them to hot new ways to use gear; BDSM and fetish gear retailers carry that gear and have sites full of people who find that kind of porn to be hot."

Webmaster Colin Rowntree, who founded Wasteland.com back in 1995, said "Paysites, in partnership with tangible goods sites and BDSM dating sites, are a match made in heaven." Rowntree added that in a recent poll of Wasteland.com customers, he found that "a good majority of our members" also have an Alt.com dating membership and that they "purchase from Stockroom or XR at least 4 times per year" and have an "average monthly BDSM expenditure of $150."

One of the attractive things about BDSM affiliate marketing, according to Rowntree, is the fact that BDSM enthusiasts tend to be more upscale. "BDSM consumers are older, are generally in professional careers, and have the winning combination of a high disposable income, a wallet full of credit cards and a kinky perversion," Rowntree said. "Once they have joined a site that offers what they are looking for, retention is amazing. We have members that date back to 1996 that have never cancelled and call us once a year for our annual 'alumni discount rate.' With that tidbit in mind, a hint to affiliates: if the program you are promoting is offering a choice of one-time payout or percentage revshare on rebills, always take the second option. You will make far more money in the long run."

Medina asserted that "From the BDSM and fetish gear perspective, BDSM consumers simply consume more. In the vanilla market, women are doing most of the sex toy buying; in BDSM, men are an equally valid market. That immediately doubles the potential of the market. You're also looking at a huge number of couples who are interested in exploring their sexuality a little more. They don't always identify themselves as being kinky, but they may be just as willing to purchase a strap-on harness or some good leather cuffs. BDSM affiliates also benefit from higher-end products; selling a fucking machine for between $450 and $1200 can lead to a much higher payout than you'd get from a $20 vibrator."

But while BDSM customers are known for being both loyal and prosperous, they are also known for being painfully discriminating, so to speak — and Rowntree stressed that webmasters who take part in BDSM affiliate programs need to know their market and know it well. "Bondage lifestylers can smell a faker a mile away and will simply hit the back button," Rowntree warned. "So, I guess my advice here for the affiliate marketer is to find and market selectively in site types that are most likely to have lifestyle BDSM folks looking at them."

Medina complained that many of the vanilla-oriented Internet sex toy merchants who dabble in BDSM products don't understand the BDSM market. "As a rule on the retail side," Medina said, "(vanilla stores) tend to be weak. They often suffer from poor organization, creating a BDSM category and throwing in whips, cuffs, CBT devices and cock rings all together in a disorganized mess. They'll even throw positioning aids into their bondage toys section. Have you ever tried to restrain someone with a triangular foam pillow? Overall, vanilla stores tend not to understand the (BDSM) market. The truth is that the market served by stores like eXtremeRestraints.com is much less one-dimensional than the vanilla side realizes... Most vanilla sites don't get the depth of the niches served by the fetish and BDSM market."

Silvercash Albert, vice president of business development for Silvercash and Silver Sinema, said that the infinite nature of the Internet is fueling the demand for micro-niches in erotica — and that includes BDSM micro-niches. "With the Internet being a worldwide platform," Albert noted, "the channels to explore non-traditional sex, perversions or anything that is taboo to the status quo can easily be facilitated in the privacy and safety of your own personal computer. A direct example of this trend can be found in the differences of adult DVD sales versus adult online sales. DVD competes for a determined and finite area of shelf space; a retailer who is selling an adult DVD to a consumer must consider what the largest demographics will yield him/her the greatest profits in a limited space. Therefore, traditional or typical porn niches will predominantly exist in your general retail porn sales arena. Oppositely, the Internet has an unlimited space to serve and archive adult material. Therefore, micro-niches with smaller consumer bases can yield healthy profits simply because the Internet is worldwide and always operating for business, unlike a retail outlet and their applicable hours of operation. Hence, an online adult affiliate program that specializes in a micro-niche does not have the same risk in operating a business when the consumer is not limited to shelf space."

BDSM is a very international phenomenon; countless BDSM membership sites are published in Europe and parts of Asia. But Rowntree pointed out that BDSM affiliate marketing continues to be dominated by North America. "Ninety-nine percent of the successful (affiliate) programs are — and always have been — in the U.S. and Canada," Rowntree noted. "This has always struck me as odd, as the Germans and British are far more perverse than most North Americans. This, combined with the fact that aside from Holland, the affiliate program model has not yet been fully developed, appears to have limited the BDSM sponsor program to our side of the pond."

These days, BDSM is so visible in popular culture that BDSM references have even popped up in very mainstream places like the sitcom "Frasier" — and in the long run, Rowntree said, that can only help BDSM affiliate marketing programs. "By all means, BDSM and fetish is now much more a part of mainstream culture than it was even six years ago," Rowntree explained. "Movie and TV show inclusion of 'the dark side' only helps our sector of the industry. It makes people curious. After 'Frasier,' they Google 'BDSM' and enter a whole new world of sexuality. A small percentage of them discover they have the 'twisted fuck gene' that has been latent and start exploring — and we are happy to welcome them to our communities."

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