Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Lessons From the World’s Oldest Profession

By: Tery Spataro, president of Mind Arrays, tery@mindarrays.com

Las Vegas, Nevada – Lately the online adult entertainment industry has received attention from the press on the profitability of their Internet business practices. I wondered what it is that the adult entertainment industry is doing differently from the mainstream Internet. It was curiosity that brought me to Las Vegas for the Internext Conference, as well as an invitation from Stephanie Schwab, CEO of Erotigo. I had some interesting preconceived ideas as to what I would see on the trade floor, and understandably a little nervous for it was my first time.

As we registered for the event I took note of the backdrop of adult entertainment industry banners and flags which surrounded us. In sharp contrast, the people staffing the registration booths were old enough to be my grandmother.  I wondered what they were thinking.

June 26th was the opening of the conference. The registration line was long with both suits and polo shirts intertwined. They didn’t look much different than Internet attendees to Internet World conferences.  I did not see a single gold-chained-leisure-suit wearer with a bad hairpiece. As you entered the conference you were greeted by cheerleaders who pushed conference take-away goodies at you. As we entered the floor Stephanie told me this was her third conference and she had many stories to tell about the first two. She bated me with intriguing tales of all night parties, swinger clubs, photo shoots and pole dancers. So, if you pardon the pun, I was very excited. We circled around the conference trade floor looking for the pole dancers, bed displays, and other outrageous things you don’t find at the mainstream Internet conferences. Of course girls--beautiful well-constructed girls--were everywhere! And then of course there were the boys too--handsome and well built.

That afternoon we attended a seminar titled, “Women On The Net”, moderated by Fred Lane, author of “Obscene Profits: The Entrepreneurs of Pornography in the Cyber Age” (Routledge 2000). Strong, smart advice came from key women entrepreneurs of the adult entertainment industry, which consisted of famed
Danni Ashe (Danni’s Hardrive); Jane Duvall (Jane’s Guide); Holly Moss (Igallery
marketing and sales VP) and Phyllis Heppenstall (PeeKay, Inc.). The audience asked some very straightforward questions about women getting started in the business. Much to my surprise, the percentage of women business owners in the industry is 30%. Legal issues were discussed. The panelist urged everyone from the industry to get involved with legal issues and government. One curious male attendee asked “how do you treat the models?” Response from the panel as well as the audience was “you treat the models with RESPECT! Duh!” After the panel ended I caught up with Jane Duvall of Jane’s Guide who suggested that “men need to experience what women experience” and gave detailed instructions on how men should do it. It would be inappropriate for me to print exactly what Jane suggested in this mainstream article, but if you would like to know you could email me directly.

The mainstream web could learn a lot from adult web industry’s affiliate programs. Wasteland CEO Colin Rowntree, IGallery president Scott Schalin, Python CEO David van der Poel and Vivid Video marketing VP David  Schlesinger gave great advice on affiliate programs.  They described the four main types of affiliate programs: flat pay out, click through, recurring and revenue sharing. All agreed that revenue sharing is the road to increased usage, signup, and more profit! Average customer retention in the adult industry is 2-6 months there are few dollars used to re-market to existing customers. Also, panelists noted that there’s no such thing as “free” in this industry--it’s all about hooking-in and keeping turned-on for as long as the content is good and the services function.

Other panels discussed legal issues. This industry wants to stay around for a long time so it’s respecting the many complex laws that deal with pornography. EACH state has it’s own laws; if you are thinking about getting into the business, you should understand the legal issues of the state you choose to do business in as well as with.  Most importantly: find a great lawyer that really understands the business.

Internext concluded with the Player’s Ball party at Venetian’s CK Club. The theme was “Pimp and Ho” which extended to the expected dress code. Not having the wardrobe that would fit either scenario, I decided my elegant Tracy Faith dress and Donna Karen heels made me look more like an aspiring madam than hooker or pimp. We had VIP passes, yet the wait in line was an hour and half. I spent that time head-turning at the wide variety of theme costumes. My favorite was the young man dressed in full white pimp suit with wide brim hat and cane to match ala the 1970’s.  The doors opened and we were ushered into the club and waited another hour for Snoop Doggy Dog to perform. The costume party was fun and entertaining.

And after three full days and nights of the conference (although in Vegas there is no such thing as day or night) did I see any pole dancers? Did I see outrageous displays of sexual exploitation? Amazingly, NO! After a while of being exposed I became desensitized. There was nothing that left a lasting impression and to be honest I was a little bored. But I have to admit, the most shocking revelation was in fact, The Business was all about business and all about the bottom line…Profitability!