Posted Mar 13th, 2015 12:30 PM
This article originally ran in the March 2015 issue of AVN. To see the issue, which features coverage of AVN's January shows, click here.
To read an overview article about Internext, click here.
And look here under "Albums" to find links to photos by JFK/FUBARWebmasters.com.
Pictured, Jake Jaxson, Erik Schut and Hector Camacho; photo by JFK/FUBARWebmasters.com
A show within a show, GayVN @ Internext offered its own slate of networking and educational events targeting members of the online adult LGBT community. Among the standout events was a Gay AMA (Ask Me Anything), featuring Free Speech Coalition CEO Diane Duke and attorney Karen Tynan. That session was for adult community members only, with no access for the media. But one seminar that was open to all—and which offered inspiring ideas that would benefit individuals working in any sector of adult—was “The State of the Gay Online Industry.”
Assembled was a diverse group of industry veterans: Hector Camacho of Buddy Profits, Jake Jaxson of CockyBoys, Erik Schut of TLAGay and online veteran Rainey Stricklin, newly hired by JuicyAds to beef up that company’s gay offerings.
In a wide-ranging discussion in which each member of the panel was up front about the difficulties of the current climate in adult entertainment, they shared strategies for how to survive and even thrive in a changing landscape.
Erik Schut, a longtime veteran at TLA, reminded the audience of when things started to change: “Gay didn’t take a hit initially when the economy started to tank in 2008.” But piracy and the tube sites eventually took their toll. And as the audience could glean from listening to the panelists, those who are still standing have learned to work hard, stay nimble and build their own communities of loyal fans.
Schut talked about the change of ownership at TLA, noting that the new owner “wants to boost the adult side even more.”
As managing director of Buddy Profits, Camacho manages “42 websites and some brands that have been around for 40 years. The ones that are successful are the ones that can adjust to today’s market,” he explained. Buddy Profits bought Pride and Active Duty “to stay fresh and in touch with the marketplace.” Another big concern for Camacho: Google’s moves in the last couple of years. “We’re a technology services company,” he said. “Google killed SEO; from one day to the next we saw our numbers drop. This year it was SEM; not being able to buy ads on Google. We’ve had to work harder than ever before. … My job is to try to help you—partners, affiliate, blogger, studio. It’s been tough, but we take it as a challenge. My team gets excited when the numbers grow.”
As with any discussion related to adult, the issue of piracy came up. Like many Internext attendees, CockyBoys’ Jaxson was philosophical about tube sites. “Think about the first porn you ever watched—
it was probably stolen,” he said, and then asserted that free porn can lead to new consumers. Studios can work with the tubes, he said, but “you have to develop a way that’s not going to hurt you.” File sharing sites are another matter, however. Jaxson even found one site that was using his billing company. “Personally, I think that’s the conversation we should be having. If you’re taking our money and then you’re also taking the money of file sharing sites, that’s a problem.”
Camacho said, “We put very little of our personal effort into piracy and outsource to anti-piracy services. … If we’re just talking about tubes, that’s about half the piracy conversation. They’re becoming like a catalog.” According to Camacho, “You’ll get off a few times [for free], but when you want more of that, you can get it from an exclusive site.” That works best for high-end content he acknowledged, since there are those consumers who “shop at Costco,” while “some of them are going to pay for a Louis Vuitton bag.”
Getting consumers into the mindset where they will pay for something they can get for free is not impossible. As attorney Gill Sperlein noted from the audience, “You have to get them to buy the bottled water.”
Yet pricing can be a tricky business. Schut said, “There are studios who are saying, ‘Please bootleg our stuff’ by charging too much. You want to make people feel like they belong somewhere.”
Indeed, Jaxson said that creating a sense of belonging is the key to opening up wallets. Three CockyBoys stars were in the audience—Levi Karter, Liam Riley and Jake Bass—and Jaxson pointed to them as a core asset. “We have a personality experience; these guys create a community effect. You get enrolled in their social media and that’s connected to the site.”
Stricklin offered the ad networks’ perspective on tubes. “Whether it’s right or wrong, that’s the standard to work with tubes—and some even work with file sharing. Most of the ad networks do work with a lot of these sites. And a lot of these sites are working with the studios. … People from ad networks are looking for volume and quality, and usually they’re not the same things. Quality is in blogs and forums. Volume is in tubes.”
Given that this was the year that Falcon took over Hot House, Mindgeek acquired Sean Cody, and Buddy Profits enlisted Active Duty, consolidation was clearly a trend. Camacho addressed this, noting that the Sean Cody deal “did surprise us—and then it didn’t. Sean Cody is a nice brand and it sold for nice numbers. … They needed to have a better affiliate program and a better marketing program,” and that is something Mindgeek could offer. As for Buddy Profits in the near future, “We decided we are going to slow down. But we are looking for something where there’s still some life left.”
Jaxson said he often gets asked if CockyBoys is for sale. His answer: “We’re a family-owned business; these guys are my family. I love doing what I do; I love making the films I make. … I’m not in competition with anybody but myself. It’s hard enough competing with me every morning. At the end of the day, I run my business with my two other partners. We’re not a mom-and-pop shop. We’re a pop-pop-and-pop shop.
Stricklin brought up rumors of ad networks being on the market and also said she thinks there is room for new affiliates: “There are still a lot of good people out there trying to do the right thing the right way.”
Schut also sounded optimistic notes. “There’s always going to be a new startup coming and somebody coming along with something amazing.” He mentioned ChaosMen as an example. “I love finding a startup. That gets me excited. It’s a mentoring thing in a way. But it’s also smart business. It’s about keeping your eyes open about who’s coming up. … Keep looking for the new—and help them.”
The panelists also took questions from the audience, including one that cut to the core of the challenges facing adult entertainment: “What are you doing to move beyond traditional porn consumption?” It was clearly a question that Jaxson has considered. Though he looks to create “an entertainment experience and not a porn experience,” Jaxson is “not one who is trying to not be a pornographer. We have more people watching what we do than the DIY gardening channel.” But he also recognizes the importance of penetrating the mainstream. “I have been talking to fashion labels. We just did a look book with a very avant-garde fashion designer.”
Reaching fans is a challenge that is constantly evolving, Jaxson reminded the audience. “Google search. Gone. Google Adwords. Gone. Tumblr. Gone.” But what remains is the promise of a new generation of consumers. “Young people now are pornographers. That’s what Snapchat is made for.” And the whole thing was predicted by Andy Warhol, Jaxson pointed out. When the prescient pop culture artist was first given a video recorder, he predicted people would use it to tape themselves having sex. In other words, in the future everyone will be naked for 15 minutes. The key for professional purveyors of erotica is how to engage these DIY smut makers. “We do meet-and-greets, fan experiences,” Jaxson said. It’s all part of an effort to be “on the cutting edge of thinking and thought.”
As Jaxson said near the beginning of the discussion, it’s all about being nimble. “Are you a speedboat or a warship?” After listening to these speakers, it’s clear that there are more than a few speedboats out there, deftly navigating the troubled waters of gay adult entertainment.
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