While the sexual revolution as we knew it in the 1960s and 1970s is over, a sexual revolution of another kind is being led by adult webmasters who bring sexuality to the forefront in their websites and affiliate programs. Over the years, cultural perceptions of many things previously considered taboo have shifted, leading not only to relaxed morals, but also to a plethora of niche-focused sites that explore those taboos.
The past few years, especially, have seen the rise of the niche site, with everything from big tits and squirting babes to cum facials and girl-on-girl action finding dedicated and loyal audiences and causing similar sites to keep popping up. Kink.com popularized bondage, S&M and mechanical sex through sites like Hogtied.com, UltimateSurrender.com and FuckingMachines.com, while the aptly named affiliate program NicheBucks helped usher in the era of the older woman through sites like AuntJudys.com, OlderWomen.com and BigOlderWomen.com. Meanwhile, BangBros practically created the reality niche as we know it today (and inspired plenty of imitators), and SpookyCash has helped popularize the SuicideGirls-rooted trend toward alternative girls. Not to be outdone, programs like SICCash, AdultRevenueService, PimpRoll and TopBucks have expanded on those niches and offered several micro-niche sites that have managed to catch on and retain customers. And that's just a cursory overview.
Listing all of the popular programs and their respective niche sites could take forever. In fact, niche sites have become so common among affiliate programs that it has led some to wonder if there is a stone left unturned in Fetishville and question the validity in referring to some of the more popular fetishes as niches at all.
Can a webmaster with a jones for a bizarre sexual act and the know-how to put a site together make it in today's oversaturated niche market? If so, what does it take to succeed, given all the competition? At what point is a niche no longer a niche? And why is farting the latest rage? We polled several webmasters to get the answers and found that, when it comes to the niche market, the sky is still the limit.
Cuffs, chains and cum. Oh, my!
Though webmasters interviewed for this story had varying opinions on the top niches, a few niches kept popping up. By far, the most mentioned was the teen niche, with big breasts, interracial fucking, reality/amateur and older women/MILF following closely behind. However, as SilverCash President Mike Price pointed out, "the most popular niches aren't necessarily the best-selling ones, which makes the niche market a funky one."
Additionally, competition among webmasters to produce moneymaking niche sites became so intense in the past few years that there was an onslaught of subpar domains littering the Web. "It's kind of funny," said Greg TX, director of operations at ShawInternet.com, parent company of the SICCash and RainbowRevenue affiliate programs. "At one point, it was like an arms race to see who could throw up the newest niche site the fastest."
Domina M., owner of the dominatrix-themed program LuxyPay, concurred. "The proliferation of cheap production, hosting and Web templates has allowed anyone with a particular taste to make a site that revolves around it," she said. "The upside is that there are sites that cater to many particular tastes that a customer might have." (More on that later.)
No end in sight
As Domina M. and others have pointed out, there now are sites for just about every fetish out there - within (2257-friendly) reason. However, contrary to discussions on webmaster forums like GoFuckYourself, it appears not many adult webmasters think the niche market is in danger of being exhausted any time soon. "Sex is like food," said Kickass Pictures President Mark Kulkis, whose company has produced niche-themed series like Barefoot Confidential, ATK Natural & Hairy, 5-Guy Cream Pie and Organic She-Males for several years. "Pizza, burgers and steak get boring after a while, as does regular vanilla sex. People crave variety, and with the Internet, you finally have a medium to deliver unlimited variety directly to consumers. There will always be a new cuisine waiting to be discovered."
Clark Chambers, general manager of NicheBucks, concurred. "I doubt you will find very many unexploited niches," he said. "However, there are always new ways to deliver more of what the customer wants. I think the barrier to entry is much higher. End users' expectations have been raised to the level which necessitates exclusive content, multiple updates per week and clear niche-specific content choices. You have to spend a long time producing content prior to launching a new site. There is no longer an easy footing gained from throwing up a quick site with licensed content and a handful of feeds."
Peter Acworth of Kink.com agreed, but he added a qualifier. "I do feel the niche market is now more differentiated than it was," he said. "For example, bondage is no longer a niche but a genre. A new general bondage site would not be particularly successful, and it needs to focus on some specific aspect of bondage, such as particular forms of play or particular types of restraint."
Acworth brought up an interesting point: Once a niche reaches critical mass, is it still considered a niche?
Mark Kleim, owner of the gay site LavenderLounge.com - which features a section on hairy gay men, or "bears" - doesn't think so. "If a niche becomes popular, then it's a mainstream and therefore no longer a niche," he said.
Others don't hold the same opinion. "Niches are regulated by specifically targeted traffic," Greg TX countered. "As long as you can target traffic to a certain type of woman, sex act or body type, it will always be a niche."
Chambers added, "A niche can clearly become diluted, but this only serves to help the leaders in each niche. There has been a huge increase in mature/MILF pretender sites over the past few years, [but they] have had no effect on our site's membership levels. It would seem to me that the movement away from a popular segment can actually create a stronger niche. For example, softcore has moved in this way since the explosion of hardcore content with a few sites serving this niche particularly well."
However, though some might think increased competition could make webmasters shy away from entering the niche market, others stand by it. "I actually feel that specializing in a niche is a better business model, versus just building a general porn site these days," Greg TX offered. "When you focus on a niche, you are then able to find or buy [targeted] search-engine traffic at a better price point."
FetishFish.com owner Mantis M. summed it up another way: "The niche market is where the money's at and where it's been for a while now."
Pushing new sexual ideologies
Though some, including pornographers themselves, still may be hard-pressed to say hardcore porn producers are social revolutionaries, there is an obvious correlation between the popularity of niche-driven sites and the way people now react to fetish material.
"The Internet has made some amazing transformations in the way we look at porn today," Price said. "I think back in the day, you took what you could get. The niches were few, and most sites and videos were general in genre. The Internet has really helped push and develop niches and the advancement of them. All you have to do it hit up a major search engine and type in whatever crazy niche you're into, and you'll get it. Because of this, I think consumers themselves have become more picky about having exactly what they want, rather than joining a more general type of site."
It also is possible that porn has helped make fetishes more acceptable among society at large. "I think previously taboo niches are becoming gradually more acceptable and that curious people who might previously have been frightened away are checking them out," Acworth said. "I think that this is definitely a very good and healthy thing because pornography is giving people new ideas about how to have a more fulfilling sex life."
For many, the success of niche sites could mean a celebration of sexual diversity. "I hope it means that people are becoming more willing to accept themselves," said Michael Colton, owner of the gay spanking and punishment site TropixxxStudios.com. "I remember when I would never walk into a store and ask for a spanking video because I was too embarrassed. However, online I was able to search out spanking sites and eventually start my own when I could not find my particular area of the spanking fetish."
However, not everyone is convinced that niche sites' popularity means people are embracing their inner perverts. "I think [fetish material] is just easier to access," Greg TX said with a chuckle. "The perversion was always in place; it was just harder to get."
Mantis M. cautioned against jumping to too many conclusions based on the success of niche sites. "Just because webmasters are paying more attention to niches nowadays doesn't mean that those niches weren't there yesterday," he commented. "A saturated market forces companies to look for more profitable alternatives. That's why we see more niche-targeted content. Niches, however, were always there."
One might ask what's left to be exploited. Webmasters agree that quite a few taboos remain. Certainly, sites devoted to small cocks, chubby/big-boned women and rock 'n' roll babes and boys could be created or more fully explored.
"I'd love to see more interracial porn, but not just black-on-white," said Danny Z., co-owner of the gay Asian-themed affiliate program zBUCKz. "How many sites do you see with Latins and Asians together? Or maybe a site with Muslims and Jews having sex together to promote world peace? I think its time we push the envelope a little and do something fresh and exciting."
For straight webmasters, at least one ultimate taboo still exists, if anyone has the fortitude to explore it. "Currently, a taboo of homosexuality and bi-curiosity on the part of [straight] men remains the final frontier," Domina M. offered, adding that she doesn't expect that market to be tapped any time soon.
Still, one thing's for certain. "Americans crave diversity and options," Kleim said. "It's like, ‘Let's see how many ways we can prepare eggs!'"
Then again, others contended it might be even more prudent to start with what's already on our plates instead of preparing new meals. "I think now is the time to look at existing niches and find niches within them," Acworth said. "For example, within bondage there is steel bondage, Japanese bondage and - my favorite - bondage done on women with big natural tits, plus a whole slew of others, ad infinitum. The niche needs to be wide enough so as to be interesting enough to potential clients but also narrow enough that there is not much competition."
"There will always be subtle changes in culture, fashion and items ripped from the deadlines that will lend itself to parody in adult niches. I predict a new site called TearoomSenatorsGoneWild.com," Kleim joked. "Narrow niches have not been exhausted, but broad-based niches may have been. I see more and more self-made porn, [which is] so personalized that it may only attract an audience of one or two customers."
It is possible new niches are on the horizon, waiting to take over - if the law permits. "I think that as time goes by, the threat of obscenity prosecutions will gradually fade away," Acworth said. "This will lead to billing companies relaxing their compliance regulations, and then companies will jump on some fetishes that have previously been too risky."
Asked what those fetishes might be, most of the webmasters refused to answer, saying they were preparing sites on those niches and didn't want to invite competition. But one brave soul took a stab at it. "Foot-fetish sites have been done, but who can come up with a new angle?" Domina M. proposed. "I see clips going farther and farther into the bizarre. Once, balloon fetish was on the fringe. Now, yawning, tickling and farting are taking over, but farting might be a little much, even for me."
Ingredients for success
Since being a producer of niche content or owning a niche site is no longer that noteworthy, what do niche producers need in order to be successful in today's oversaturated market? "Isn't that the $64,000 question, literally?" Domina M. replied with a chuckle. "The best way to measure success is being able to pay your bills with a site you enjoy creating. If you do something you don't think is sexy, you have no right to do it. Your potential customers will see disingenuousness a mile away."
"It takes someone with a true passion for a particular niche to succeed," said Kulkis, who recently launched FootFetishDaily.com. "You cannot fake it and expect to retain customers."
For some, not faking it means "active involvement in the lifestyle pertaining to the niche," Mantis M. said. "Content creators and performers need to have personal interest in the niche if they want to make a great product."
"I really think that today's adult consumers want quality," Danny Z. added. "They want something original and exciting, and they want to be turned on in new and different ways." With advancements in technology always arriving, he said, webmasters had better get used to it. "As the Internet continue to evolve, surfers are going to require more instant gratification. The faster you can give them exactly what they are looking for at any given time - be it Asian men sucking each other's feet or women pounding men anally with a strap-on - the demand for niche porn is going to continue to increase. I think it's up to porn producers to step up to the plate, get more creative and breathe fresh life into the porn industry."
This article originally appeared in the March 2008 edition of AVN Online magazine. To subscribe to AVN Online, visit AVNMediaNetwork.com/subscriptions/.