Colin Rowntree, founder and still-fervent producer of Wasteland.com and the other SpiceCash suite of niche websites, is deservedly well-known in the adult entertainment industry, especially on the internet side of the biz. A dependable presence at trade events for more than a decade, a popular moderator of educational seminars on innumerable topics, a respected creator of quality content for his particular niches, Colin is, simply put, an online original. But Wasteland also is a family debauchery, whipped into shape, if you will, by the aligned talents of Colin, the Ringmaster, and Angie, the devoted spouse—who is, as so often is the case, also the steel spine without which the edifice cannot stand. Together with their carnival cast of employees, performers, programmers, designers and assorted groupies both creative and technical, the gang-that-doesn’t-want-to-shoot-straight (sexually speaking) refuses to rest on its spiked bed of plaudits and instead speeds ahead on the wings of outrageous new technologies, determined to deliver its warped goodies to folk far and wide. Call him an old-timer, dinosaur, OG—or as I prefer, good friend, creative spirit and dogged businessman—we thought it was a good time to revisit the founder of the original BDSM website that refuses to go quietly into that good night.
How, and why, did you get into the adult industry?
It was a dark and stormy night in 1994 and my wife, Angie, and I stumbled across an idea. At that time, we had two little mail order catalogues—one selling Celtic and metaphysical jewelry, and the other selling kinky leather gear and BDSM toys. This little idea was to see if we could figure out how to put the pictures from the catalogues on that new thing, the internet. So, we invested $347 on a used and beat-up IBM 386 and a dialup modem, had a friend scan the pictures of our kinky-gear catalogue at the mental institution where he worked, and stuck them on a web page, written in notepad, optimized for Mosaic. The goal was to get people to call or email us to ask for a free catalog.
Within a month, we discovered that a LOT of people were coming to look at the dirty pictures of pretty girls in leather corsets but were not ordering the catalogue, and it was costing us money for bandwidth! So, we thought, let’s figure out a way to charge them, let’s say, $10 to look at the dirty pictures and hide the catalogue pictures in a “secret directory” (this was before we heard about .htaccess) that we would email to the customer after we got the ten bucks. We redid the little website and woke up the next morning to 15 members. HOLY SHIT! A hundred and fifty bucks! That’s half a week’s salary at the day job!
But, alas, still no one ordered a catalogue. Well, we theorized, maybe they just want to pay to see dirty pictures of pretty girls in leather corsets? Kinda dumb, but why not try it? So, on our 14.4 modem, we downloaded every scanned .gif image on the local Boston BBS over the course of two weeks (a total of 100 pictures, one hour each per download), added them to the “member’s area,” and upped the price to a whopping $50 a year, thinking the world would laugh at this obscenely greedy folly. A little search engine called Yahoo listed us, and people came. Then a new little link list called Persian Kitty listed us. And then they came in droves, phoning and faxing in, and, yes, even emailing their credit card numbers. Wasteland was born.
What is the secret to your longevity as a successful business? (If you don’t want to reveal the “secret,” then can you at least give us a hint?)
A few things come to mind. First and foremost, doing just a few niche-specific sites really well, rather than many redundant half-assed sites that compete with each other. Our sites keep it focused on different specific niches: A hardcore BDSM megasite, an erotica for women site, a Japanese underground bondage film site, a BDSM and scary monsters with dicks Hentai site, a vintage 1990s teen site, a FemDom reality show site, and a BBW-focused BDSM site. Customers can sense that care and passion goes into each body of our work and that is what we hold as our standard.
Then, that extreme focus leads to extreme production standards in the product people are paying to see—photography and films. That then leads to having a body of work that can be deployed in as many vertical platforms as we can dream up, and oftentimes way ahead of the game. The result is such diverse things as AmishBondage.com and other viral sites; InsideWasteland.com, which features behind-the-scenes footage, trailers, bloopers and interviews from our film productions; KinkForKindle.com, which gives away free 19th-century classic S&M EBooks branded with Wasteland original photography; m.wasteland.com, the first BDSM premium site for smart phones and mobile devices; Wasteland’s EroticVision Channel on Roku IPTV; and lots of other ways that we’ve stepped out of the box with seemingly odd things that miraculously became successful.
So, the short answer is to put a lot of care and passion into creating things that people actually would pay to see, and then getting it in front of as many eyeballs on as many different platforms and devices as we can dream up. Oh. And work 80 hours a week for 15 years. That helps as well, I guess.
What about your job do you like the best? What do you not like the best?
The best parts of my job are the occasional flashes of insight or inspiration that lead to something new. A recent example of this: Last Christmas my wife bought me a Kindle. While reading my first book on it (Pillars of the Earth), at the beginning of Chapter 2, there was a nice black-and-white image on the screen. Oh. These things can embed images?
After grabbing a free ebook authoring bit of software, I pretty quickly discovered you can embed any old black-and-white photo you like in ebooks. And that the works of the Marquis de Sade are totally public domain. And Wasteland has a ton of good photography that generally reflects what is going on in these sadist tomes. The result: Edit together the works of Sade and some of the 19th-century British S&M novels; sprinkle them full of Wasteland erotic photography; and put them on our domain KinkForKindle.com. For free!
It turns out that people who buy Kindles and Nook and who read sado-masochistic novels also appear to be gadget collectors and can be pretty easily convinced that they need to go out and buy a Roku IPTV box to watch Wasteland S&M movies in high definition on their living room television for a mere $34.95 a month. Recurring. Cancel and you loose your custom S&M playlist, professor. Oh, but wait! That gadgety crowd also likes to watch porn on their mobile devices. Step right up for membership, Marion the Librarian!
That sort of thing is what I like best. The thing I like “not best” is getting the programmers, graphics people and the like to “get it” and get going in a speedy and functional manner!
Have your views on sexuality changed at all since you’ve been in the biz?
My views? Not really, but my view of consumer’s views, yes. A short 10 years ago, the thought of someone shooting and releasing double penetration in bondage sent chills through the viewing public. Nowadays, that sort of thing is on free trailers on the front page of any number of websites with impunity. Not much is naughty or taboo anymore, and that sort of takes some of the fun out of it, doesn’t it?
What is your greatest personal talent or skill with respect to your work? (Don’t let modesty get in the way of an honest answer!)
After coming up with these bright ideas I mentioned above, my best skill is bringing them to fruition. I will work until I fall over to get a project on its feet, and expect the same dedication from those around me. That sometimes turns me into a project manager from hell—but, hey, I am also a symphonic and opera conductor, so people get used to the style pretty quickly. If you can get the best out of a temperamental operatic soprano diva, you can get the best out of anyone!
Name five highlights of your adult career.
• Phoning a hosting company I spotted listed on Yahoo in 1996, getting a chiropractor’s office, talking to the chiropractor about letting me put Wasteland on his little server he had for the local business community in Phoenix, warning him that it was adult content, and having then-chiropractor Ron Cadwell ask me, “You think there’s any money in that?” and promise to call me back the next day after he consulted with his wife. Cavecreek/CCBill was born.
• Being awarded “Best Fetish Site” two years in a row from AVN when they used to have Internext awards shows, and then, this year, being awarded the XBIZ 2010 “Excellence in Alternative Erotica” award. That felt good.
• Watching the 300 or so movies I have directed for Wasteland over the years suddenly light up in high def on my living room TV over Roku IPTV and then, at the other end of the size scale, watch them light up on IPhone and Androids. Eagerly anticipating the same pleasurable reaction on iPad in a few months.
• Watching our little kinky clothing mail order catalogue in 1994 turn into one of the first internet adult paysites, riding each new wave of technology, and seeing it as a respected fixture in the adult industry for the last 15 years.
• And an ongoing highlight—while at shows, having adult business owners who are now wildly successful come up to me and say that they heard me speak at the very first seminar they came to when they were entering the business 10 years ago and “that one thing” I said made a massive difference in leading to their success.
Name the things that excite you most about the future of Wasteland/Spicecash?
Innovation! Although we are nowhere near the size in staff and operations as many of the other large players, this at times works to our advantage as we can work quickly and not get bogged down in management and infrastructure ramp-ups. This results in our long-standing ability to come up with new things quickly that really work, think outside of the box, and bring sacks of new BDSM and fetish goodies to consumers and bags of money to our affiliates.
Would you enter the adult industry today? If so, why? If not, why not?
Absolutely! Even in this viciously competitive and oversaturated marketplace, I think I could dream up another Amish Bondage or Bulgarian Tap-Dancing Amputee fetish site that could at least pay the rent from up sells to Friend Finder and AEBN. But yes, it’s harder now for anyone to get going. Has been for the last 10 years. But new guys keep coming in and some of them come up with the better mousetrap. I build pretty good mousetraps myself, so why not?
Sum up your entire adult career in one sentence. (Make it complex, if you must.)
It was a dark and stormy night when we created the first BDSM subscription site in 1994 with $347 and 100 percent accidentally stolen content, which then accidentally gave birth to CCBill, which now has its own non-accidental corporate jet and a touring bus suitable for rock bands—and I have a very good library of films I’ve created (that AEBN doesn’t have, even if I was their first beta tester); a network of successful niche sites on many platforms, whose member directory is still named /paul9702 for Paul at Cavecreek (who was the last programmer to change the “secret directory” name of the week in 1997 when we discovered .htaccess); a fantastic wife who controls the money and stats like Machiavelli; a crew of dedicated employees and a business that is a household name in the adult industry with a rock-solid affiliate program; and a network of friends and associates in every nook and cranny of the industry that I can bring together in any way imaginable to bring to fruition the odd ideas I have while smoking a cigarette when taking the dogs out to pee.
This article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of AVN.