Growth is intrinsic to porn, literally, figuratively and anatomically. Without it, the show just can't go on. Likewise, businesses must expand to both thrive and survive. It's an American truism baked into every apple pie. Grow or die. It's also the elementary capitalist principle that provides a subliminal foundation for the Internet as a whole and adult Internet in particular. Those of us at the journalistic end of Internet porn love to bask in the sunny statistics of growth. It's like charting the increments of your child's height on a wall at home. It makes you feel good, a part of something larger and more important than yourself. We assume that everyone feels the same way.
But do they?
Perhaps the best place to evaluate the effects of and reactions to the unprecedented and seemingly infinite commercial expansion in cyberspace is the adult trade show known as ia2000, "Where Internet and Audiotext Meet," a physical manifestation of industry trends if ever there was one. From October 1-3 of this year, exhibitors and interested parties from all walks of adult Internet life packed the Radisson Deauville Resort Hotel in Miami Beach. From the basement to the rafters, from the exhibit halls to the seminars to the mega-parties and beyond, they sowed business seeds and indulged in sensual fantasies on a scale not seen before at this type of convention. Growth was inimitably in the air.
"In the beginning when I went to the conventions, things were a lot smaller and the conventions were, I think, a little bit boring," said Jack Guiragosian, CEO of AgeCheck, the AVS company with the conspicuously large booth and the extremely considerate free bar passes. "And now we've noticed that because companies want more attention they really need to do a little more, and not just stand at their booths and wait for wannabe Web masters to come up and ask for information.
I think you need to entertain them at the same time. To our surprise, almost 95 percent of the attendees were actually wearing our badges throughout the whole convention. It kind of put us on the map. I think it increased our business by five percent."
"The business is ever-expanding," enthused Steve Seidman, a sales rep with Adult Stars Magazine, which is available online and in print. "The wave of the future looks to be the Internet, especially in the adult business. I think people that don't [get their businesses online] are going to be lost. We're really happy with how things are going. The convention for us was a big success."
"As far as the growth of the convention, it's growing exponentially, and that was clearly evident by the three thousand people who came to Miami," said marketing director Kevin Blatt of Web master resource YNOT. "There were a lot of newbies, which was really exciting to see, and that says a lot about the growth of the industry as well. You have to have a presence at the trade show. If you don't, people won't know who you are. It was a very important thing that we were in Miami and we had the presence that we had. We got more exposure at this show than any other show we've previously done. We did spend a little bit more money, I don't know whether that had something to do with it as well, but the exposure that ia2000 was able to bring to us, via the registration sponsorship, was just second to none."
"Of course the biggest thing about the show is that it gives us a chance to see a large number of our clients in person," said Dan Steinberg of Epoch Systems, an E-commerce billing company. "The personal contact is extremely important, especially in an industry where the participants are dealing with change on such a rapid basis."
"I think the industry has gone from an embryonic stage into a more mature stage," said Kaiser from Netpond, the online magazine and Web site hosting service. "Adult sites were one of the first things on the Internet and have driven it. There's a reason Microsoft and modem companies go and fight for freedom of speech on the Internet. People want their porn faster. I'm a firm believer that this is one of the main reasons for the growth. And the business has gotten more serious. There are a lot of middle-income people on the Internet. There are maybe ten major companies out there, then another twenty percent are in the upper percentiles of size, and the rest are middle to small players. But the beauty is that most people started small and have built up and learned the ropes."
"It's funny, I'm making a parallel, " said Jack Gallagher, head honcho for content provider Babenet. "I started in the video business in 1980 and went to the first shows, and the size of the shows all paralleled the growth of the sales of the vidoes, and the same thing has happened here in the Internet business. I just see our business getting larger and more successful, just like the video business. I don't care how many people come. The more the merrier. It's the guys who do the best job and have the best customer service [who will last]."
"At each show the bar is raised," said Jonathan Lieberman of JMR Creations, the Naughty people. "There are bigger exhibits and better give-aways. You have to spend more to keep up. It used to be more clubby, more intimate, the owner was always there. Now there are a lot of new faces, more people who want to start a site."
"From our perspective I think that growth is one of the best things that could happen to the Internet," said Tom Krwawecz of Blue Gravity Communications, a low-priced Web host provider. "I think the show went very smooth. There were no problems. For us, doing Web hosting, you have people who are looking for companies to do business with, and newcomers in this industry need to know who they can deal with and who they can talk to. Being at the shows is obviously one of the best ways you could do it. Everyone is there. The players, the top dogs in the industry, you can walk up to the booths and talk with them. You know what they have and what they're doing."
Not every company exhibiting at Miami has found it easy to sustain such unparalleled growth. Network Telephone Services, Inc., an audiotext service provider, has had to adapt in order to survive, according to marketing manager David Wood. "I represent two services here. NTS, which is the biggest audiotext service bureau, and Pacific Marketing, a division of NTS, which is the biggest audiotext ad agency. Business was great for the agency. It picked up a lot of new business. Now we're branching out to Internet clientele that want to advertise in adult print. For the service bureau, it was more touching base and seeing all of our existing clients. Audiotext is a declining market but I think that it will always be there. There are people out there that will never get on the Net, but they will pick up a phone. But when that last audiotext call is made, we'll answer it."
After talking with a number of exhibitors, it became apparent that a tension of sorts was building between some of the established players and a swelling underclass of newbies eager to share a ride on the gravy train. Some established companies depend on a constant supply of new Web masters. Others don't.
Lieberman of JMR, for instance, falls into the latter group, saying, "We're targeting bigger people, people who aren't brand new. We did see a lot of new faces, but the herd of newbies are not really our customers."
Some exhibitors believe this influx of newbies might also lead to a kind of segregation at the conventions, at least as far as the parties go. Andy Edmond, President of SexTracker, a provider of free-to-Web master traffic analysis tools, sees this trend as inevitable. "I think you're going to see a lot of the big players retreat back to more of a hospitality suite, a penthouse suite, with restricted invitations and guest lists and all that stuff, so they can meet the people they want to meet. I mean, I can talk real fast and talk to a lot of people, but I'm not going to meet ten thousand people at a party and walk away with ten thousand business cards and remember exactly what was going on. The comfort that everyone used to have with one another is starting to fade a little, which is a good thing and a bad thing. The trade shows are about money and relationships. SexTracker goes to trade shows to build relationships, to do "face time."
It's not phone, it's not E-mail, it's not Web site. It's "face time." We're sitting down, having a drink, smiling, telling dirty jokes and the relationships are being built."
So does Edmond think that the growth of these shows will make conducting business more difficult? "No, I don't. I think it's going to segregate it.
It's the same thing like with the parties. The cruise ship party certainly made my weekend. I thought it was great. But I didn't do any more business with them [CEN, RJB Telcom] because of it, and I doubt a lot of other people did, either. You can't mass-produce face time. You have to go after important people that you want to do business with, and then use seminars and your booth to reach out to as many people as possible."
AgeCheck, on the other hand, couldn't see it more differently. "The convention went really well for us," said Guiragosian. "We had the stage, and the lobby bar sponsorship, and the pool party sponsorship, so it went really well. I have noticed that a lot of companies are going bigger and want a larger presence at these conventions. Our next booth will be almost twice as large and other companies are also looking for bigger booths to attract newer Web masters as opposed to the older more established companies.
We want to get the small time Web masters and help them grow with us. We walk them through the business. I don't see too many companies at these conventions that really help a new Web master get into the business" AgeCheck plans to throw a party at Studio 54 and they're trying to get ZZ Top to give a concert during the January ia2000 convention in Las Vegas. They're also planning a sort of side-by-side mega-booth with Cybererotica that will have a bar set up between them, so that they can serve alcohol to attendees throughout the convention.
For the most part, it appears that whatever the tensions brought on by the seismic growth of adult Internet and ia2000, the payoffs are positive and healthy and, above all, exciting. Everyone we spoke with was eagerly looking forward to Vegas. Everyone was happy with how Miami went off, and a few were positively exultant, like YNOT's Kevin Blatt.
"The ia2000 staff went beyond the call. They were so open and receptive about new ideas and doing things to help people. It was run more professionally, more smoothly. It's the details that count for a lot in this business. And the attention to detail showed. I didn't hear one negative thing about the show until [anti-porn crusader] Luke Ford started pissing and moaning."
Guess you can't please everybody.