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PROFILE 200506 - CyberNet Bucks: Turning fetish into a fortune

PROFILE 200506 - CyberNet Bucks: Turning fetish into a fortune

In today’s increasingly overpopulated Internet market of adult content, it’s becoming harder to tell one ultraslick, traditional boy-girl site from the other. One surgically enhanced silicone tit blends into the next, while the endless barrage of women in ridiculously unnatural poses simply rehashes what everyone else is doing. Fortunately, there is an alternative: fetish, where the unconventional collides with the sensual to introduce a whole new way of looking at sex.

Luckily, many adult webmasters have begun to embrace fetishistic content, resulting in a more diverse Internet market—and guaranteed retention and conversion. Which is where CyberNet Bucks comes in. Started in 2001 by CEO Tony Pirelli as the affiliate program for CyberNet Entertainment (home to popular sites such as Hogtied.com and its flagship site, FuckingMachines.com), CyberNet Bucks (www.cybernetbucks.com) has slowly perfected a formula for understanding traffic and turned it into cold, hard cash—for both the company’s founders and its affiliates.

Pirelli’s partner, Peter Rogers, a college student looking to make a little extra cash, started Hogtied in 1997 while attending graduate school at Columbia. Using purchased material, he built the site up into a modestly profitable venture before relocating to San Francisco and hooking up with Pirelli, who had recently arrived in the Bay Area himself. The two men clicked during the creation of Fucking Machines, and Pirelli came onboard shortly thereafter to get CyberNet Bucks off the ground.

Using his background in sales and marketing, Pirelli started the program on somewhat shaky ground (“Affiliates were telling us, ‘God, if only you would do it this way or change that,’” Pirelli chuckles), but soon began to turn the program into a viable moneymaker–and increase the presence (and influential possibilities) of its flagship site. “There are so many sites copying us today–even big ones,” Pirelli declares. “Back [when Hogtied started], everyone had cookie-cutter sites. Then we came along and started putting up our content, and now others have done the same thing.” Which, of course, makes both men chuckle when they think back on all the people who told them to change the way they did things. “The reality is, we did it the way we wanted to do it and it worked out fine,” Pirelli says. “Eight years later, we’re still here. And we’re converting better for our affiliates and we’re retaining traffic. And five years since we started CyberNet Bucks, we’re still making money.”

Of course, it was an arduous road to financial success, Pirelli stresses. “Back when there were only two of us running the company, it was Peter doing all the programming and shooting for Hogtied, and I was running CyberNet Bucks and doing all the marketing and shooting Fucking Machines, so our resources were absolutely limited,” he recalls. “We started eight years ago in a two-bedroom apartment, and we were shooting content with daylight. Along the way, we didn’t have experts to hire to set it up for us and teach us. So we just figured it out along the way.” Looking back, he says, that was all part of the fun, though he is quick to add: “Would we want to do it again? No, Life is way better now.”

And how. Both Hogtied and Fucking Machines are big traffic recipients, increasingly drawing affiliates to the CyberNet Bucks program, though Pirelli also says that he and Rogers had to resort to primitive measures in order to understand their traffic. “It wasn’t like you could start writing scripts to measure this or that,” he says, recalling that he once spent “18 hours a day” trying to crack open the data he was receiving. “We were very limited in what we could do [in the beginning]. So you just have to rely on putting a basic system together that you know is solid and is going to track hits and pass the correct information to the processors and get the information back so you can credit the affiliates.

“We started with the most basic of interfaces and stats, and HTML reports to our affiliates were laughable, but they worked,” he continues. “And people stuck with us and they made us popular.” Obviously, one reason why affiliates choose to stick with CyberNet is because of their roster of hardcore sites, which offer original specialty content that stands apart from that of clone sites. “What makes us unique is that we produce it all ourselves,” Pirelli trumpets. “We try to put out the most original material that we can with the highest production costs that we can put together.

“If you asked what distinguishes us from other sites, it’s that we’re not doing the usual boy-girl stuff—it’s all fetish,” he adds. “It’s bondage, S&M. It’s stuff like Fucking Machines. It’s real. We don’t use a lot of amateur models because they’re harder to work with and harder to find, but we strictly tell all of our models not to act. We make it very clear, ‘We don’t want you to pretend like you’re enjoying something that you don’t. If don’t enjoy it, just say so, and we’ll do something else.’ In that respect, it’s a much more real experience, not only for the models, but also for our customers. And that’s why we have the conversions that we do.”

Indeed, one of the company’s latest successful offshoots is UltimateSurrender.com, a female wrestling content site with a twist. “Women fight, and the winner gets to fuck the loser,” Pirelli reveals. “It’s hardcore original fetish stuff.” Mining the hedonistic mind-set of guys who love to watch women get down and dirty, the site is attracting all kinds of attention, and, Pirelli add, is “converting like mad.” Future plans include offering their affiliate infrastructure to aspiring webmasters looking to get in on the money, and plenty more fetish sites to choose from in the coming months.

Pirelli notes that the sites sometimes receive traffic from unexpected places (“People post links to your site in blogs and forums, and all of a sudden you start seeing tens of thousands of hits coming from people checking it out,” he says, adding, “That’s always fun free advertising”) and says he thinks it’s imperative for webmasters to know where their traffic is coming from if they want to understand it. He concedes that the CyberNet family’s best traffic is that which hails from “affiliate programs that post links inside their own fetish sites. That traffic already has credit cards attached to it; they’re already buying adult and they’re looking for fetish material. You get ridiculous conversions off that traffic, but unfortunately, you can only get so much of it.”

Pirelli says patience is also fundamental in understanding traffic to webmaster sites—especially for those who are just starting out. “If you have just started sending traffic to a site, it’s probably a bad idea to look at stats every day and wonder whether you are being cheated,” he advises. “If your conversion rates end up being, say, 1-to-500 raws, then there is no knowing when those sales are going to materialize. I think you need to have a savvy investor mentality and let things run their course and check on the situation regularly, but not obsessively.”

In the end, however, Pirelli says that each webmaster’s experience is going to be different. “I’d be blowing smoke out of my ass if I were to tell you that you should do this or do that,” he begins. “You just have to understand traffic and the kind of content you’re putting out there—and advertise it in the right places. If doesn’t do you a whole lot of good to go out and purchase traffic if you don’t know what you’re directing that traffic to. Once you know that, then you can let your affiliates direct traffic to you.

“It all depends on what kind of material you’re trying to promote and how you’re trying to promote it,” he adds. “You start from the basics, and then hope that you’re heading in the right direction.”

Hey, it worked for them.

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