WESTCOAST WEBMASTERS CONFERENCE
How Sweet It Is!
by Tom Hymes
The Westcoast Webmasters Conference, hosted by the Sweet Entertainment Group (www.sweetentertainment.com) in Vancouver, BC April 11-14 at the Pacific Palisades Hotel, was very much a VIP affair.
With Webmasters and participants feted and dined to their hearts content and all for free, all a Webmaster had to do was register for the event in time and then pay to get and stay there. Everything else, from the trip to the summit of 4,100-foot high Grouse Mountain to daily lunches to karaoke to transportation to party after party after dinner after dinner, was paid for by a bevy of seriously generous sponsors. There were even a handful of porn stars in attendance to spice things up.
For this writer, visiting Vancouver a week after the Montreal Amateur Bash (see p. 130 - Ed.) highlighted the differences between the two cities. In weather, geography, architecture, language and almost everything else, the contrasts were striking and couldn't have been more indicative of Canada's diversity. Montreal is European and old; Vancouver is Pacific Rim and modern, reminiscent of the movie Blade Runner with its ubiquitous Asian influence, modish glassy buildings and edgy consumerist ambience. There was also a quaint coastal competitiveness at play, with people from both cities laying claim to the title of Hollywood North. There was also a notable difference between the two shows. Montreal was an amateur event that was basically a kick ass weekend-long party while Vancouver was a pedigreed mainstream adult affair with all the attendant bells and whistles.
Still, all Webmaster events share the primary goal of providing quality face time. "The whole purpose of Westcoast Webmasters was to bring people together, to give them a venue to do a lot of heavy networking," said Tom Sweet, who founded and runs the company with his brother, Steve. But another essential purpose of the smaller shows is to provide to newbies who can't get to an Internext Convention the access and information they wouldn't otherwise receive. According to Sweet, "It gives the newbies time to learn about the business and the ways that they can improve."
Toward that end, the Sweets provided four full days of learned speakers and invaluable seminars. The speakers, bundled into the first day, included David Knell from Netdialers, Lee Noga from Cybererotica, YNoTBob from YNoT, and Daron "SEGuru" Babin, now of Sex.com. The next three days primarily consisted of a Search Engine Intensive conducted by SEGuru, during which he painstakingly led a packed room through the minutiae of search engine placement. For these sessions, a computer terminal was provided for each Webmaster, so that they could experience online what was being taught offline. It was precisely attention to details like this that made the Westcoast Webmaster Conference such a special event - like the Continental breakfast every morning, the sumptuous lunch every day, the buses provided for transportation to every party and dinner, and the networking lounge that was available throughout the day.
"I'm not sure how other shows compare," said Sweet, "but the amount of money spent on individual people came out to be about $500 per person. It was sort of a VIP event. A lot of stuff you had happen here won't happen at other events, because there just aren't the sponsorship dollars. We're trying to build value into it. This year was a thousand times better than the one we had in August (2000), and that was a great show."
He added that keeping the show small was essential to providing that value. "It was the biggest we want to go," he said. "We were about 380 people at our max. At any one event we had about 220 people. Anything more than that and you lose that closeness. We thought about going bigger, but after running this one at 380, I think we're going to keep it at that size. It's a lot of work. We were running two shows simultaneously."
The other show, which few Webmasters attended, was a consumer event for which half a dozen porn stars were recruited, including Briana Banks, June Penthouse Pet, Jill Kelly, Shayla LaVeaux, Alisha Klass, Cassidey and Dayton. It was the first time the Sweets had attempted anything like it, and Tom said, "We didn't have a clue how it would come off. We know there were a lot of places where we can fix things up for next year, but the most important thing is that the people who attended the show had a good show."
The Sweets plan on putting on two Westcoast Webmaster events a year, the next one in August 2001. Because it's such a high-profile event, providing information and networking for newbies as well as upscale accommodations for experienced Webmasters to do business, they should have no trouble selling the show out again. For this past show, said Tom Sweet, "We put up the registration page and within three weeks we'd filled out our quota, selling out the conference about two-and-a-half months before the show."
As far as the demographics of attendees, Sweet said, "Probably 20-30 percent were Canadian. There were also plenty of Americans, and there were a fair number of people from outside North America: Panama, Germany, Australia and the U.K."
Sponsors included Cybererotica, Fresh Photos, CCBill, AdultNetSurprise, Traffic Cash Gold, SilverCash, Sex.com, SexHit, RoseCash, Join4Free, Igallery, NetDialers, AVN online, D-Money, and special thanks to Vivid Video, Search Engine Matrix, Steve Workman, YNoT, Sunup Media Group, Lee Noga, CaveCreek, Chisel Media, and Mask TV.
DESERT FORUM 2001
Networking Is KING
by Kathee Brewer
Not even the cold, rainy, very un-Phoenix-like weather could dampen the spirits of the more than 200 adult Webmasters who attended Desert Forum 2001 at the Pointe South Mountain Resort in Phoenix, April 6-8.
outside it was gloomy for much of the weekend, but indoors, warm camaraderie reigned as newbies and experienced Webmasters alike attended seminars and forums, and partied well into the wee hours each morning.
Sponsored by CCBill, Influx Bucks, SexKey, PornMegabucks, Join4Free, Sweet Entertainment Group, Cyber Entertainment Network, InSite Adult, Maximum Cash and PayCounter, the conference offered two days of roundtable discussions about everything from maximizing profits and traffic generation to fraud prevention and making referral programs work.
In addition to the educational offerings, participants also were invited to attend a Scottsdale city "club crawl," an Arizona Diamondbacks professional baseball game, a golf outing, and other organized and spur-of-the-moment events. Everything except transportation to and from the resort, room charges, and breakfast, was funded by the sponsors.
Divided by day into topics appropriate for pay-site Webmasters and free-site Webmasters, a few watchwords prevailed throughout the weekend: Watch your bottom line, watch your market, and watch your back.
Friday's moderator, Craig Tant of CCBill, opened the proceedings by remarking, "There's a lot of money to be made in this industry. (According to CCBill's statistics) the average customer purchases between five and seven sites a month."
But, panelists began to point out almost immediately, no amount of opportunity can replace good, old-fashioned common sense. "Never underestimate the value of personal networking," said Clark Chambers of Influx. "Cultivate relationships with other Webmasters. Maybe you don't need what they have right now, but six months down the road, you might."
Steve Sweet, president of Sweet Entertainment Group, emphasized the business and marketing aspects of successful pay site management. "Narrow your focus," he urged. "Build a brand and a reputation. Branding is important in any business, and (a good) reputation is essential in this industry. It's a very small community."
Thor, also of SEG, added, "It's a matter of being real; having something of value to sell. If you can't sell it in a brick-and-mortar store, you won't be able to sell it online. Whatever you do, make sure whatever you're selling is properly licensed."
Steve Workman, a staff attorney for Cyber Entertainment Network, echoed Thor's comments, adding, "There's no such thing as 'public domain.' Forget about it. And be especially careful with ads for Websites. If it's not true, don't say it."
Bob Cox, manager of iBill's 100 largest clients, perked the ears of all attending with his statistical analyses of adult buying habits and cautionary tales. iBill serves more than 60,000 Webmasters, he noted. "First of all, choose your processor wisely," Cox said. "They've been dropping like flies the past couple of years - and when they drop, they take your money with them.
"Use at least two processors," he continued. "That way, not only are you protected if one goes out of business, but because every company 'scrubs' charges (checks them for fraud) differently, if a charge is not accepted by one of them, you can offer your customer a chance to run his card through another company that may accept it."
CCBill's Doug Wickes said third-party processing companies can be a Webmaster's best friend or his worst nightmare, especially when it comes to fraud detection and chargebacks. Webmasters need to remain constantly vigilant when money is involved. "Make sure you work with a company that is looking out for you," he said. "Ask the tough questions. Above all, investigate your stats. Webmasters often are the first to spot fraud by examining their server logs and the administration area provided by the billing company."
"There's not millions of people committing fraud," added CCBill's Tant. "There's only thousands doing it very, very well. What we try to do is catch the ones doing it over and over again.
"If you see an affiliate that's slamming you with fraud, let other Webmasters and billing companies know (so they can be put on a shared 'black list')," he said.
Free-site Webmasters had their day of seminars, too, during which proprietors of some of the most successful free sites on the adult 'Net addressed the crowd and answered questions. Big Bear of MatureWeb and owner of 1,200 active domains, broke the free site hierarchy down into categories:
* Vanity sites: Usually the first site created by new adult
Webmasters, these are pretty and appeal to the new Webmaster's ego.
* Feeder sites: Free sites created expressly for the purpose of sending traffic to paying sponsor sites.
* Thumbnail gallery posts (TGPs): Actually a subset of feeder sites, these Web pages display a minimum of 10-15 images accompanied by sponsors' banners or text links. Some surfers love these kinds of sites, Big Bear said, but because they typically only are interested in finding free Internet porn, they tend to be harder for sponsors to sell than other adult surfers.
* Link lists or directories: Lists or directories in which every link includes an affiliate ID can provide reasonable income if they are run well, Big Bear said. He suggested Webmasters start with a list that provides links only to other sites they own or to sites of trusted sponsors and friends. Sites of this type that include a ranking system or well-phrased descriptions of the links often outperform other models.
* Mini-sites: These sites are created and optimized specifically to gain the maximum amount of search engine traffic possible, Big Bear said. They usually include 5-10 images, as well as banners and text links for a specific, well-paying sponsor. "(These sites are) there to advertise your sponsor," Big Bear explained, "not to entertain Joe Surfer."
* Megasites: Designed especially for submission to big adult directories, sites of this type usually contain 30 or more high-quality images - or the minimum number of images required by the submission rules at the target directories. Greenguy's Link o'Rama, Tommy's Bookmarks and Persian Kitty are examples of places where megasites might be submitted.
An important point stressed by Melody Clark of Webmaster Wampum: To ensure a site's listing in most large, mainstream search engines, its acceptance by DMoZ is essential. DMoZ is the open directory project begun by Netscape in an attempt to build a useful, uncluttered, hand-indexed database of honest-to-goodness Websites. Alta Vista, Lycos, HotBot, Google and other Web-wide search engines secure many of their results from DMoZ, which now requires that most free adult Websites include 40-50 good images before they are listed.
"Don't use any more 'pics' than you have to," Clark warned. "And for heaven's sake, don't put hardcore (images) on your free sites. Tease (the surfers), give them soft-core - as soft as you can give them - then send them on to your sponsor for hardcore material."
Join4Free's RRRed cautioned that above all else, adult Websites must be marketed relentlessly in order to be financially successful. A key in marketing, she said, is the repetitive, yet creative, use of keywords (also called search terms). "Buy domain names with search terms and synonyms of search terms and misspellings of search terms," RRRed said. "Name all your photos with keywords. Fit all your search terms and derivatives of them in a paragraph at the top of a page explaining what the site is about."
MikeFold of RJB Telcom said good domain names - those that include search terms or keywords that are descriptive of site content and appeal to the market segment the site is trying to attract - are like gold. "once you get a gold mine," he said, "register it for 10 years and forget it. That way you won't lose it accidentally (by forgetting to renew the registration)."
Several Webmasters agreed that circulating traffic among a group of Websites - all owned by one Webmaster or by a group of trusted friends, was a sound business practice.
"You can be your own best referrer," Big Bear said.
SEG's Thor added, "Try directing the traffic you can't convert to your largest competitor as an affiliate. Either way, you win."
Though the panelists on both days all seemed very forthcoming with secrets of the trade they had learned during years of experimenting on their own, all agreed that, in the final analysis, no single system of site generation and promotion would work for everyone.
"There are many different ways to do things," Big Bear observed. "You just have to experiment and find what works for you. Discover what you're comfortable with; what you understand. If you stick with it long enough and spend enough time and energy on it, maybe you'll be one of the ones sitting up here next time."
SECOND ANNUAL AMATEUR BASH
The Grunge Sophisticates of Amateur Porn
by Tom Hymes
I use the term grunge here with utmost respect and the full awareness that its relevance died with Kurt Cobain, replaced by...okay, I'm too old to know what the current term is - I'll leave all that to the Vanity Fair writers. My interest is in anything truly authentic, a rarity in Internet porn. So imagine my surprise when I arrived March 30 in Montreal for the Second Annual Amateur Bash, hosted by Wild Rose Productions, and realized over the party-drenched weekend that what they're up to in Hollywood East/Amsterdam West/ New orleans North is nothing less than the real deal.
Montreal itself is a magnificent 400-year-old city with the architecture to prove it. As snow started falling, ushering in the last storm of the season, I walked for hours through downtown streets crowded with boutique shops, clubs and restaurants, and long blocks lined with immaculate old brownstones, and as I walked I realized that everywhere I turned there were astonishingly beautiful women. The entire weekend confirmed this first impression, that Montreal is an ethnically diverse culturally vibrant Mecca populated by gorgeous women; a cold creative heaven on earth, a hip bohemian French-speaking Eden.
What's an Amateur?
Until the inevitable development of interactive sensory holographs like those on the Star Trek holodeck, the future of online sex will likely be dominated by professional video on demand, live sex shows, and amateur porn. In short, a world order split between the professional and the amateur.
So what exactly is an amateur and what is a professional, and when does one become the other? These are questions not easily answered by either performer or Webmaster, and indeed there are several large companies marketing amateur content on the Web that others regard as "pro/am" or professional amateur. These "purists" don't believe that the pro/am product is fooling anybody; their mantra is that authenticity is the key to success for niche communities, whether fetish, gay, swinger, amateur or other. But this still begs the question of what constitutes an amateur.
Evil Chris, V.P. of operation and Marketing for Wild Rose Productions, is a scary guy - not. No, behind the nefarious name is a smart, good looking, mild mannered fellow whose mission is to make his network of amateur girls an online force. The nucleus around which his galaxy of amateur stars revolves has always been and continues to be Carol Cox, "The original Explicit Internet Amateur," who just celebrated her seventh year on the Web. That celebration was in fact the centerpiece event of the Amateur Bash weekend, which also included a memorable party at a babe-packed club named Tokyo.
"I think most people are still really ignorant about the amateur market," he told AVN online. "Amateur's just a name, just a label. It has to do with the individual woman and her site, and looking into her life; that's all it means really. In fact, we've been trying to come up with a different word for amateur for quite a while now, so that everyone can understand it, because some people get it and some people don't.
"The thing is," he added, "how many Webmasters out there have never seen a photo shoot, or never seen naked women in front of them � most of them. All they're doing is shopping around, buying their content, putting together a Website and putting it on the Web. The amateur Website doesn't do that. All the content is what they produce themselves, and then they fill the site out with other things they think their members will enjoy. But the main focus is the woman and her life."
Besides a celebration, the Amateur Bash was also an opportunity for the Wild Rose amateurs to finally meet one another. "There were just over a hundred amateurs there with their spouses, and some came alone," said Evil Chris. "We didn't have a lot of business intentions with it. We wanted it to be just a big celebration, a big party. There were no seminars planned or anything like that. We just wanted amateurs to come out, meet one another, meet us for maybe the first time, and at the same time meet some other people and educate themselves about what's happening out there."
To that end, there was mainstream adult sponsorship of the event, including CCBill and Pornication as the main sponsors, and also Traffic Cash Gold, RJB Telcom, Sweet Partners, Certified Amateurs, and AdultNetSurprise. "one of my missions was to get a little more participation from mainstream companies," said Chris, "so that these amateurs can take some of their traffic, or a percentage of it anyway, and make some new money. Maybe they've never heard of them before. What I'm after is for them (the big sponsors) to know that they can make money off of other people's programs."
The Amateur Evolution
Evil Chris has a theory regarding the evolution of amateur. "There's a distinct trend going on right now. Amateurs got their traffic originally from good linking practices. Amateur A called up Amateur B and said, let's trade links, and they did, and everybody still does it that way. But now, everybody's got their little top lists, so they're all monitoring the traffic in and out to everybody, and the people who do the best get the best placement. So now they're watching the numbers.
"I think the next trend is going to be that every amateur out there is going to want her own partnership program. Now, they're really counting the numbers, because they're paying and getting paid for the traffic they're sending and receiving. I'll have some kind of partnership program, separate from RoseCash (his affiliate program) that will count the clicks for these people, and pay them and get paid. It'll make sense for us to do it that way. We've always sent out more than we've gotten; we always lose because we're so big, because that's just the nature of the amateur market. We don't mind that situation as long as we're getting paid for it. If we send out more to somebody's program and it converts, we'll be fine."
According to Evil Chris, there are well over two thousand amateur girls connected to the Wild Rose network. "We get anywhere from 85,000 to 100,000 unique IP's a day," he said, "and that 's just on CarolCox.com. That's just one site, the biggest one."
My lasting impression of the Amateur Bash weekend will be of great parties, amenable French-Canadian girls, a beautiful city and gracious hosts. I also met several of the amateur girls, including Seska and Alyka, both of whom were articulate and adorable examples of what's right with amateur, possessing an openness and availability that's often lacking in a lot of porn stars. And that, I think, is the strength of the amateur market. These girls probably perform as much on-camera sex as anyone does, but they aren't jaded. They not only appreciate their fans and members; they want to meet them. on Porn Audition (www.pornaudition.com), a Wild Rose site run by the inimitable Dugmor, they have been known to even have sex with them.
Yes, there's something very freewheeling and authentic about what they're up to in Montreal, something eminently marketable and also very, very real. o