CYBERSPACE—Not quite 10 years old, the iconographic Wasteland.com serves as the model for so much of what is right about adult Internet. Since 1995, Colin Rowntree (founder and president) has been upping the stakes and raising the bar for Web porn pros of every stripe at the site he once described as "Time magazine in latex."
Wasteland.com provides daily updates and exclusive content amounting to almost 1 million images and over 10,000 video and live feeds to members, many of whom hail from "the real BDSM community." One of the site's absolute achievements, however, is creating community from the inside. Home to roughly 6,000 active personals profiles, Wasteland.com fosters live chat and catalogues "The Scene" inside and outside cyberspace for those looking to RT connect, as well. Geographic resources, from Dom/sub services to clubs and parties, are collected in convenient guides for the perv about town.
Wasteland.com caters to newcomers and the curious as well, offering resources and practical information on BDSM, fetishism, fisting, anal sex, piercing, water sports, body modification and many other topics difficult to find in any media. They also provide a comprehensive guide to sex magick and resources on Paganism and sexual occult practices (although searches for anything Harry Potter came up nil - understandable, but rather disappointing).
Other design-and-conquest plusses at the site of the Web's largest collection of fetish images are a "Director's Chair" option ("Create your own photo shoot!"); explicit stories; multimedia shows; a members' contributions gallery; one-on-one live video conferencing; realtime dungeons; Dom/sub services; shopping; step-by-step "How-To" manuals on safe S/M practices, rope bondage, dungeon design and other topics; and the "House Of Japanese Bondage": "A realm of beauty and horror, light and shadow, tradition and anarchy, fear and ecstasy" awaiting the visitor within.
Rowntree himself possesses a rep nonpareil in this industry. Routinely, newbies find themselves fawning over the guy. A colleague at Online gushed, when told Rowntree was an interview subject, "If I were a new Webmaster, I'd give him a foot massage!"
"I guess the reason I interact with the Webmaster community the way I do," Rowntree muses upon being presented with this information, "goes way back to my beginnings in the industry, in 1995. At that time, there were just a few guys. None of us really knew what we were doing... flailing around, trying to create online businesses with no business models or existing technology to base anything on.
"At that time, there was a core group of us: the original YNOT member base, Bangwang [Pornholio], Jonathan Leiberman [Naughty.com], Pushrod and David Van der Poel [Python]; and we relied heavily on each other for ideas, support, and assistance, as we made our many mistakes and grew our businesses into the first online adult sites." Rowntree says this forged an attitude in him of sharing freely, "being 'stand-up' and honest and, perhaps above all, humble."
The other thing that molded Rowntree's famous "oracle" persona is personal experience teaching college and - now here's where the imagination starts going wild - directing music and theater groups. "For 25 years," the paragon states matter-of-factly, while this reporter spins off on the reality TV-meets-porn niche possibilities, "so I have no problem speaking to large groups and playing the role of Professor Wasteland at tradeshow seminars.
"Somewhere in between the two old chestnuts," he quotes, "'Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime' and 'No good deed goes unpunished,' I've found that providing new Webmasters with the tools for and insights into how to grow their businesses usually brings back goodwill and, of equal importance, traffic and profitable cooperative ventures."
Despite all the pragmatic magnanimity, Rowntree considers himself to be very competitive. "I love to see other people succeed in this business and then do some work with me that is mutually beneficial - but keep yer hands off my AVN Awards!
"I work very hard to put out what many consider the best BDSM community site on the Net, and I like to keep it that way," he smiles.
Under Rowntree's guidance, Wasteland's averted the most common misfortunes plaguing our industry: running afoul of the law and losing the farm. "We've been blessed with both good luck and good legal and financial counsel over the years and, aside from a few joint ventures that went south, have never had some of the shattering experiences I've seen other site owners endure."
According to Rowntree, keeping out of trouble is "Simple. Overpay your taxes, dot your 'i's and cross your 't's when doing joint ventures, and don't rub [potentially] offensive content into the face of anyone who doesn't come specifically looking for it.
"We have a great law firm that keeps us aware of legalities, and our accountant is probably one of our most valued assets."
As for a business plan, Rowntree doesn't ascribe to any hard-and-fast one in this breakneck-speed industry, "but we do tend to set quarterly goals and objectives based on both experience and trends. The current thing we are watching is the enormous growth curve in the European [market]. A great deal of our current development work is moving into and dominating - pun intended - those markets" as they enjoy the growth spurt the U.S. cybereconomy did in the late 1990s.
"Society's intolerance," especially as it has been painted to adult Web professionals by Ashcroft & ilk, is another old-saw "rule of thumb" Rowntree discredits. "We've actually found that, as counterintuitive as it may seem, the American and Canadian John Q. Public is pretty tolerant of 'alternative' content, like bondage and fetish [material]. Provocative leather-and-latex is so prevalent in the mainstream media, it's just become another part of our culture. So, though the majority of 'civilians' may think BDSM content is kooky, they don't find it evil or dangerous. Like gay culture in America, it's one of those corners of society that is there; and straight folks tend to look the other way rather than get their undies in a knot over it. On the proactive side, we are very careful about advertising and mailings, so as to never put it" under the noses of those who did not do something to solicit it.
"We make it very clear that Wasteland is a community-based information and lifestyle exchange site, not just a bunch of dirty pictures."
Of the many personal hazards a body's exposed to, working in porn, the pall of super saturation can be one of the most damaging: in this case, the dulling of sensibilities due to overexposure to powerful instinctual triggers. Super saturation can foul up the best business plan, as providers of any service (content, community, connection) become so toughened to repeated images or ideas they are no longer able to create a satisfactory Web experience for a visitor.
"I think anyone who has worked with adult content for over five years," Rowntree offers, "has gotten their sensibilities dulled. Yes, the luster fades, and it becomes a commodity, [period,] after a while. Content in-slash-content out. Words to live by.
"I do, however, continue to be very keenly involved in the overall aesthetic of the site. That 'Wasteland flavor' is something I've worked hard to create, and I'm very proud of it. It, indeed, has a life of its own."
Since one of Wasteland's most powerful hooks is exclusive content, the balancing of a "content in-content out" attitude with a distinctive, branded aesthetic means dedicated staff and energy.
"Unfortunately, there is just no way on God's green Earth that I - or most adult Website owners - have the infrastructure to feed 100 percent exclusive content into a mega-pay site. We update with at least 3,000 new photos and an hour of video per week, and nobody can shoot that fast!
"I'd say that about 40 percent of our content is originally produced by various [regular] photographers and filmmakers. The rest is purchased from small vendors we've developed over the years that are not in mass circulation, so at least it looks fresh."
The Wasteland.com tour offers very little free content, an interesting choice given the competitiveness of today's market. However, Rowntree notes, on the "free" side "we, in fact, have several-thousand free sites that feed into Wasteland. Most are there for search engine prominence; plus, we employ a full-time employee who does nothing but play the TGP game for us. Traffic is King. Gotta have it. This is the way we've always done it, and it seems to work well. Softcore and artistic free sites and galleries do a lot to build branding for Wasteland. Get them interested, and in they come for a trial membership."
With all of these elements in place, then, it's not much of a surprise to learn that Wasteland.com has merited kudos such as AVN and People's Choice "Best BDSM/Fetish Site" two years in a row; not to mention being the go-to site of choice for profilers A&E Channel, the BBC, Fetish magazine, Boston Magazine, and Hustler's Taboo.
Rowntree's the first to acknowledge the work that results in such notice is "very hard!
"First, I'd like to set the record straight on something with regard to the AVN and People's Choice Awards. We've never advertised or exhibited at any trade shows - sorry Tom, that's just our biz model; we don't have anything to sell to Webmasters - There is a common conception that these awards are perks for advertisers, and this is totally untrue. We won those fair and square by having a good product and reputation. Beyond that, media coverage begets media coverage. Our first feature ran in a little Boston weekly in 1997. The Boston Globe picked up on it, and then ran their own. Boston Magazine followed, and then suddenly HBO, A&E, and the BBC were on the phone."
He adds with the usual dose of Rowntree meritocratic realism, "A little media savvy, mixed with a lot of dumb luck, helped."
On one hand, Wasteland is a self-supporting entity with regard to the "community" aspect. "There is a large community of leather folks out there who rely on the site for a safe meeting place, and a way to get information and content about and for their lifestyle.
"On the other hand, as the market has become saturated with [such] Websites, I find we have to work twice as hard to make the same amount of money as we did three years ago. The days of money raining from the sky like frogs are, sadly, over; now it's simply a matter of hard work. Every day. No excuses."
As far as where or how the future of the adult Web industry as a whole is going, Rowntree tends to agree with other industry pundits "who predict that the adult Web is going to, more and more, emulate reality television.
"More 'real' plot lines and personalities, heavy VoD interest, all wrapped up in some form of digital rights management with mircropayment options.
"Although I still think that there will be a demand for subscription-based memberships," Rowntree predicts, "the savvy consumer is going to be more interested in the cable TV model of billing: i.e., low-priced monthly membership for basic services, with the option of purchasing, for small one-time fees, the specific video and live show content [consumers] find interesting.
"Companies like AEBN," he continues, "will likely expand geometrically to fulfill this backend need for individual Website broadcasters. Visa, MasterCard, and the third-party billers will continue to provide challenges for everyone operating sites to stay profitable. Although the 'great white hope' of ATM purchases is still a distant dream, there are enough bright people out there working on alternative billing methods that [it's almost certain] someone will hit on a workable and distributable concept, and provide this needed service," not to mention becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams in the process.
Where Wasteland.com is concerned, Rowntree, according to his much-vaunted business savvy, has his future predictions more or less down pat.
"We're already doing 'blue light specials' in an attempt maintain our market share in this abysmal economy.
"'Video Only' sites, [for example], that are one-time reasonable charges, with no auto-rebilling, that upsell to monthly subscription-based products; and inexpensive photo content download sites; and so on. In the area of affiliate program operations, we are moving heavily into hosted galleries with our Spicecash program. These seem to be a great way to attract the type of high-volume free site operators who will simply plug our pre-generated HTML codes into their TGPs, toplists, mailing campaigns, etcetera.
"As far as content, we continue to focus most development on original video content with real plots and dialogue, similar to the reality TV concept. Call it Wasteland Survivor? Why not - the audience is there, and eating it up!"
Say. Reality TV meets porn niche site. Here's to great minds thinking alike.