WMA Virtual Concludes: A Celebration of Individuality & Teamwork

LOS ANGELES—Featuring upwards of 160 speakers broadcasting from living rooms (and time zones) around the world, Webmaster Access (WMA) wrapped up its first virtual summit this weekend, providing the historically gregarious affiliate marketing sector of the adult industry (along with adjacent purveyors of gambling and dating services) with a chance to network, make deals, and reconnect amid a pandemic that has struck a blow to a community whose members are individualistic, who like their money, yet who crave one-to-one connections.

“We started planning (the virtual conference) two months ago,” says a visibly-exhausted Panos K., co-owner of WMA presented by ClickDealer, speaking from his home in Cyprus at 4 a.m. local time. “Connecting people is what we’re all about.”

Indeed, the in-person version of Webmaster Access, an event usually held in Amsterdam and a high point of the affiliate marketing calendar, gave way to the virtual conference with an announcement in April.

“Since then, we have been choosing who gets to sleep,” says Greta Gai, event director of organizer GFY.

Much of the three-day schedule, which began each morning at 4 EST, resembled that of other tech-and-marketing-centric adult conferences; moderated panels on subjects like SEO, content monetization, and starting e-commerce businesses are staples of the pre-COVID conference itinerary. Poker tournaments and DJ-curated dance parties are similarly standbys. But at this pandemic-era WMA, these hallmarks, along with Virtual Speed Networking, all transpired online.

“There are so many things we can do better, obviously,” says Panos K., of the occasional technical glitch. “The (platform) has its limitations.”

But as employees and students around the world have discovered with the Distance Workplace, this weekend’s WMA attendees found that the (virtually) seamless streaming integration and the chat windows that augmented each event were a refreshing change from navigating convention hall traffic.

“I would not have made it to half of these talks at (an in-person) convention,” one commenter wrote in a chat accompanying Friday’s “Lead integration And Affiliate Marketing” panel.

Programming was especially responsive to world events as well as trends within the adult industry. Several sessions dealt with rebuilding businesses after COVID-19 as well as incorporating lessons learned from the lockdown. And the standard-issue business panels were mixed with rooms dedicated to online yoga and an introduction to essential oils.

A panel called “Why You Should Care,” moderated by adult industry advocacy group Free Speech Coalition director Mike Stabile, echoed conversations throughout the conference about both the communal nature of the adult industry and its appeal to people who make their own way.

“We are often on our own,” Stabile said to Leya Tanit, founder of industry mental health resource Pineapple Support. “There has always been a sense of, ‘If you don’t do it, no one else will.’”

Tanit, a former bondage model (“until a non-profit took over my life”) self-funded Pineapple Support for eight months until major sponsors like Pornhub stepped in. “Why isn’t there something in place to support performers?” she remembers thinking in 2018, a year in which five adult performers committed suicide. “‘If not me, who? If not now, when?’”

Jeff Wilson, of pioneering cam company VS Media, told moderator Alex Lecomte in the “Saturday Night Live” wrap-up that “in the adult industry you’re never more than two degrees of separation from someone who can actually do something, if you’re not doing it yourself. In the mainstream world it’s, like, 20 degrees of separation.”

Lecomte, managing director of 7Veils.com, a social media marketing firm, was an engaging moderator who made the most of the Zoom-like platform. Speaking from his home in the Brazilian city of Curitiba, Lecomte thought the conference went well but referred to a disagreement with a commenter during an earlier panel.

“If this had been in person,” he said, “I would have preferred to get a coffee (with that person).”

WMA attendees praised organizers for the ease of navigation of the platform and the opportunity to see distant colleagues. But most, from the isolation of their homes, did not talk about virtual conferences as “the new normal,” but instead of the virtual Webmaster Access as an excellent, but temporary, stopgap. Speakers often seemed as if they wanted to reach through their screens to embrace old friends, business rivals, and colleagues, because so much of the online adult world’s real commerce is achieved in person.

From Brazil, Lecomte says, “I judge success by contracts, so it will be interesting to see what gets signed.”

Panos K., who produced the event along with fellow managing partner Roy Salter, is also eager to once again see people outside of little boxes on a screen. At the end of a successful conference (with profits, he says, going to COVID charities), he offers a lament:

“I know about 80 percent of the people who register (for the “live” Webmaster Access) every year,” he says before passing out.

That independent DIY spirit pervaded the discussion regardless of whether the subject was “personality” in the workplace, integrating VR, or Cam Traffic And Conversions. In a discussion titled “Looking Ahead,” moderated by Colin Rowntree of Wasteland.com, Christian Cipriani of Cipriani Media, espouses a business philosophy that is a bedrock in the adult industry but is only an interesting footnote elsewhere.

“The content is the most important part of this industry,” he says. “Keep doing your passion, and focus on doing it better.”

Later, in an adjacent window to Panos K., his colleague Gai says, “Don’t cry about it—make something of it.

“So that’s what we did.”