It's the perspective that comes with time that really allows you to distinguish one year's trade show from the last. In the old days, before all minutes were New York minutes, it would take several shows to discern the dominant trends in an industry. Today, as we all race about at breakneck speed, a fleeting six months can spell a world of difference for an industry, and sometimes it's a world of pain.
Of course, the adult online industry is particularly vulnerable to this compression of time and perspective, even if porn dogma says that sex will always sell because it's inherently recession-proof. While essentially true, this unfortunate attitude led to years of shady business practices built on a model characterized by internecine traffic warfare, with surfers little more than a baseball cards traded in the process.
Over the past year or so, as profit margins have shrunk and conversions have lessened, customer retention has (finally) started to appear on the radar screen as a desirable objective. "Glut" may now be the Webmasters' descriptive term of choice, and seats at the adult Webmaster poker tables may be filling up fast, but there's still ample opportunity to get in the game, even as the minimum bid rises and the odds still greatly favor the house.
The months leading up to January's Internext Expo also saw a lot of inter-industry talk - accompanied by some bagpipe-playing, dancing-on-the-grave glee - to the effect that the day of "the big trade show" was coming to an end. The reasons were usually related to excess: excessive Sands Convention Center set-up and break-down charges; excessive booth size; excessive gambling debts; excessive hotel bills; and, of course, the unspecified overall excess that comes with behaving like a hot-to-trot Vegas porn player. The fact that Internext management could address few, if any, of these issues (other than the location, which will be addressed in the future) did nothing to abate them. The conclusion by many Webmasters was that the big trade show simply didn't pay for itself.
With all that in mind, it was understandable that expectations for the January show were somewhat dim, even for those scrambling to organize it. Each day brought word that another company might not exhibit. A number of people said they would not be attending, seminars were slow to fill up, and sizable newbie participation was doubtful.
In the end, though, all the worrying was for naught, because January Internext 2002 was not only a success, it was, by all accounts, the most successful Internext ever, especially in light of diminished expectations.
Not that the actual convention was bigger than previous ones. The show floor was only slightly larger than the historically smaller summer show, and except for the first night, the number of parties and other off-site events was hardly overwhelming.
By all other barometers, however, January Internext 2002 was a monster. Attendance far exceeded expectations, and the buzz emanating from the exhibit hall was the resonance of a palpable vitality. More to the point, a ton of business was being conducted, on the show floor, in the hospitality suites, in restaurants and bars, at parties, even waiting at the elevator banks. It was obvious from the get-go that an unprecedented level of businesslike optimism and energy was hard at work, and play.
"We've had stellar success," crowed Bruce Keeler, Matrix Content (www.matrixcontent.com) sales manager, on just the first day of the show. "We sold $70,000 in content this morning just in walk-by traffic. In fact, we've done more in one morning at this show than during entire shows in the past." With the Matrix pay site division also signing enough traffic exchange deals the first morning to increase the company's traffic by 70 percent, Keeler noticed a rare earnestness of purpose among attendees. "People are here to do business," he said, "and they're very serious about it. I think that after Sept. 11, people just don't want to travel that much for frivolous reasons, so there aren't as many people here just for the T&A."
Matrix's floor sales may also have been due to so many newbies being at the expo, a fact borne out by a show of hands during the first seminar, where fully half the audience identified themselves as attending their first Internext. It was an extremely encouraging sign, despite a consistent theme among seminar panelists that a glut of content and the slowing of sign-ups present substantial impediments to easy success for newcomers. No matter; gold-rush fever is still sending a significant number of people into the business and to the shows. Like immigrants to this country's shores, newbies represent more than fresh blood and money; they bring new ideas and robust optimism with them as well.
If it's unclear where all the newbies will ultimately fit into the established order - such as it is - their presence stands in stark contrast to the buzzword at the show: consolidation. In mainstream industries, that usually refers to large corporations that fire 10 or 20 thousand people and then move their operations to another country. In the adult Internet, it means that some companies go out of business and the ones that survive control that much more traffic. It also refers to Websites that are snatched up for pennies on the dollar, or re-registered through a legal registrar when abandoned. But it rarely means that adult companies are merging. Apparently, they would still rather die than join.
Whatever the definition, from the perspective of the adult Webmaster, the Big Bang momentum of the adult Internet is no longer one of expansion; in fact, it may be one of contraction. An upside to constriction, of course, is that most things become thicker, stronger, and more efficient when they contract, and for a lot of emerging players, that's just how they like it.
"It was great to see the continued evolution of the adult Internet market at the show," said Mitch Thorsen, account rep for Hentaipixxx.com. "Companies are solidifying their sectors while new companies and content genres continue to emerge. Our launch of the MegaPornBucks.com cash program and the Hentaipixxx.com content products have been successful beyond our highest expectations. The best part of the show, however, was the confirmation of our philosophy that good diet, sleep, and exercise are no substitute for gambling, hard liquor, and pornography."
The President couldn't have said it better.
Michael Clark of SexCheck.com saw the influx of newbies as a trend that came as a pleasant surprise. "We made a lot of contacts with people - more at this show than at other shows - who are coming into the business from the non-adult side with new ideas, or new technologies that they want to bring to adult, but don't know how to make inroads into the market. They need a bigger company like ours to say, 'This is what you should or shouldn't do.'"
It wasn't all new acquaintances. "It's nice when we make new contacts and bring in new business," said Clark, "but there's also a lot of value to having face time with people with whom we do business year-round. There are so many people in the business who, for the six months between shows, work in a cave. They don't get out a whole lot, which is kind of the nature of the Internet in general. Here, a lot of these people were checking in and catching up."
Love You Long Time
One longtime exhibitor at Internext was CandidCam, whose booth squared off against CandidHosting in the 400 aisle, with the familiar VoyeurDorm Mobile Operations Unit dominating the space. Shane Penrod of CandidCam (www.candidcam.com) declared the show a roaring success. "The show makes our year," he said. "For some people, it might be different, but when we come to Internext, we pay for the show at the show. We always have a whole new line of products. Every time we come we make sure we have at least 10 or 20 different products. This time, we had about 25 products that are new for Web-masters." The major breakout being promoted by the company was a new high-speed, high-broadband player.
Pornication (www.pornication.com) exhibited, of course, and a very exciting thing happened for them during the show. Lee Burnstein got his new streaming video software up and running, and it truly was a beautiful thing to behold, one of the cleanest and clearest live feeds I've ever seen. The feed they displayed on the floor was live out of the Midwest, but it could have been emanating from the booth itself. Lee and Scott Maslowe were beside themselves at how well it looked and its augury for their business.
One of the biggest companies in the business also had some new products at the show. Cybererotica's new adult verification service, AdultPort.com, was being promoted, as was Pay it Forward, a new program that pays monthly bonuses in addition to regular payouts. Lee Noga is also back in the CE fold after a brief hiatus. She graciously gave away a Woody Award to writer Kath Blackwell at the Player's Ball and seemed quite happy to be back in the swing of things. And of course Fantasyman, always a step ahead, gave away $100,000 at the show (also during the Player's Ball). Lord only knows how he will up that ante in the future, but we're all certainly eager to find out.