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Sat, Mar 02, 2002 - Page 19 News List

Sex still leads the Internet

Porn might not be respectable but it's profitable, almost the only part of the Internet that is. So it should be no surprise that mainstream dotcom businesses have turned to their porn counterparts for advice

By Sara Gaines  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Long regarded as the unacceptable face of the Internet, online pornography sites have one advantage over other dotcoms, they actually make money. Now the mainstream is trying to learn the secrets of e-commerce from the only group of people so far who have made the Web pay.

COURTESY OF PLAYBOY.COM

Danni Ashe is a somewhat incongruous figure at Internet conferences. It's not the coiffured blonde hair and cleavage-hugging suits that raise eyebrows, as women are hardly rare in this business.

What does cause surprise is the subject of her speeches: how I made a fortune selling nude photos of myself.

Ashe is something of a pioneer: a porn star who has crossed the wire. Although known in Internet circles for some time as that rare breed -- a profitable e-entrepreneur -- other dot.com executives were initially reluctant to welcome the porn model into the fold. But as other companies struggle to emulate her success, Ashe has found herself in demand as a technological consultant and keynote conference speaker.

She is not alone in using net porn as a springboard to business success. Dario Betti, an analyst at e-commerce consultancy, Ovum, says several adult Web sites in the US now offer consulting services.

Despite a few failures in the dot.com shakeout of the past year, it's an unpalatable fact that porn is still the Internet's big success story.

The Online Computer Library Center's annual review found 74,000 adult Web sites last year, accounting for 2 per cent of sites on the net, and together they bring in profits of more than US$1 billion.

Though many are small scale, with half making US$20,000 a year, even that figure is the envy of many mainstream brands.

Betti says: "Adult sites made money with streaming media after learning people did not want to sit and watch long two-hour films on their computer but that short films worked well. They use lots of teasers to make people want to see more and were the first to recognize the need for tight security and to offer personalization tools."

When Ashe is not posing naked on her site, Danni's Hard Drive, she has a growing list of business engagements. Last year these included speeches at the Streaming Media Asia seminar in Hong Kong and the Internet World Conference in Sydney, and Ashe has twice testified before US congressional committees on child protection and Internet-related issues.

Among other sites queueing up for her advice are medical, film and wine companies, as well as other porn sites. This work, hived off through subsidiary company DHD Media, is expected to account for 50 per cent of Ashe's revenue within three years.

Still smarting from Napster, the music industry is also keen to replicate Ashe's subscription model. Ashe has also developed her own streaming technology, DanniVision, which eliminates the need for RealPlayer or any other plug-in.

Ashe said she started the business after teaching herself HTML and, after six years, she expects to make US$7 million or US$8 million profit this year.

"There has been a shift in attitudes in the business community and we are being recognized as a serious player," she says.

"Companies are still wary of overt links with porn sites and I couldn't name any of the ones I have been a consultant for, but there are more and more of them."

Of course porn is not quite the golden egg it once appeared to be and sites have been subject to the downturn as much as other online businesses, with some going to the wall. The problems have been exacerbated by a glut of smut from enthusiastic amateurs keen to post porn for free, to the chagrin of charging companies such as Playboy.com.

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