The Business Of Fetish

I recognize and acknowledge a metric buttload of cold hard business truth in this blog post from Tim Woodward, who puts out the legendary Skin Two fetish magazine:

Fetish Business, Advertising and Amateurism

He starts with some observations on the hobby nature of most fetish businesses:

It’s well over twenty five years now since I gave up the day job – a decent career in the publishing industry – and decided to make Skin Two a business rather than just a hobby. That was my first mistake.

If you start a business without a solid, realistic cash flow and business plan, you are kidding yourself. It means that, whatever you may think, what you actually have is a hobby. You don’t have a business, you really don’t.

The following twenty five years have essentially been about trying to put solid foundations under a building long after it was built. That’s really not doing it the right way around.

Looking at back issues of Skin Two magazine over the years, you’ll find dozens of companies making all kinds of fetish clothing and products featured in the ads and articles. Very few of them are around today – just one or two survivors. Most have come and gone. And how many businesses have made it to that level where the owner can rest easy after the years of slog? Count them on the fingers of one hand. I could name maybe two or three. Maybe.

I don’t have Tim’s quarter-century in the fetish trenches, but after most of a decade of running a (perforce) hobby-business kinky blog, his words ring very true to me. The kinky business community is an (at best) modestly-sized market full of short-lived businesses that almost never advertise on any sort of regular basis. Most of the rest of Tim’s post (which I highly recommend) is about the challenges of being a kinky publisher in this community, and just about every line of his hard-won experience resonates with me. For instance:

Many small businesses take an ad here and there, but they simply can’t afford a permanent regular programme of advertising, to build and grow a customer base. Without regular advertising, sales go down. So income goes down. Then there’s even less money to advertise,so income goes down even further, so then there’s even less money. Well, you see where this is going… That’s why so many of the ads in our old back issues are from firms that closed down long ago.

Most Bondage Blog advertisers historically have run affiliate-style campaigns, where the ads appear only briefly and tend to promote some sort of specific trackable transactions. Brand and image advertising has traditionally been rare, and most of the advertisers who have done it didn’t keep it up (if they are even still in business). I’ve always attributed this to Bondage Blog’s fairly small size; we’ve got good traffic by blog standards and maybe by kink-community standards, but delivered impressions are tiny compared to mainstream popular websites or to the print publications where brand advertisers have traditionally placed their ads in big media buys. It’s been something of a mystery to me, though, why more kink-industry firms don’t place brand and image advertising on the larger kinky websites, of which Bondage Blog certainly is one. Tim’s observation that most kinky businesses fail to budget for regular advertising is a new thought to me, but it explains the behavior I’ve seen. And, of course, after a moment of introspection, I realize I’m part of that. Place paid advertising for Bondage Blog? It is to laugh! I don’t have any sort of budget for that…

Yeah. Not serious business.

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