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DESERT HEAT - Lightspeed Media
Redefines Fun in the Sun

Tripp Daniels

There is a place where all the business plans, marketing strategies, and economic realities of preserving an adult Internet company come together, and - to borrow a line from Norman Maclean - "Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it." While the joys of fly-fishing in Big Sky country do not altogether correlate with producing content and developing brand loyalty for adult-themed Web entertainment, in the case of Steve Jones, founder and president of Lightspeed Media, it is not a river that runs through all of his ambition and hard work, but rather a continuous stream of fun. It might be an old story: See Jack frustrated with career. See Jack lend his talents to adult Internet. See Jack become wildly successful by utilizing sharp marketing techniques, stylish product, and really sexy girls. But Jones did just that. Leaving behind the rain and Starbucks coffee of Seattle, he moved to sunny Phoenix, Ariz. to begin anew.
 
After a long period of trading pictures on the Web via newsgroups and chat rooms, Jonesí archive eventually grew quite large. Organization was needed. He decided he would build a Web page to house his assorted content. With the ensuing bow of Lightspeed University (www.ls-university.com) - a tantalizing cheerleader fetish site - Jones concocted a mostly softcore formula of pretty girls wearing/not wearing cute panties; upskirt shots; solo masturbation; voyeurism; girl-on-girl action; and the like, "It was just a part-time little hobby thing at first," says Jones, who envisioned his newfound Web experience as a way to perhaps make "a few extra hundred bucks a month." In April 1999, he launched Lightspeed Media, a multi-purpose collection of niche-oriented pay sites, an affiliate revenue program (which debuted in May 01í), and heavy doses of original content. While a new business was gradually coming to fruition, Jones followed the newbie path and attended conventions like Internext and the CyberNetExpo to learn the game from industry veterans. "I took notes in the seminars and did everything they told me to do," he says. Ten more pay sites followed the success of Lightspeed University, each one featuring cute-as-a-button girls, top-notch design and, above all, a prodigious archive of content. Locales like Cum-Filled Panties (www.cumfilledpanties.com) and Lightspeed Sorority (www.ls-sorority.com) are good examples of where Jones has succeeded with softcore niche sites. A by-product of Jonesí magic touch has been the emergence of a bona fide Internet star, Tawnee Stone (www.tawneestone.com), a sexy teen and Lightspeed contract player whose site has been a boon to amateur teen traffic.

Although the "Matrix style," as Jones puts it, of ultra-slick, mega-produced content shoots featuring professional adult stars and cutting edge technology serves the adult Internet industry quite well, Jones yields to a classic, "anti-glam" style of production. "I kept saying it doesnít have to be all that. As long as the girls look good, it doesnít matter. We donít use heavy make-up at all. I want the girls to look good without a lot of make-up.  "What helps us is that we shoot original content, and Iíve been told our particular style is quite unique," he says. By utilizing Phoenix Talent, a modeling agency he founded, Jones regularly meets and signs the crŤme de la crŤme of girls for his productions. "I was recruiting models to shoot for myself, and I started meeting all the other photographers in town, and we all kind of teamed up and said, ĎWhy doesnít just one person collect a database and then we can figure out which girls are willing to work for who,í" says Jones. The move to open a talent shop with a full-time coordinator proved sound. As Jones recalls, "We were all interviewing the same girls and wasting a lot of time and money, so it just made sense." With friend James "Tanker" Jestes as marketing director, there are currently four full-time employees and a host of contractors keeping the ship at full speed for Jones.  "I never in my wildest dreams thought that this would become anything. I didnít even think it would become my full-time job, let alone full-time jobs for five people," Jones says.  "One of those guys that everybody likes," is how Jones describes Tanker, formerly of Amateur Pages, on the job at Lightspeed Media since July Ď01. "I told Tanker I wanted to double our sales and how long will it take," says Jones, "and he said... six weeks. "Lo and behold, with Tanker onboard, sales did double. Jones figures since Tankerís arrival, business has increased by 500 percent. Of Tanker, Jones says, "He brought a lot of energy to this and creativity, and his contacts alone are worth gold."

A self-described "pro surfer," Jones has taken stock in his Web adventures and strived to create product without the pitfalls heís witnessed. "Iíve always focused on giving surfers a good site," he says. Though he understands why some "pack their sites full of crap that nobody cares about," for Jones, it has always been the same theory: "Why canít you build a niche site thatís just for that niche?" Jonesí attention to what Webmasters want, combined with his own Internet history, has paid off. An impressive retention rate is proof positive. "Iíve always stayed true to our sites," he says, "and if I suddenly veer off course and start doing something else, people are like, ĎHey, what are you doing?í" Even with a strong bond to the Webmaster, Jones remains true to his own instincts. "Iím gonna do what I like," says Jones. "I figure I have average tastes for an adult male, so if I like it, thereís going to be other people that like it too."

Jones has felt the push to make the jump to more hardcore content, but he remains steadfast in his feelings on the subject. "Itís not what we do, and I donít feel like we have to do extreme porn. I donít feel like we have to humiliate the girls." For Jones, maybe Hefner had it right all along. "I think Playboy had the right idea," he says. "You get the best-looking girls and make them look sexy. They donít have to turn into ultra sluts." And while the sites continue to play well - as of mid-May, four new sites were on deck - Jones says itís the revenue share program and advertising that have helped the overall maturation of the company. "We give away massive amounts of content on Lightspeed Cash," he says. "We flooded the market with our content last year and gave tons and tons away. It was a crazy idea, but the more we gave away, the more money we made." Even with all the content flying around, Jones guards against over-exposure and a swelling of creative hubris. "We donít try to cover every niche," says Jones, who has no plans to create a site if he doesnít understand the specific niche. That means no foot fetish sites in the foreseeable future. Through it all, itís been a pleasant trip for Jones, who never loses perspective about the work he clearly enjoys. "With me, itís always been more about having fun and realizing that itís a hobby that grew into a business." A hobby. Just like fly-fishing.
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