Fur Affinity and the Realities of Capitalism

Around the end of last month, Fur Affinity updated its advertising policy to include “mature” ads on pages that included adult art and writing. The backlash came immediately, which is par for the course whenever FA rolls out something new. Some users and artists distanced themselves from the site—if they didn’t leave outright—and more than a few furs tweeted their displeasure. The Fur Affinity staff responded by rolling back the ads to retool the mechanism that serves ads, and eventually dropping the program entirely. I think this is a good thing; it’s very unlikely they would ever get the community on board with hard-core porn banners with explicit language.

It’s fascinating to me that after all this time, most websites still haven’t found a better way to make money with their content than ad revenue. I have a ton of sympathy for websites struggling to be profitable, but I also have absolutely no interest in being forced to see a bunch of advertisements for stuff I have no intention of buying. This goes double for ads that include flashing bright colors, sound that can’t be turned off, motion or any other mechanism they can think of to force me to pay attention to them instead of the content I’m trying to view in the first place.

Fur Affinity (and IMVU, its parent company) is going to be in trouble if their decision is to be more aggressive with their ads in the future. It does nothing to dispel the notions that many furs had about FA being acquired in the first place—that the site has been taken out of community hands and put into the control of outside interests that see its users more as commodities. Of course IMVU needs to find a way to at least make FA cost-neutral; they’re in the business of making money, and I doubt they’d tolerate any venture that couldn’t at least pay for its own operation. I totally get that.

However, it’s my opinion that a website that relies on advertising revenue to make its profits compromises the value of its content by making it increasingly painful to view it through a thicket of revenue-generating distractions. This might be a slippery slope argument, but I could see Fur Affinity quickly becoming more trouble than it’s worth to navigate, stuffed with annoying (at best) and virus-laden (at worst) banner that make it almost impossible to have a good experience viewing community-generated adult material. Forcing users to tolerate ads they find distasteful and irrelevant is no way to make a living.

Here’s the thing, though. We browsers tend to forget that we live in a capitalist society where nothing is really free. If we’re not paying for sites and services on the web with money, we’re paying for it in some other way. Our payment could be the time it takes to navigate around pop-up or pop-under ads. It could be the attention banner ads draw from us. It could be the personal information we give those sites, where the owners turn right around and sell it to third parties who use that data to target ads much more efficiently.

It would be a good idea for us, as readers, to think about how we pay for the sites we visit. Every website has to make its money somehow—through charity donations, or a paywall, or ads, or our information. Once we figure out how a website charges for its services, we can then make an informed decision on if we think that payment is fair.

Like most Internet-savvy people, I fortify my browsing experience with Flash blockers and anti-adware apps. I’ve been burned before by Flash ads that automatically download viruses to my computer and I’m not interested in taking chances with that anymore. If a site shows me unobtrusive and potentially interesting ads, I consider it fair payment for the content. The Ad Blocker comes down. In some cases where I feel like I get enough value from a site and I’m given the chance, I’ll just pay for access.

That’s what I did with writing.com, a site that had plagued me with viruses a few time. I can’t direct people there in good conscience, even though there’s a small community of good writers and fun stories in their choose-your-own-adventure section. That part of the site is the dirty sewer though, and the operators can only get fairly disreputable businesses to run ads for those pages. Because the content is so fetishy (really, SO fetishy), only porn sites and questionable businesses will pay to advertise there. It’s either put up with those awful ads or pay for access; since I love the interactive stories and I’ve been going there for years now, it’s a better choice for me to pay with my pocketbook.

I believe FA is in much the same position here. There are all kinds of terrible stuff in the adult section, from hard vore, watersports, scat-play and Sonic fan art (just kidding, please don’t hate me Sonic fans). I’m fairly sure that they would have a lot of trouble getting companies outside of the community to advertise on those pages, and home-grown services probably can’t match the ad rates they would get from “professional” places.

So they’re stuck. If FA is going to be a furry site run by a non-furry company with the aim of making at least enough money to break even, it’s either going to have to roll out a formal payment plan, step up an aggressive advertising policy or trade our personal information. There might be other options, but those are the three I see being the most viable.

Instead of reflexively shouting down any attempt FA makes to raise revenue, maybe we should sit back and think about what we would be willing to pay for our porn-browsing experience. A small monthly fee? Ads that aren’t so terrible? Our sensitive data? Once we have an answer, it might be a good idea to let the FA staff know so they can make better decisions. We actually have the chance to barter with the site operator for what we think the service is worth; that’s not something a lot of audiences get. Using the opportunity to make the site better would be the best thing to do.

I know that Dragoneer has his detractors, and I’m sure they have good reasons. His handling of the site has not been perfect. But I have a lot of sympathy for him; it can’t be easy to answer the mandates of IMVU and deal with a base of users who are vocally hostile. He’s suddenly found himself in between the demands of capitalism and a user-base that could care less about them. It’s going to be very difficult to navigate a way through it.

About Jakebe

Jakebe is a jackalope who's been traveling around furry world since 1996, since has settled down in the technological wilds of Silicon Valley. He is happily married to a dragon, and they write fiction and non-fiction of various types in a cozy little den. His blog touches on storytelling, furry topics du jour, movie reviews and short fiction.

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27 thoughts on “Fur Affinity and the Realities of Capitalism

  1. Paid access to FurAffinity will kill it as emphatically as a grenade stuffed into the server. If a paid option becomes the leading monetization approach, I’d suspect about 95 percent of the userbase will instantly disappear – and that will instantly make it worth about a total of zero to the corporate management.

    The value of FA to IMVU comes from one single asset: unique impressions per day. I can’t find the exact number, but it’s remarkably high, and that makes it a great target for advertising buys. I suspect that right now IMVU is still trying to formulate its exact approach to selling ads on FA and decided to go with the shotgun approach using Google AdWords, etc. as their ad source. From what Dragoneer has said, the “adult” ads were never intended to be “cheat with your milfy neighbor” type stuff – someone screwed up someplace and that’s what wound up being displayed. I’d imagine that once the new UI is in place with new integrated ad spaces, there will be a more focused sales approach. Furries are a good market for a lot of product, and companies will pay good money for targeted online advertising.

    1. Since I didn’t touch upon that in my own comment I will agree in this and say that, unfortunately for FA, there are 3 other furry services that provide what they do on a ‘free’ model.

      If they implement “pay for porn” model, FA will lose a lot of users to one of those three services.

    2. They’re actually probably using something less reputable than Google AdWords – last time I checked, AdWords will not be approved for any website with adult content.

  2. The last statement kind of gets to the crux of the problem FurAffinity finds themselves in. Furry websites such as it are based on the foundations of a more communist than a capitalist one. I’ve never been one of the communist VS capitalism ideology debates, or that one system is inherently all evil or good. Heck, most systems are in some way a combination of them but are viewed as one or the other skewed upon which is seen as positive or negative to the viewer and which way they wish to spin it.

    That disclaimer aside, FurAffinity was set up as a community. Something that was paid for by the community for the love of the community. The leadership changed hands a few time until the point, which for some odd reason keep happening with communist systems, a cult of personality forms around an individual who ends up staying in leadership long after the passion of questioning the system and knowing how to improve it has faded. Thus the system stagnates, people want improvements in the community, but the systems that the community is run upon remain as they are.

    This is why, unlike yourself, I have no empathy for Dragoneer. Like all leaders, he is there by his own choice, and he chose to sell to IMVU while remaining the leader of FurAffinity. In fact, it was probably the sole reason he sold to someone outside the fandom. He didn’t trust that anyone in the fandom would believe leaving him in charge but taking monetary ownership themselves would be a good idea. “I lead the community, you pay the bills.”

    And thus why IMVU may have been swindled a bit, and I feel no empathy for them either. They’re capitalists for sure, but like communism there is a good side and a bad side. The good side is that one sees the ability to provide a service to the community in which they can themselves live off of. The creation of the idea and usage of it is genuine, and is good, and people will support it because it is a good product. IMVU, in their hasty acquisition of FA has shown, is naive at best and exploitative at worst. The bad side of capitalism is when a company takes over a company in hopes of solidifying more revenue for itself while being uncaring for those group the exploit.

    So they compromised. Dragoneer would be the one trying to take care of community needs, IMVU would worry about the monetization aspects. This kind of ‘puppet state’ tactic can work, if the leader is looked at fondly by their people enough to forgive the crazy antics of the exploiters.

    Unfortunately for IMVU this isn’t the case here.

    Instead we get a system that has the worst qualities of a communist system, aka an unpopular leader who’s long overstayed their welcome and ability to meaningfully contribute, along with the worst qualities of a capitalist system: where a corporate entity looks down upon its customers without understanding a thing about who they are or what their desires are, but monetizing off them anyway.

    And like most systems so badly broken, the only thing that keeps it going is the people looking to each other for comfort.

  3. Something to also take into account is how much more difficult it is for a porn site to make money than a non-porn one. Any direct transaction is subject to higher fees because banks view them as higher risk for chargebacks. (When you finally do find a bank that will actually do business with a porn site. Many credit card services specifically mention no adult materials in their contracts.)

    When it comes to ads, that’s also tricky. Yes, there’s several things that can be targeted successfully towards furries. But will those companies also want their brands associated with what’s on Furaffinity? Simple example: Would Disney want Zootopia ads directly above porn of Nick Wilde? If one ended up there, and they found out, those ads would be pulled posthaste.

    Furaffinity/IMVU is in a pickle, more than most ad-revenue sites. It could work, if they have a dedicated sales staff working with places on getting clients and curating ads. That’s time and cost-intensive tho. Generic, scattershot ads will just end up with the seedier dregs of online banners. Their current solution has just been to disable ads for adult content, which might not be tenable in the long run.

    1. Especially since Eevee pointed out. There may be more general audience submissions on Fur Affinity, but that’s not what brings in the views.

      That and if there is any adult material on the page it removes ads. That means only the users that use SFW mode are bringing in revenue.

      And if that’s the case, guess who IMVU is going to care about more in the long run.

  4. Was it strictly, clearly impossible that a donation-based model would not have worked? How much does it actually cost to operate FA, per-(frequent)-user-per-year? I wonder if they had provided a voluntary-sponsorship model (under which users could voluntarily choose to contribute a modest annual fee, in return for a visible icon marking their support ), if that would have been enough. Certainly I would have kicked in a few dollars (even a few tens of dollars) per year.

    Like a lot of people, I have some pretty significant objections to what is basically the community’s core website (especially for art) being commoditized – while the adult ads were particularly horrible, even the general ads modestly detract from the otherwise entirely community-focused nature of the site. And while I understand that they have bills to pay, the fact that the site lasted 10 years with no external ads suggests it couldn’t have been that bad of a money-loser. (And if anything I would expect that the per-user cost would be going down as storage and network capacity gets cheaper over the years…)

    Unfortunately, given that FA has handed over control to a non-furry for-profit company it’s probably too late for something like that.

    (Another alternative might have been to try to tap into the huge commission market that is based around FA comments and notes by trying to make an “official” auction/sales branch of the site with a small overhead charge – which would also artists and commissioners to rate each other and weed out some of the bad players on both sides – but probably people would evade the charges by sticking with the current informal system.)

    1. What concerns me is that so much of FA’s costs seem to be in their underlying code problems. How much of their overhead could they have trimmed by actually upgrading their software? I know people paid repeatedly for new hardware, but was the hardware actually the problem? I’m not their system architect, but I’d love to know what their actual performance issues were over the years.

      1. I think hardware was part of the problem, in that they ended up with a half-rack of servers; in that situation, not only do you have to pay for the space, bandwidth tends to be expensive because they know you’re likely to use all you buy.

        On the plus side, people can buy you parts on Amazon – however, there are ways to have leasing paid by third-parties, too, and you can ditch your old server without regret at the end of your contract.

        FA had at least one clearly documented issue – the notification table overflow which took down the site for a week. They apparently had so many updates that the disks couldn’t keep up with inserts and deletes during the day and had to catch up at night.

        Eventually it got to the point where it couldn’t even do that, with predictable results. Worse, griefers realized that racking up huge numbers of notifications through watches and then deleting them could freeze the database.

        FA ultimately realized that submission and journal notifications didn’t need to be permanent, especially considering the number of dead accounts, and threw out everything older than 90 days (we use 180 at IB, but we’re small enough that our DB working set fits in ~8GB RAM and is backed by SSD, not HDD). A DBA might’ve have raised a flag earlier if they were watching the graphs, but it’d require free time to track down and they were probably fighting other fires.

    2. Having run a large furry site like this for the last year, I’d say the problem is figuring out how to collect payments. FA has enough people who don’t like it that any large-scale method they try to use will be besieged with a band of saboteurs pointing out their site’s content. In fact, it’s quite possible that this is what triggered Dragoneer’s decision to sell, after the GoFundMe campaign was shut off.

  5. Any sort of donation or e-commerce portion runs into the whole “no bank wants to deal with porn” situation. And the ones that do charge a pretty penny for it. FA used to do donations through PayPal, until PayPal found learned they had porn. Then that avenue of paying them went poof. I recall them trying other options, which also dried up. Basically, donations became untenable, especially as they aren’t a charitable organization.

    1. Wow, I find that very strange. Why would a bank care? I know PayPal is a rather conservative organization, but it’s kind of shocking (and dismaying) if there is truly no way to fund a website simply because it includes some (or, OK, a lot of) pornographic content.

      1. Ignoring “community standards” which some banks claim to adhere to, they care because there is a statistically higher incidence of chargebacks (meaning someone pays, then cancels/disputes the transaction) and fraud for porn sites. That’s why the banks that do transactions for porn sites charge much higher fees and transaction rates for purchases.

        There are ways to fund porn sites, and banks that do business with them. It just usually involves paying for the content, which is usually self-produced by the companies than run them.

  6. To make this topic go close to home, how does [A][S] pay for itself? What are we, the readers, putting up with?

    But to be perfectly honest, I think most users, when deciding “What is FA worth”, would answer “Nothing”. Because it’s easy to go to another free site. It’s just a little bit of work to migrate your gallery. The only thing that keeps FA on top is that the users feel it is the place they have to go in order to find the most furry artists’ latest updates. Drive enough people away, and FA will hit a tipping point where not enough artists are there updating regularly to make it worth staying. FA will become the next VCL.

    There’s also the component that people are loathe to give money to anything. I don’t think it’s unique to furries, but boy is a vocal portion of our community against paying artists anything (see complaints about artist costs when our fandom’s artists charge so little; also see the pushback against Patreon). Another portion is, well, poor (be they students or whathaveyou) and don’t have the funds to give it. So I anticipate a serious resistance to money period.

    1. Responding to the lede first, [a][s] and all assets are paid for out of pocket.

      I think the comparison between FA and VCL is interesting. When I was first getting into the fandom, there was VCL and Yerf!. There was also Elfwood and Side7, but neither played as big a role within this subculture as the first two. Between the two, both of which were ad-free and free to use, the difference was that Yerf! provided the barrier to entry that made it feel exclusive. It feels like differences in either policy or technology, rather than finance, will be what eventually differentiates FA from its competitors. For instance, Weasyl supports PDFs that will display in the browser, InkBunny supports versioned submissions, and so on.

      1. I think one of the main differences between VCL, Yerf, and some of the other sites (I’m not sure where FurNation stood in this regard) is that they had at least a modicum of curation or editorial control. If nothing else you had to submit a few samples of your work which would be reviewed by a site admin before you could get an account. I don’t recall if Yiffstar had a similar requirement in its early days. What changed, besides Internet access shifting from being the realm of colleges, businesses, and geeks to being a pervasive presence in most homes, was a marked increase in the availability of sites where content producers (artists, writers, musicians, and so forth) could create their own gallery in a few minutes, without anyone’s approval, and upload their own material. For some, it made it easier to get their work out there were interested fans could see it, but it also proved in a big way the old adage that 99% of everything is crap. FurAffinity probably wasn’t the first and certainly wasn’t the only site to not require any sort of approval process to get an account and start uploading, but they became by far the biggest, and probably represents more than any other site the transition from the old “curated” mode of operation to the new world where anyone can upload anything.

    2. News is primarily about getting people to pay attention to what the owner and/or editors feel is important. You’re paying with your eyeballs, just in a different way to FA. (Also, free comments!)

      FA may well become the next VCL eventually, but I have not seen convincing evidence that this will occur in the short- or mid-term. Put simply, it’s a lot harder to migrate your fan-base than it is your fan-art. Yes, some are leaving, but I suspect as many are joining.

      Running a furry site on donations is viable if you can find ways to receive the donations. Adult-related policies make this tricky as you get larger; but not, I think, impossible – especially if you solicit high-value donors (who tend to be more flexible with payment methods). FA burnt up its goodwill in this respect, which is part of why its leadership went looking for a corporate sponsor.

      Computer hardware and bandwidth is also getting cheaper. While furry is growing, the number of people who can be served per dollar/euro grows faster. Hosting Inkbunny costs ~$10/day; I expect that to shrink even as we expand.

  7. Furry culture, as a niche, is not interested in conventional porn markets, I think. Maybe furry-oriented ads could earn more views, or FA must charge for space to post arts.

  8. I think it is clear that any attempt to “monetize” a site like FA is going to produce a significant decline in usership, both by producers and consumers. Some furries (fewer and fewer, it seems) remember Livejournal when it was a very active site populated by large numbers of furry users. LJ did have a lot of art sharing and even selling, but in other respects it was more social media like Facebook. When the not-for-profit site was sold to SixApart, the buyers tried to monetize it and quickly dug themselves into a deep hole, alienating users by forcing ads on them, and trying to purge what they considered to be “undesirable” groups. Eventually they gave up and turned the site over to owners in Russia who didn’t care much what happened if they amped up the ads and tolerated spamming. Most of the users fled the site and though it’s still there, it’s a wasteland today when compared to what it was a decade ago. FA seems headed in the same direction, I think. I have serious doubts whether anything will save it at this point.

    1. I remember LJ in 2004-2006, people preferred LJ instead others platforms like WordPress. And today, who knows what LJ is? Newer users, sometimes, never heard of it.

    2. Inkbunny was essentially breaking even on prints and digital downloads by the end of its first year. I think it’s a viable option, because you’re providing an optional service which is useful both to artists and their fans. What ultimately sunk that business model was AlertPay dropping all furry sites. Probably the way to go is a proper merchant account (but you need the volume) or a partnership.

      1. On the partnership note, do you think it would be possible for the main furry sites to team together and form a group merchant system for payment processing, or would there simply be too much resistance between the different owners?

        I agree that sites need to generate revenue to at least cover operational costs, and while paying for services isn’t something everyone can afford, it at least lets the ones that are able to show their support. I have always been happy to drop a few dollars when asked, whether I get a badge showing that fact or not. This added with payment processing for artists should more than cover cost of ownership one would imagine.

        1. I’ve joked about “FurPay” before – you’d might have trust issues if it were associated with a particular site, but I don’t think that’d be what would sink it; more that it’s a tedious business which nobody really wants to run. Imagine the typical day!

          Most furry sites can be and are run as hobbies from income unrelated to their operation. Whether this is the best way to run them is up for debate – it encourages reliance on an individual who won’t be around forever – but in practice only a handful have to decide whether to go the “business” or “charity” route. FA is a great experiment with one commercial model, and the outcome has yet to be determined.

          1. “FurPay” huh, sounds cute. It’s a nice idea in the abstract. However, the legal and financial implications of ‘being’ a furry PayPal are, well nosebleed inducing. No one has the money to form a bank, and most external financial institutions would find us, ‘questionable’, not to mention the inevitable drama. “You stolded my monies! lawsoot!”

  9. I saw the writing on the wall months ago. The only way FA might survive is a yearly subscription of say $15 every 3 months, or $60 per year. This will give you full access to everything, ad free and you’d be supporting the site. That might work, but it would take more incentive than what they are offering at present. Yes, dragoneer does have many detractors, for good reason. His choices over the years have lead us to where we are now, being devoured by a non furry corporation. Dragoneer has put his head on the chopping block too. If he fails to find a way to convince the community to pay for access on FA, which for him will be a very hard sell given what’s happened, he will be fired from IMVU. They will replace him with someone else, most likely a non fur and destroy the site further. I tried to sound the alarm in the forums, but got met with “nah never happen” and “nothing will change”. Time will indeed tell. Personally, I see FA as a dead fur walking. Yes I know, that would be a zombie, which is what the site will eventually turn into. A hard core porn *human* laden, ad, laden wasteland like so many other internet properties of the past.

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