It took Gary Kremen five years and a flock of lawyers to regain control of Sex.com, arguably the most valuable Web address in the online porn business.
So now that he has the world's most sought-after porn domain back in his hands, what is he doing? Trying to transform the long-profitable but never-tasteful sex site into something that's, well, less pornographic.
"It may be kind of dumb of me, but I think I can actually do it," said Kremen, who won control of the Sex.com domain in a November court ruling and won a $65 million judgment in a Tuesday court order. "I think I can make more money by transitioning it into a more mainstream kind of thing."
This week, Kremen launched a new version of the Sex.com site that's a sharp contrast to its former incarnation -- a garish collection of mostly hardcore banner ads that had all the aesthetic appeal of Times Square with a XXX rating.
The new site -- a mix of mostly softcore porn ads and hyperlinked reference lists -- is a design that Kremen said sets the tone for a more extensive makeover in the works at Sex.com.
In sacrificing to the vision of a more mainstream Sex.com, Kremen said he's eliminated several lucrative ad contracts with hardcore porn sites that once posted banners there. Instead, he's trying to sell ad space for less-graphic images.
Kremen described the new look and business mindset at Sex.com as "a transition to where it should go."
As far as transitions go, the new Sex.com is a pretty weird-looking one. It's still very definitely a porn site. And it's probably not something that most people would call mainstream.
Still, if you look at it from a distance -- and you ignore the colorful banner ad for the Cheerleader Gang Bang website on the home page -- the new Sex.com looks a lot like any other portal.
Under a directory heading, there are neat columns of hyperlinks in blue letters. Banner and box ads dot the top of the page and a side column. The layout is basic, bereft of fancy graphics. It seems, in a way, familiar.
Once you actually start reading the links, however, comparisons to Yahoo are no longer sustainable.
There are a lot of links. Listed alphabetically on the home page, the first item in the lineup is Adult Videos. Basic enough. It's followed by BBW, which stands for Big Beautiful Women. Further down the line are sections for Foot Fetishists, Pregnant and Lactating Women, Transexuals, even Watersports, a section for those turned on by the erotic appeal of urination.
Kremen said he's not so sure all the categories will make it through the next revision, like a section with links to erotic images of smokers.
"I didn't know people were into smoking. That's weird," he said.
Early traffic patterns show some categories are getting more attention that others. A surprise top performer was the section devoted to images of mature and older women.
"I thought no one would ever click on it, but it turns out to be very popular," said Kremen, who plans on gathering more research on the porn predilections of the Web-surfing public as he expands the site.
For the time being, however, the more pressing market intelligence issue that Kremen and the team at Sex.com are grappling with is how to make a site that was once an easy cash cow into something that is at least producing a respectable profit.
The site Kremen inherited from its former operator (who was later found guilty of stealing it from him through a forged letter) was, to say nothing else in its favor, a good source of income. The site, which made its money through banner ads interspersed with irritating pop-up windows, raked in more than $400,000 in profits each month.
The newer, slightly cleaner Sex.com will probably be profitable, Kremen said, though he won't know for sure till the revenues and expenses are tallied up at the end of the month. One thing he admits is that the new site certainly won't be nearly as profitable as the old one.
When he booted some hardcore porn ads from the site, Kremen said he was forced to sell some of the advertising spaces for a fraction of the price to new customers. In return, he got less in-your-face (or whatever other part of the anatomy) images to post on the site.
One would think Kremen wouldn't have to worry about turning a profit. On Tuesday, a judge ordered the career con man who illegally snagged the Sex.com domain to pay Kremen $65 million in damages. That seems to be enough money for anyone to make from what is, after all, a dot-com business.
Kremen, however, is skeptical that he'll actually see much of that cash, since the man who owes him the money has a knack for squirreling away money in impossible-to-track-down offshore accounts. But that's another story. (See: Cost of Sex.com Theft: $65 Mil).
For now, he's just hoping people will like the new look (and those links to older women) enough to stick around. Heck, if all works out, it might even do better than the old site, which would never -- even from many feet away -- be confused with a regular portal.
"The old site was so obnoxious people wouldn't come back," Kremen said. "My bet is they're going to come back here."
Aging porn stars, stay tuned.