People keep asking me my thoughts on the on-goings at EdenFantasys. I’ve kept mum on it for a variety of personal reasons, but here are my thoughts on it now, for anyone that wants to know.
Many of you, but not all of you, are aware that I used to work for EdenFantasys. First, I was just a reviewer. I was then hired in August 2007 to come on as an assistant editor/copy-editor. From there, I began the blog, increased the review program, added perks, brought on addition bloggers, and became the Review Program Manager. Onwards and upwards, I was then the Community Outreach Educator and PR Spokesperson (radio and online interviews, representing EF at Dinah Shore, etc). I left Eden full time in May of 2008, although I have worked with them freelance in the community, the blog, and through writing projects up until last month (November 2008). Basically, I’ve been involved with them for over a year and a half.
When I first began full time, EdenFantasys was a dream company to work for. My boss (Fred Petrenko) seem to appreciate my education and experience in the field of sexuality, and as I began to prove myself, I was given almost free reign in my ideas. I wanted our reviewers to get a small gift after five reviews, as a thank you; I was given the freedom to do it. I wanted to send out a holiday gift to all our reviewers; not only was I given the ok, but I was also allowed to select the four different books we gave out. I knew each of our reviewers, and hand selected who got which book, based on the style of their reviews.
When I heard about Mr. Right, I convinced management how important it was for us to have them, as well as the Mr. Limpy. I told them about Trannywood Pictures, about Jamye Waxman‘s movies, about Comstock Films, about Erockta Vision. Suddenly, we were carrying them all. They let me write about the dangers of phthalates and anal numbing creams all over the site (although we continued to carry these products). I explained we needed a variety of well know sex writer’s voices on our site; Audacia Ray and Sinclair Sexmith then began to write some articles/posts for us. I brought lots of well known sex bloggers on board as reviewers, staking my reputation on this company. And for the most part, they followed through on everything. In less than eight months, I’d grown the review program from 117 reviewers to over 1000. I’d helped implement the Live Chat instant help line.
I’d gotten us mentioned in many places online, and even interviewed on a radio show. I helped switch over to a new review system, I’d managed two different copy editors, and trained new people. I was working with them to develop an online sexuality workshop thing. I put my heart into the job, and while I didn’t get all of my ideas to come to life (we never carried Pink and White, we never changed the categories away from gay and lesbian sex toys, we never stopped carrying phthalate toys, they carried anal eze until after I stopped working full time, etc), I felt like my voice was heard.
Of course, it wasn’t a utopia. There were some communication issues, like any job, but most of the time, things ended up ok.
The first time I felt sketchy about anything was when the owner talked about buying toys direct from a Chinese factory, as compared to through companies like Cali, Doc Johnson, etc. I wasn’t sure about this — although he promised to have all the toys chemically tested, this was shortly after the pet food issue, and the lead paint issue. I wasn’t sure that buying toys from Chinese factories were safe. I mean, phthalates are already unsafe…how could we be sure these would be? I asked if he’d be labeling the items as direct buy toys, and he told me no, that people might be less likely to buy them. I don’t know whatever happened with that; I left working full time before the first shipment came in.
Then, there was this one day last spring. I was working from home, and there was a knock on my door. A friend of mine had just been beat up by her husband. He’d taken and broken her cell phone, and needed someone to take her to the ER, help her file a police report, etc. I ICQed my boss what had happened. His response?
“…it would not have been a case if you were in the office..”
I was floored. Even if I HAD been in the office, if she’d been able to get ahold of me, I would have left right away to help her. Another employee had a son – when he got sick, she’d leave to take care of him. To me, this was similar, except for without an hour drive home from the office (the office was over 50 miles from my apartment, so I worked from home 3-4 days a week). I told him that she needed my help, and that I’d be on later, and left. She needed over 11 sets of x-rays – we were in the ER for more than half the day. Then I helped her file her police report, get some money out of her joint bank account, get her prescriptions for pain killers, and then I put her to sleep on my couch. I took my lap top into my bedroom to get back to work, planning to work all evening to make up for the 6 hours I’d missed. There was only an email from him in my inbox;
“I’m leaving. I guess you just took the day off. ”
I was livid. I almost quit then and there, but decided not to let my emotions make my decisions for me.
I left the company full time a month or two later, moved to Colorado, but continued to work a few hours a week online for them. One day, I got an email from the boss. I’d been interviewed (as a sex blogger, as ME, Essin’ Em) for L-Magazine’s Sex Issue. He had read it, and was irate that I hadn’t pimped EF out in it. His letter read: “I recently got a copy of the NYC L-Magazine (July 16) publication “The private Lives of Public People” (see the copy attached). Congratulations, being on EF payroll you successfully promoted yourself, talking about your job with us without mentioning us at all. Now I see why your PR efforts were so moderate.” Keep in mind that I was hired as the Review Program Manager, and offered to do PR to help out, because we needed. And that I had us on a radioshow, and written about online, and Jamye had put us as a resource in her book, etc. Clearly, I am not a PR guru, but I thought I did ok. And moreover, the interview had NOTHING TO DO WITH EDEN. Nothing. In fact, I did mention them in my questionnaire, but then again, they asked me over 20 questions. They only published four answers. LOTS of stuff got cut out. I contemplated quitting, but I’d just gotten injured, and I needed the money for medical bills.
Then the drama with AAG happened. I thought she was doing an amazing job, but regardless of what I thought/think about her as a person/worker, she deserves to get paid. If he wasn’t happy with her work, he was welcome to let her go (which he did), but the company still owes her for the work that she had done for them already. The fact that he wouldn’t pay her infuriated me, and I considered writing a strongly worded letter…but then I would lose the little income I had from them. I spoke with her, and she told me that she understood I needed to do what I had to do in order to survive, and she didn’t blame me for not leaving in anger. I told her I had mental/emotional solidarity with her.
I was angry, too, about backing out of sponsoring the Sex Bloggers Calendar, but I wasn’t directly involved, so decided that it wasn’t my place to take up arms about it.
They commissioned me to write three articles…and I think they knew I was upset about the AAG issue – they paid me 100% in advance to write them. Then they asked me to write a vibrator guide. I did. 13 pages of a vibrator guide. This time, they gave me an advance, and then the balance when it was done. There were a few bumps along the way, but I finished it.
Then there was this whole spreadsheet scandal. I was furious…not only at the fact that someone had shared it (because yes, accidents do happen), but then at the way it was handled. The blaming of the bloggers for disseminating information, telling us that because we decided to share our writing online, we shouldn’t expect privacy, telling us it wasn’t that big of a deal. Because damn it, it was. I finished my last review for them. I decided not to write for them anymore. I’d not been doing the Live Chat for months, because there was some glitch in the system (that I was told didn’t exist) that kept me from being paid the commissions I was earning in many circumstances. I figured I’d just leave their banner up, and continue making my affiliate money.
Until I saw this post.
I was furious. Angry. Shocked. There were lies. Blatant lies. Not “un-ethical behavior.” Not “re-phrasing.”
We do not, nor have we ever, used a Google doc or a spreadsheet to store ANY information. The spreadsheet was created by an ex-employee, and is not how we normally conduct our business. Once we were alerted to the incident, the file was deleted. Furthermore, we are not storing any more information have in Google docs.
I couldn’t believe it. When I joined in 2007, information for all 117 reviewers was kept on a spreadsheet on googledocs. The day I joined, Fred asked Delilah Douglas to add me on as a contributor, so that I had access. As we gained more reviewers, we entered their information onto the sheet. Their pen name, their age, orientation, gender, email, FULL LEGAL NAME, PHYSICAL ADDRESS and website if they had one. Another page of the spreadsheet had all the reviews they’d done, their ratings, etc. Everything was entered manually for the first 400 reviewers or so, and it was all kept on the sheet. More than ten people (including former employees) still have access to this spreadsheet. I just figured this out the other day. In fact, there are 341 reviewers on it. Basically, if you were an Eden reviewer before Jan 2008, you’re on it. With your legal name, address, etc.
THIS SPREADSHEET IS NOT PUBLIC IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM. Please let me point that out.
However, it is STILL in existence, I have access to it. We used it so that all of us could look at and use it easily – my former boss was one of the ones with access. I do not own this sheet, so I cannot delete it. Fred’s (my former boss/EF owner) name was previously on it as a viewer/editor – it is not currently, so he may not even know it exists. We shared it on googledocs so that we could talk about certain reviewers/reviews/products, etc, as things changed, without having to email excel files back and forth.
This summer, when I was sending out surveys about the Online Sexuality Education Workshops, I was just doing it on my own. I was then asked to make a google spreadsheet and put in on googledocs. This spreadsheet contained info on who I’d contacted, who I’d sent surveys to, if they’d sent them back, what item they’d chosen, and the address to where they’d like it shipped. As the owner of this, I taken care of it. No one has access it it anymore.
As you can see, spreadsheets were a vital part of the review program, and were used by EVERYONE at Eden. The boss, the editors, the review program manager(s), the programers when they were building the new database. I cannot for the life of me understand why he has said that they never used google docs, blaming on an ex-employee as a fluke…and then continued to say they are not storing any more info on google docs, when both former employees (myself included) and current employees still have access to it.
Then there was his bit about how much he doesn’t need the online sexuality community to make his site run. In fact, he explained that
“I can tell you that there are far more efficient ways to spend an advertising budget than via community support. You might be surprised by how insignificant the business generated by affiliate deals with sex blogs actually is. But that’s exactly the point – it’s not just about the business. Look at Adam & Eve, for instance – they don’t have any presence in the sex blogs, yet they are far larger than some of the e-tailers heavily promoted in the blogosphere.”
True. EF probably doesn’t make that much money from its affiliates. I understand that. But the reason I was so committed to this company was because there was the effort on doing our marketing and publicity through the community (which I helped to build), through the sex bloggers, etc. EF doesn’t (or at least didn’t) do much print advertising. I went to three or four events…a buyer went to one, and the last Review Program Manager went to one. Most advertising is done via SEO and PPC. Ergo, I feel that the promotions provided by the blogger community are very important for a site that bases itself on ethicality, community, etc. It was finally getting to the point where when people thought Eden Fantasys, people thought of a self contained community, with honesty and reviews, discussions and forums, etc. Adam and Eve may make money because it’s been around forever, but EF was starting to be known for what it did.
Therefore, to seem him belittling the online community that has helped to give EF the reputation that it has received really irked me.
I am owed $168.80 from my affiliate partnership with Eden. I have fulfilled my end of everything with them, up to completing my last product review. I finished their last giveaway, because I didn’t want to cheat my readers out of anything (should they back out of the giveaway in anger any me). I assume (and hope) that I will receive the affiliate earnings I am owed.
I will not say Eden Fantasys is a bad company. In my opinion, it is not. I put so much of my heart, blood, energy and soul into the community, the company, into EdenFantasys. If you joined because of me, and are now angry, please accept my apologies. I’m unsure why all of these things are happening…and I certainly hope that they are able to change direction, and bring this company back to what it used to me; a caring and concerned member of the online community, with sex-positive, ethical attitudes and being queer/disability/age/etc friendly.
Until then, I wish them luck. Should things significantly change, I may consider becoming involved again. However, right now, I feel like there have been some unethical practices, and now, blatant lies. I’m not sure why…and it saddens me. I feel like this site was so wonderful, had so much potential. Maybe it still does. But for now, I’m going to step away. I feel like I’m leaving my child, something I helped to create. Sometimes, though, you just have to. For your own well-being. I looked at the blog I created…in the last month or two, all that has been on there are round ups and porn star interviews. I look at the forums, and see misinformation, and at some points, WRONG information. I see people that have been hurt by a company they have trusted. It feels like my baby, something I worked so hard for, is slowly being poisoned. And I will have no part of it.
And that, dear friends, is my take on the EdenFantasys situation.
-Essin’ Em21 comments