Dave is right, of course, most forum spam is automated and even Captcha isn’t much of a problem when you can buy 10K captcha solutions for less than $20. Yes, you can pay people twenty bucks to solve ten thousand captcha challenges for you. Oh that’s retail price for just anybody. The really big players pay far less. And yes, we are talking about cyber sweat-shops. You’d be surprised at how much of this goes on. Hell, the going rate for a 350 word original article written in English on the topic of your choice is like $4… retail. Even Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (which is at the high end of the spectrum) offers ridiculous deals on some stuff. Lots of hungry people sitting at computers these days.
It’s pure math. You know how much it costs you to spam, you know what sort of click-through rate you’re going to get (spam has a long track record and the stats are good), you know how much you’re going to make on each sale, and so if you know what you’re doing at all, then you know before you even start the campaign how much it is going to make. There are a lot of idiots out there who don’t really know what they’re doing, they’re just taking a shot, but the pros do it right and they make very serious money.
Even universally hated Viagra spam gets a .02% click-through and porn spam can be as high as 5% click-through. Spam pays. As you say, if it didn’t pay, it would go away.
I’ve seen a few spam posts here that were obvious attempts to get a decent back link, but the days of spamming to rank are over and only the idiots still do it. The real pros aren’t trying to rank on Google because they’re operating outside of Google. All of their traffic comes directly from the links in their spam.
Also, some of the software used by these guys shares information. Once a post gets through and can be verified (for even a short time) then you become a prime target.
Personally, I’m not annoyed by spam. I know how and why it exists and I simply tune it out. Pogo was right… We have seen the enemy, and he is us.