OnlyFans is something that has recently been in the limelight for saying that it would be banning all sexually explicit content come October, only for them to recant the next day by saying that it would not be doing any such thing. Now, as someone who purely knows OnlyFans because of the very reason it is popular for, this move was completely ‘out of pocket’. So, what is the actual history behind this company, and why did it just do what it did?
To provide a basic introduction, OnlyFans is a website that allows people to sign up on it and provide whatever content that they produce by locking it behind a paywall. So for someone to see what an artist has uploaded, they will have to pay a monthly subscription fee in order to access the content being produced. Furthermore, they will also have the choice to pay for some exclusive content that will be produced by the artist, and the option to also leave them ‘tips’ in a bid to incentivize them to produce certain content that particularly caters to the viewer’s needs.
To explain how OnlyFans started, we kind of need to look at how the porn industry has evolved over the years, since sexually explicit content is extremely prevalent on the website, which also the website’s claim to fame. Since OnlyFans is now one of the or if not, the largest provider for customized sexually explicit content, it has without a doubt, changed the sex-work industry forever, and therefore studying how it has done is so is critical to understand the reasons behind OnlyFans’s success.
According to Brian Gross, a well known industry publicist, the industry started in California in the 1990s and 2000s with hopes of generating multi-million empires. Studios would approach models to sign long term lucrative deals for shooting pornographic content, which they would then obviously produce. Such videos would allow studios would earn around $5000 dollars per scene, and shoot a few every week.
All of this came crashing down due to the emergence of the so-called ‘tube sites’ that began copying this material and posting it online for free. And as well all know that humans will never leave anything that they could get for free, they did the same with porn. And since the studios did not have enough money with themselves to sue these sites and aggregators, the businesses went belly-up, and caused a slowdown in the amount of sexually explicit content that was being produced.
So, over the course of the next decade or so, there remained only a few prominent players in the porn industry. These were the aggregator sites that would stream the content of studios on their site from where they earned their respective revenues from the production of such movies. By 2015, PornHub emerged as the dominant player, which streamed the productions of in-house production houses on its website to gather reviews and money.
Looking at this particular path, the entire industry essentially did a complete 180 degree turn around. From exclusivity to mass streaming, the entire industry was now focused on getting the most clicks out of the extremely available pornographic material, of which the majority was being distributed for free, as compared to the earlier approach of producing exclusive content which viewers had to pay for to see.
Come 2016, Tim Stokely after a friendly chat with a webcam model, came across a site that provided customized pornographic material for its viewers, which essentially allowed the desperate viewers to become their own directors, and to engage in their own sexual fantasies rather than watch the mainstream content that was being mass distributed.
This particular concept of the personalisation of fetishes is what the ‘lightbulb idea’ consisted of. If you combined this approach with influencers who would use their social media handles on Instagram and Twitter to divert traffic to the said portal where viewers would have to pay a regular time based subscription to view the said influencers’ content, the idea would be one worth pursuing.
Since social media handles like Instagram didn’t allow for nudity and sexually explicit content to be uploaded on their sites, they could at least function as traffic generators for influencers who would want to earn some extra money by producing the type of content they and their viewers were both comfortable with.
OnlyFans came into business in 2016, by marketing itself as a space for creators, writers and artists to produce their content, and to get paid in the process instead of not earning money in the first place, or get ripped off by the major organisations that dominated the market. As the site grew in terms of the artists, particularly models and influencers who would post sexually explicit content, so did the traffic being generated by the website.
This was then additionally spurred on by the option provided to content creators to produce customized content onto the site, which allowed models and influencers to get inventive by catering to the diverse sexual kinks and fetishes of their subscribers, and to then get paid for providing the said content in the process.
This is ironic, since the porn industry had established itself on the premise of free mass streamed content for everyone to view. But according to various studies, people didn’t want to see the mainstream content; they wanted the opportunity of getting to know someone who they would consider as famous, and thus treat them as their own secret lover.
The site had a revenue sharing arrangement of 80:20, which would allow artists to receive 80% of the total proceeds, with the site getting 20% of the proceeds from the content uploaded. Since the entire idea of the site fuels new subscribers for various artists, especially those who produce sexually explicit/pornographic content, there is no limit to what a creator can earn by uploading content on their site.
Furthermore, since the site cannot develop apps due to the stringent regulations that prohibit the listing of apps on playstores for download, OnlyFans continues to function as a website, and thus has lesser costs as compared to if it were an app.
So, coming to where this article started its premise from: Why did OnlyFans choose to can the production and streaming of sexually explicit content on its website, when its founding principles were essentially based off on it? Well, the answer is always the same: Banks.
The decision to remove sexually explicit content from its website was because of the fact that the site could not generate investments and funding from banks and corporations due to the sexually explicit content being posted on its website, it initially did decide to do away with this hindrance so that it could meet its plans for expansion and further develop as an inclusive space for all kinds of artists who would want to produce their content on their website.
This announcement was met with a lot of backlash, since the sex industry, or rather the models who produced sexually explicit content on the website felt cheated, because they felt that they were the reason behind OnlyFans exponential growth (which to a significant extent, is true). The sex workers who published content on OnlyFans felt that they had been “cheated” by the website, and that it was taking away their livelihood, or a significant part of their income (assuming that they had multiple sources of revenue).
So, within a day of announcing the ban on sexually explicit content, the site reversed its statement, and recanted by saying that since there was no requirements to ban sexually explicit content due to the current non-involvement with banks, creators and models were now free to keep uploading their content as they had been, and to keep on continuing making the big bucks that they were from desperate audiences and subscribers.
So, this was the entire story behind the rise, fall and the subsequent one-day recover of OnlyFans, which thrives upon the sexually explicit content being posted on its website by a varied number of famous people and celebrities. Suffice to say, OnlyFans has transformed the sex work industry permanently, and it will be interesting to see what it has in store for future content developers and creators with respect to the services that they will provide (that is if they do) in the future.