OnlyFans: the rise of a multibillion dollar creator-based empire

OnlyFans is emerging from being a niche, under-the-radar outfit into a mainstream phenomenon in the highly contested global content creation arena.

OnlyFans: the rise of a multibillion dollar creator-based empire

Thursday January 07, 2021,

5 min Read

With over 90 million registered users and over one million creators, OnlyFans is the under-the-radar content company that no one saw coming.

Since its inception in 2016, the site has paid out over $2 billion in creator earnings. The platform is also set to see over $300 million in fan payments this December, a 370 percent increase from $64 million last December.

What is OnlyFans?

Headquartered in London, OnlyFans is a web-based social platform revolutionising creator and fan connections. The site is inclusive of artists and content creators from all genres and allows them to develop authentic relationships with their fanbase.

OnlyFans gives creators the opportunity to monetise content they want to share, putting them in control at all times.

Not available as an app yet, it is a subscription-based content site that lets creators monetise their content. It allows creators to lock their content behind a paywall, and allow fans access for a monthly subscription or one-off tip. However, not all content on OnlyFans is monetised. Creators can also have free pages giving fans a preview of their pay-per-view content.

Creators get to post and monetise content like videos, photos, and one-on-one chats, including porn, that most other social media sites don’t allow. They can take around 80 percent of their earnings, with the company taking a cut of approximately 20 percent.

Via this commission-based model, OnlyFans pays performers their share, giving power to its content creators.

‘The paywall of porn’

While OnlyFans bills itself as a content-subscription service for all kinds of creators to directly monetise their content, it is popularly perceived as an adult content creation site.

It is often credited for putting X-rated entertainment in the hands of its entertainers, earning it the moniker ‘paywall of porn’, or the ‘Uber of adult content’.

Even The New York Times claimed that OnlyFans had ‘changed sex work forever’.

There is, of course, an underlying truth in the perception. Many of OnlyFans’ most popular creators happen to be women who cater to men willing to pay for images, videos or a chat.

However, there is a small but growing number of other kinds of content creators turning to OnlyFans to earn extra revenue, raise money for a cause, or connect with fans in a new way.

Queen B and Cardi B on OnlyFans

Earlier this year, when Beyoncé name-dropped OnlyFans in her remix of Megan Thee Stallion's ‘Savage,’ the site saw a reported 15 percent spike in traffic.

Then Cardi B released ‘WAP’ and her promotional plan included an OnlyFans page, with special access to behind the scene videos and photos, heralding a new trend of celebrity A-listers joining the platform.

Peeking into the economics of OnlyFans

As one of the most talked-about yet under-the-radar startups in tech, OnlyFans has no outside investors. But, it is already profitable and isn’t looking to raise money, according to Tim.

Since the pandemic was declared in mid-March, searches for "OnlyFans" rose steeply on Google, and continues to climb. Even as unemployment skyrocketed around the world due to coronavirus, OnlyFans reported a 75 percent growth in "model sign-ups" in early April.

That said, the company was growing rapidly even before the pandemic. The platform is reported to have paid £641k corporation tax in 2018, a figure which implies revenue of around $5 million.

A better business model than Airbnb or Uber

Thomas Hollands, author of the blog XSRUS, who analysed the economics of OnlyFans believes it to be an even better business model than Airbnb or Uber. Making money on Airbnb or Uber is linear when compared to the multiplicative model of OnlyFans.

He opines that as the owner of a rental property, or a gig taxi driver, one can only cater to one group of people at any one time. However, as an OnlyFans creator, one had the ability to broadcast content at scale.

Growing beyond sex

Today, OnlyFans’ appeal is so mainstream that more than just adult entertainers, fitness enthusiasts and celebrities are signing on and creating accounts to earn extra revenue, raise money for charity or connect with followers in a new way.

The advantages of the platform, such as the opportunity to offer independent, exclusive content directly to a set of potentially high-paying users, while cutting out the conventional go-betweens, has found the appeal to users creating non-sexual content.

Of the A-listers alone, Michael B. Jordan announced he and his new moustache, which he named ‘Murphy’, would be making an OnlyFans debut to help fund a barber school.

Beyond entertainment and hustling for charity, OnlyFans is also beginning to be discovered as a platform to showcase all things from stand-up comedy, online classes, indie artists, tarot readings, DJing, Gaming, and more.

Recently, verified media publisher Vice became the first media publisher to launch on OnlyFans.

Emmy-nominated singer NEVRMIND, who is also on OnlyFans, has gained a whole new set of fans via the platform, suggesting a thirst for platonic music content.

He’s quoted on an OnlyFans’ blog post saying,

“It makes it easier to find who would actually come to your shows and spend money on your art.”

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta