Isn’t OnlyFans a porn site?
Well, yes, OnlyFans gained prominence for sexual content, with individuals offering photos, videos and intimate access to people who pay to subscribe to their pages.
Since it began in 2016, it has developed a cult following for people who prefer their porn shot in the creator’s homes rather than in a high budget studio.
As well as offering users exactly the content they desire (fans can often message the creator with bespoke requests), OnlyFans democratises porn creation: rather than creators losing half their earnings to a middleman, creators have complete control over the material they share - and take home 100% of the profits.
But the privileges of the platform, such as the opportunity to offer intimate, exclusive content to a set of potentially high-paying users, has begun to appeal to users creating non-sexual content.
Musicians, actors, fitness enthusiasts and even drag queens are flocking to the platform. In the past fortnight, Drag Race All Stars winner Shea Coulee signed up, and more recently, US rap royalty Cardi B.
“No I’m not going to be showing my titties, or my p***y, or my ass, just straight up real content shit,” she told fans. “Everything you want to fucking know, ask the question!
Cardi announced that she’s joined the platform in an Instagram video where she insisted her content will be porn-free.
“No I’m not going to be showing my titties, or my pussy, or my ass, just straight up real content shit,” she told fans. “Everything you want to f*cking know, ask the question!”
And in a slightly more polished press announcement, the website’s publicists said: “Cardi will be using the platform to release behind the scenes content, including from the WAP music video, address ongoing rumours, share glimpses into her personal life, connect closer with her fans, and much more.”
Cardi is the latest in a string of entertainers cashing in on the opportunity to offer fans a closer look at their real lives.
Another is the Emmy nominated singer NEVRMIND, who advertises his OnlyFans with equal prominence as his Spotify and Apple Music pages on his website.
“I always thought of joining but truthfully when the lockdown started It really pushed me. I found another way to livestream shows and also reach a new audience,” says the musician.
NEVRMIND finds the platform’s audience is a “mixed crowd” and has gained a whole new set of fans having joined, suggesting there is a thirst for platonic music content. “I have some of my followers from Instagram converted over but for the most part it’s a whole new audience and I love that,” he says.
He says having control over what he posts and getting paid for his influence are the two most attractive features. “I believe everyone that has the ability to build an audience and have influence deserves to get paid for it.”
It makes it easier to find who would actually come to your shows and spend money on your artNEVRMIND, Emmy nominated musician
Part of the appeal for the artist is that there’s an audience hungry for entertainment content that are probably being underserved - in other words: there’s a gap in the market.
And it’s feasible that people who subscribe to porn channels would be open-minded to discovering new music on OnlyFans given they have already established trust in the platform.
“I know the power of social media traffic,” he says. “Everyone coming on and off the platform also loves music so why not feed them both?”
And in business terms, it makes perfect sense. Subscribers have to pay before they can view content, so creators have a clear idea of who their audience is, the ability to interact with them if they wish, as well a set of people to market new releases to.
“It makes it easier to find who would actually come to your shows and spend money on your art,” he reflects.
Julian Shaw, an actor and fitness influencer, has also converted to OnlyFans under lockdown. He had more of a sense of trepidation about joining because of the platform’s reputation, but says the financial reward quickly made sense.
“I was killing myself making weekly YouTube videos about staying healthy during the pandemic, for no pay, and I saw an opportunity to better monetise my content and help people more directly with their mental health and wellness,” says Shaw.
I’ve more than replaced my prior income and even paid off a credit card that has haunted me for yearsJulian Shaw, actor and fitness influencer
“I got my courage up, made an account and the rest is history. I’ve more than replaced my prior income and even paid off a credit card that has haunted me for years!”
Shaw had a similar experience finding a fanbase with the platform without relying on a prior social media following. He found that offering a discount code or promotion meant his page was featured by OnlyFans and followers quickly amassed.
He sees the platform as the future hub of digital entertainment: “I describe Only Fans as your own personal Netflix. I believe there is a shift happening in content. Through traditional media you need to reach millions of people to make good residual profits, because so many other people are getting paid.
“With a direct subscription model you only need a small number of passionate followers and you can make a living.
The benefit is mutual for creators and fans alike, believes Shaw. With the smaller pool of dedicated followers signing up to pay you for content, “you can now afford to take the time to talk to them, learn what they love and even make customised content for them.
I can actually speak at length to subscribers on Only Fans – I can’t do that on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook or I’ll be doing it all day and never get anything doneJulian Shaw
“So if you’re a singer you could write songs for them, if you’re a fitness influencer you could create customised workout videos. I can actually speak at length to subscribers on Only Fans – I can’t do that on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook or I’ll be doing it all day and never get anything done.”
Others are blurring the lines between sexual content and the entertainment sphere. Caroline Calloway, perhaps the world’s most famous influencer and the subject of a media storm when her friend Natalie published a tell-all essay, plays to the platform’s core content with what she posts.
Calloway tells HuffPost UK she joined the platform after being “really bored and horny during quarantine and I needed to make some money.”
“I cosplay as different literary heroines, so everything from Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged to Orlando in Virginia Woolf to Juliet by Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare,” she says.
“I dress up as bad ass literary heroines and a lot of times my perfect titties are out. But that’s as far as I go, topless photos.”
“It’s always been very hard to make a living from creating the stuff inside one’s imagination but it’s finally a little bit easier with these sort of crowdfunding sites,” she says of the platform.
“That’s why people are using them - artists still need to pay electrical bills, and put food on the table and buy 3,000 dollars worth of rare books for obscure academic projects and those things cost money.”
I thought it would be a lot of creepy men but I was pleasantly surprised by how normal my followers on OnlyFans seemCaroline Calloway
She reflects on those subscribing to her page: “I thought it would be a lot of creepy men but I was pleasantly surprised by how normal my followers on OnlyFans seem, and how respectful they are, and I really love the amount of women that follow me. I think that’s hot...”
Under the pandemic, there has been a lot of talk about which elements of lockdown life will sustain. While digital theatre shows and Zoom conversations have kept us in touch with one another and our interests, they seem unlikely to interest us once we’re able to entertain ourselves properly, with live shows and the like, once more.
However, OnlyFans, and a site called Patreon, another subscriber-based service which musicians like M.I.A and KT Tunstall have adopted, may have changed our viewing habits in the long run: under the oppressive conditions of the virus, entertainers have learned something new: that audiences desire intimacy from the people they stan, like and follow, and they’ve learned how to deliver it.
Look up OnlyFans and there’s still a strong chance your laptop privacy settings will not allow you access - but surely those days are now numbered as the platform explodes to find new and broader audiences.