SEX

The New Adult Site That Could Drive Porn Off Twitter

OnlyFans is like Twitter, only it charges a fee to subscribe to people's feeds — and adult stars are flocking to it

SEX
Illustration: Diana Quach
Mar 07, 2017 at 2:16 PM ET

Joanna Angel is accustomed to producing high quality pornography that requires months of planning and costs tens of thousands of dollars to shoot. But lately, she’s found that fans are perfectly happy if she just whips out her smartphone and films an impromptu scene in the bath or snaps a quick selfie of her butt. “I put a lot of time, effort, and money into my productions, but it seems like a fan would rather jerk off to me sitting in my bed masturbating with no makeup on, shot on my cell phone,” she said.

That’s why she joined OnlyFans.com, a new social media platform that has attracted hundreds of adult performers in the last couple months. The site mimics the look, feel, and function of Twitter, but with one major difference: you have to pay a fee to subscribe to people’s feeds. In Angel’s case, she charges $12.99 a month for fans to follow her feed and updates it several times a day with intimate explicit content that is often shot from home. Fans can also tip her for any video or photo they particularly like — and the money lands right in her bank account.

The growing popularity of OnlyFans is part of the new reality of the adult industry, which has been ravaged by piracy and tube sites. The proliferation of free hardcore professional content has, perhaps, made the kind of behind-the-scenes footage that Angel is offering ever more novel and appealing. But porn also simply doesn’t pay what it once did, and performers have to find creative new ways to make money — including monetizing social media. “C’est la vie!” she said. “I must adapt and be current and monetize anywhere I possibly can.”

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In the past several years, adult performers have flooded Twitter with free adult content — from naked selfies to explicit gifs to full-blown minutes-long clips — in an effort to, as the unbearable phrase goes, build their brand. It’s a familiar deal with the devil: in order to thrive in the new marketplace created by piracy and tube sites, they have to create yet more free content. But many began rebelling against that standard by setting their Twitter or Snapchat account to private and requiring fans to send a subscription fee through a cash app like Google Wallet.

Now, OnlyFans, which takes a 20 percent cut of sales, has created a formal system and separate platform to do virtually the same thing. The site, which did not respond to requests for comment, appears to be designed with more PG social media stars in mind — a promo video features a fictional fitness guru who posts gym selfies — but the site does explicitly say that it’s “a social media platform for adults” and allows for nudity as long as it’s behind a paywall. And the adult industry, including porn stars, cam girls, and dominatrixes, are taking full advantage.

Adult actress Jaclyn Taylor joined OnlyFans a month ago and has been steadily gaining a couple new subscribers a day — at $12.99 a month, that will ever-so-slowly start to add up. “I want it to be something a little bit more real and more personal,” she said. “I don’t want to be in full makeup for every scene I put up there. I want people to get a taste for my life at home.” It’s convenient that she also happens to be dating a fellow porn performer. “I’m inviting them, kind of, into our lives,” she said. “I think it’s the new thing.”

Dolly Fox, an adult model who independently sells her own custom video clips, has managed to collect more than 100 subscribers, and she’s charging an impressive $19.99 a month. Even more impressive is that she’s managed to maintain this fan base with the kind of content that she’s posting — the aftermath of several failed breast implant surgeries. Fox recently underwent an operation to go from 2,000 c.c. to 2,900 c.c. breast implants, but afterward, one of her implants ruptured. She had another surgery, but the implant ruptured again. Every step of the way, she has kept her fans, ahem, abreast of her news, including with recovery photos. Ahead of her latest surgery, she wrote, “Stay tuned, you’re on the first row. Thank you for the support so far, think about me tomorrow and pray to the God of Big Boobs.”

For many adult performers, like Fox, the upshot of OnlyFans is that they will no longer be posting explicit content on Twitter. “Why give it all away for free? Fans who are willing to pay deserve to get exclusives,” said Fox. “You still need to promote yourself to attract new fans, but that doesn’t need to happen with nude pics and vids. Actually, suggestive is more beautiful anyway.” Similarly, Taylor says she will be toning down her Twitter content. “I’m not going to post as much nudity or other provocative posts,” she said. “I’m my own brand, so I should be benefiting from these posts.”

But Angel says she will continue to post mainstream explicit content on Twitter. “I’ve tried not putting anything for free out there, and it seemed to just hurt my brand,” she said. “At this point if you put nothing for free out in the world no one will know who you are.” Her Twitter strategy is to put out content that gives away just enough, while still leaving fans wanting more — but she plans to reserve more personal stuff for OnlyFans.

The porn boom on OnlyFans is still brand new, but some performers are already making significant money from it. As Taylor said, “I know people who have a lot of subscribers, and their monthly revenue is really phenomenal.” Many, though, are just starting to cobble together a fan base on the site. Most of the OnlyFans performers I spoke with had joined very recently and had a handful or two of subscribers. It’s less the actual income that’s remarkable here than  the search for that income and what it reveals about the current adult economy.

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Tasha Reign, a porn star who just joined OnlyFans after hearing about it from fellow performers, said, “The world is changing, technology is changing, and we need to come up with new ways to brand and promote ourselves outside of adult videos,” she said. “Most of my earnings come from public appearances and online revenue I generate from home.” Many performers take advantage of sites like Clips4Sale and Pornhub Amateur that allow them to profit off homemade clips, as well as services like SextPanther, which lets porn stars charge fans to text or talk with them.

This might all seem like bad news for performers — that they have to find new revenue streams on top of mainstream work that used to be sustaining — but Angel sees it very differently. She routinely notices performers updating their paid social media accounts, whether it’s Snapchat or OnlyFans, and use sites like SextPanther during downtime on set. That means a performer can make $500 on top of whatever they are getting paid for the shoot, Angel estimated. “There are hundreds of ways for performers to make money outside of performing,” she said. “It’s definitely a great time to be a performer, there are so many avenues to brand yourself that weren’t around when I first got into the industry.”

Things are more difficult for producers, most of whom are unable to take advantage of these new revenue streams. As Angel puts it, they “don’t have the luxury of being able to put their boobs” on OnlyFans. She added, “I’m just trying to capitalize wherever I can.”