Porn & The New Content Economy

P

It turns out pandemics are great for porn. 

Social isolation drives people to find intimacy outside their apartment. Forced business closures make people act out of economic necessity. And technological innovation, with its long association with the sex industry, enables the exchange. Add to the fire a generation raised on reality television, an influencer economy, “entrepreneurial self-help books” and record levels of student debt and you have OnlyFans

Meet OnlyFans

OnlyFans is a platform that enables content creators to publish, monetise and distribute subscription based content. While Patreon has been doing this since 2013, community based memberships for pornographic content has been “thrust” into the mainstream as decommissioned influencers and furloughed sex workers find new ways to make ends meet. Onlyfans has seen a 75% increase in new signups since the start of the pandemic, many of whom were not previously exposed to the sex industry.

But while the pandemic has been great for the porn industry, outsized gains are being made by agile, direct-to-consumer publishers like OnlyFans over incumbent giants like Pornhub. It’s dismissive to believe the growth of OnlyFans is attributable only to our unwillingness to pay for content we’ve historically received for free. The financial models of OnlyFans and incumbents like PornHub are fundamentally different. Pornhub is built upon an ad-supported media model, while OnlyFans allows members to monetise content; a model truer to the techno libertarian vision for the web from the 1990’s. 

Back To The Future

In the days of dialup, when pornography was rendered pixel by pixel, the internet was imagined as a digital utopia. Internet services were free and built on open source protocols that were controlled by the internet community. With anyone able to become a publisher on the information superhighway, the fringe was given a voice. 

However, by the end of the 2000s, media conglomerates and gatekeepers of the old world were replaced by propriety services operated by tech titans. Print, radio and television publishers were replaced by even more centralised platforms (Amazon, Facebook, Google) where profits were concentrated in even fewer hands.

Tech giants, like oil magnates at the dawn of the 20th century, were as keen to drink everyone else’s milkshake as Daniel Day Lewis in ‘There Will Be Blood’.

Glazed doughnut and banana simulate climax with food porn

Realignment Of Incentives

While centralisation of digital publishing saw a dramatic reallocation of power and wealth, it was predicated on the same ad-supported financial model of the past. In such a model, actors in the supply chain have fundamentally misaligned incentives. Publishers are paid for clicks and impressions rather than for delivering quality. When audience attention is commoditised, it produces more noise for the audience, less quality content for the publisher, and smaller profits for creators. The only winners are centralised advertising platforms.

Onlyfans reflects a dramatic shift in the production, delivery and consumption of content online. Content creators selling media directly to consumers without publishers or advertisers taking a cut is a radical disintermediation of the digital publishing industry, one closer to the original vision of the internet. With zero marginal cost to distribute content on the internet, content creators now become publishers.

This new media model is a net gain for creators and consumers. Consumers receive better quality content and creators receive a greater share of revenue. Responsible for building their own communities, creators have ‘Skin in the Game’; a vested interest in ensuring the best interests of their community are maintained. Integrity is developed when subscribers can choose to leave and creators are compelled to keep people subscribed.

Banana and chain evoke bondage with food porn

Subscriptions & Micropayments

While disintermediated content creation is a throwback to Internet 1.0, three leaps have been made. First, the proliferation of the internet now means there are more than 4.5 billion people online. Second, payment processors like Stripe have been plugged into the open source protocols of the web, transforming the internet into a giant shopping centre. Third, decentralised cryptocurrency networks can facilitate micropayments without the fees typical of existing gateways. Decentralised in nature, these gateways are not subject to the whims of a governing board cutting off customers affiliated with the sex industry.

Even if only one in a million people are interested in seeing you perform self-fellatio on Onlyfans, with billions of people online it’s easy to find an audience. One thousand ‘True Fans’ in a niche paying $100 a year for your content is a viable business in itself. And with an increased willingness to pay for subscriptions, websites like Patreon have seen the average amount spent per fan “increased 22 percent over the past two years”.

The current cost per click on Pornhub is $0.64. With creatives receiving 80% of ad revenue, you can expect a little more than $510USD for a video generating 1 million views.

Phallus shaped banana and kisses during a production for restaurant review app food porn

The Birth Of New Content

Novel opportunities to monetise has empowered creators to produce content they otherwise would not have had the means to. With an addressable audience large enough to finance their work, they can create both the content they want to produce and the content that fans want to view. Removing the power of publishers which may have had any number of conflicts of interest preventing media from being published. This ranges from anything as innocuous as editorial disinterest and prioritisation of other content to more insidious effects of censorship, and undue advertiser influence.  

With a direct line of communication to fans, talented creatives now have an outsized share of voice when compared to those mediated by traditional publishers. And with feet photos fetching $50 on Onlyfans, there’s never been a better time to trade flesh for dollars. As a wise person once said, show an influencer how to fish and they’ll take fish selfies, teach an influencer how to sell nudes and they’ll become a pornstar. 

As a wise person once said, show an influencer how to fish and they’ll take fish selfies, teach an influencer how to sell nudes and they’ll become a pornstar.  

Stronger Communities

Underpinning this new ecosystem is a direct relationship between content creators and their community. COVID19 has expedited a slow moving mental health car crash, driven by the isolating effects of technological advances immortalised in Spike Jonze’s film, Her (2013). Our desire for intimacy, community and exclusivity are needs not met with existing communities online.

While pornography is no panacea, decentralised platforms for content like Onlyfans can offer a more meaningful and intimate relationship between creators and audiences around a shared interest. And with more Instagram users migrating to Onlyfans, could it be that Instagram, that great lake of micro-influencers one paycheck away from softcore porn, could become the unintentional solution to the world’s mental health crisis?

Conclusion

Creators have always provided more economic value than they’ve captured. In mass media this was collected by publishers and advertising agencies. On the centralised internet it went to advertising platforms. The new content economy overturns this power dynamic. Whether you’re a writer, musician or dildo-wielding softcore pornographer, the unmediated exchange between you and your community wrestles power and profit from third parties with misaligned incentives, providing you and your audience with the lion’s share of value.

This article was originally written and published via the Enamoured Iris blog.

About the author

Heath Garvey

Add Comment

Categories