In round-ups of 2020, despite just how long (and absurd) the list will be, the popularity of paid-for platform OnlyFans will surely have to feature. 

Its purpose reflects the times we live in: a global pandemic means people may work from home, and economic instability means that many people have to work from home. With a shout-out from Beyonce on Megan Thee Stallion’s viral hit Savage only further adding fuel to the brand’s zeitgeist (“Hips TikTok when I dance/On that Demon Time, she might start a OnlyFans”), 2020 really is the year OnlyFans came into its own. 

Originally launched in 2016, the London-based platform is mostly associated with its adult creators, sharing pornographic material tailored to their paying audience. The site saw a 75 percent increase in sign-ups in March, with 170,000 new sign-ups per day (compare that to a brand with a similar membership model, Patreon, which saw 50,000 new users per day in that time period). 

By the time May 2020 rolled around, CEO Tim Stokely told Buzzfeed News “the site is seeing about 200,000 new users every 24 hours and 7,000 to 8,000 new creators […] every day.”

So, for adult performers often shut out by Big Tech, is OnlyFans a breath of fresh air, or more crucially, a viable way to monetize – and retain – a profitable fan base?

On paper, it could be. The reason why OnlyFans is so attractive to adult creators is that it only takes 20 percent of the income users make to cover “payment processing, hosting, support and all other services”. The remaining 80 percent of revenue – paid on a monthly basis, with an opportunity for subscribers to pay tips and extra for a pay-per-view service, is for a creator to keep. That is, if your account isn’t deactivated. 

OnlyFans Account removals

Around May this year, as OnlyFans reported its highest sign-up rate yet, reports of sex workers having their accounts removed began to surface on Twitter.

Some users suggested this may signal a “Tumblr move”, pointing to when Tumblr banned all NSFW content in 2018

And creators have reason to be anxious. Having accounts randomly removed (potentially losing pre-existing income and the earning potential from a built-up following) is something we’ve seen time and time again in the sextech space, on Instagram, Patreon and elsewhere.

On OnlyFans, creators behind adult content accounts were saying account removals had always been happening to some degree, but the spike in popularity meant it was happening more frequently in the online community. 

A spokesperson for OnlyFans told SEXTECHGUIDE that “OnlyFans would never deactivate accounts without due cause. In most cases, creators who violate our terms have their account restricted or suspended pending investigation and remedial action,” adding that ” in serious cases of fraud for example, we deactivate accounts.” 

Too much of a good thing?

A screenshot of the OnlyFans blog, showing a post that lists some of the different genres on the site – but excluding adult creators.

The recent meteoric rise of the site isn’t necessarily a good thing for its independent adult creators. 

While the site undeniably grew due to the work and promotion of adult creators, its marketing efforts aim to put fitness gurus and Instagram influencers center stage instead, describing itself as a “very powerful and useful tool for YouTubers, fitness trainers, models, content creators, public figures and influencers.”

While one can see the tactic behind this – to appeal to a broader audience – some sex workers have decried the changing image of the site (that is known for allowing pornographic images), signalling a change to a more ‘vanilla’ version of the site’s content. 

However, in a statement, OnlyFans said that isn’t on the cards.

“Without question, OnlyFans is one of the most inclusive social platforms, and our progressive policies towards content creation enables the success of adult content creators without discrimination. That is not going to change,” a spokesperson told us.

The site has also recently dropped one of its main incentives: referral links. Previously, users could get an extra 5 percent commission for every account sign-up a user successfully referred. This applied incentive didn’t have a deadline on it until recently, when OnlyFans announced unlimited referral bonuses would stop on May 1, 2020.  Now, people that refer users get 5 percent for one year, or up to a maximum of $50,000.

“It’s disturbing that OnlyFans chose to make this change in the middle of a pandemic and is punishing the same people who have been the foundation of their growth and success,” OnlyFans creator Ally Hardesty told Motherboard. “I believe this will demotivate models who have built their business around helping others to succeed and overall defer them from referring new people.”

Still money to be made

While you have to work hard to get your profile to a profitable place, this is the reality for almost all individual-led, influencer-type platforms today – and earning six figures isn’t unheard of for adult entertainers posting on OnlyFans. 

While pay disparity between the biggest earners and regular users can be huge (the top accounts make around $100,000 a month, while the median account makes $180), there is still money to be made. With the referral scheme dropped, OnlyFans suggests users can make between $1,499 to $7,495 per month. Users can opt for a freemium model, to draw subscribers to their account in the hope they’ll become a paying member, and many charge around $10 per month for access to their exclusive content. 

While the model can be profitable, after the 20 percent cut that OnlyFans takes, users are still liable to pay tax on their income. 

Tax is a contentious subject for the company, which last week was found to be in arrears of up to three years by HMRC, the tax organisation for the UK market. 

The subscription service is said to have not paid three years worth of Value Added Tax (VAT), according to a report from Sky News. It’s understood that OnlyFans entered discussions with the UK Tax Office (HMRC) which resulted in a recent move to charge VAT on subscriptions last week.

“Following continuous communication with UK tax authorities, we have implemented changes to the treatment of our UK / EU income from 1st July 2020. This represents a change of basis for VAT purpose, making OnlyFans the Principal on the sale as opposed to the agent.

Within the communication with HMRC, our tax position since inception is being reviewed. We have previously been paying VAT on the basis of being an agent. Our UK and EU customer base is an extremely important part of OnlyFans, however any potential tax obligation arising from the switch of VAT basis would not have an impact on the continued operations of the business,” the company told SEXTECHGUIDE.

Meanwhile, performers are being forced to cut their prices, just to keep them the same for the end user, and rival platforms have suggested that it’s only fair if the playing field is levelled. A definitive outcome of the outstanding tax questions hasn’t yet been revealed.

2020 has been a bad year for just about everything else, but a good year for OnlyFans’ founders and shareholders. Will the surge in the platform’s popularity extend beyond this year to create a long-term, profitable solution for its adult creators, respected by and upheld by the behind-the-scenes corporate business? Only time will tell. But in this turbulent economic climate, pocketing 80 percent revenue on user-generated content means it’s still a viable option for many adult content creators… so long as their accounts aren’t minimized by the platform.

Read Next: How the global pandemic is affecting the whole adult industry – and how you can help