OnlyFans: The ‘UK success story’ and online safety pioneer
OnlyFans has a tendency to make headlines – and sometimes for the wrong reasons.
Founded in the UK in 2016, the company has experienced momentous growth in the depths of lockdown, shifting from 17m fans to over 100m in 2020.
In 2022, the platform boasts 200m fans, with over two million creators serving up content.
Speaking exclusively with City A.M., OnlyFans CEO Amrapali “Ami” Gan undoubtedly presents a fresh face for a company that is synonymous with adult content.
The American 36-year-old took over the top spot from British founder Tim Stokely last December, and marked a distinct shift from the man The Sunday Times dubbed as “the king of homemade porn”.
“We are at this incredible period with the creator economy where all creators are empowered to take back control of their content and monetise it”, Gan told City A.M. “And that’s what Only Fans is all about, it is about putting the power back in the hands of creators”.
Central to Gan’s vision for the company is the word “empowerment”, which for her means allowing creators to share whatever content they want to share in a safe and monetizable way.
The freedom to set their prices also feels particularly disruptive for the adult content, which has been traditionally dominated by the porn industry.
However, despite raising countless eyebrows over the years, OnlyFans’ business model is remarkably straightforward.
The company doesn’t share user data with third parties or push algorithms, and the majority of its revenue comes from taking a slice of creator earnings: 80 per cent for the creator, and 20 per cent for OnlyFans.
Before you even get to the stage of content-making, users must also pass through a rigorous verification process, including biometric face scans and human confirmation. Over half of applicants are rejected for not providing enough information.
In the UK, even fans themselves must jump through age verification for this “strictly over 18 platform”, meaning that anonymity is not tolerated: something that Big Tech social media have continued to grapple with.
Calling OnlyFans a “leader in online safety”, Gan pushed back against allegations that the platform has failed to prevent underage users from selling and appearing in explicit videos, as suggested in a BBC investigation last year.
At the time, the company told the BBC it would look into specific cases, and asserted it was doing all it could to prevent this from happening.
Gan echoed this sentiment, focusing on the 80 per cent of OnlyFans staff dedicated to content moderation and portraying the firm as a champion of safety rather than a threat to it.
She framed OnlyFans as an “ally” to the upcoming Online Safety Bill, deeming her company as “proof that online safety, freedom of expression and being a successful business can coexist”, and criticising fellow social media firms who claim this holy trinity is unattainable
Nonetheless, it’s not just user safety that has ruffled a few feathers over the years. OnlyFans has also had to defend itself against data hacks and an infamous adult content U-turn last year.
In a bizarre announcement, OnlyFans said it would be banning adult content in order to “comply with the requests of our banking partners and payout providers”, causing an uproar from adult content creators who relied on its platform for income. Six days later it backtracked.
On the short-lived ban, Gan explained the experience showed the “power of the community” for the company and affirmed creator-first direction they needed to be taking.
She asserted the company is “very proud” of its glamour and adult content community, and confirmed it was something that won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
Aside from raunchy accounts, the platform also welcomes other content: from Alexandra Hunt who is using it to fund her campaign for US Congress, to competitive athletes who are sharing exclusive training regimes. “Ultimately the platform is what the creator makes of it”, Gan explained.
In Gan’s view, it is this liberal content policy that makes OnlyFans “the most inclusive platform”, welcoming everyone from porn stars to budding comedians, and paying out $8bn in creator earnings to date.
As one of Europe’s fastest growing companies, with a 2021 revenue well over $300m and a compound annual growth rate of 400 per cent, you may be asking yourself whether OnlyFans’ growth is sustainable, especially as post-pandemic world emerges and the cost of living crunch forces people to cut subscriptions and luxuries?
While Gan managed to gloss over the matter, stating “I think ultimately it is about people and their priorities”, she instead focused on the opportunities that can be found in the ‘Great Resignation’, with people turning away from traditional career routes and into the arms of the creator economy, worth an estimated $20bn.
As its global HQ, Gan said London was an “incredible home base” for OnlyFans’ ambitions, revealing her personal plans to spend an increasing amount of time in the capital.
When asked whether this was related to rumours that the company was gearing up for a London IPO, Gan refused to comment. But, what she did say was that a future of some kind was clearly in the City.
Gan told City A.M. that OnlyFans should be seen as a “UK success story”, with London giving them “an incredible advantage” to not get caught up alongside the noise of other tech firms. The company has also reached a major milestone, having forked out £100m in UK corporation tax to date
So despite battling controversy and scandal, OnlyFans seems to have come out on the other side, stronger and ready to go.