OnlyFans - the new king of (adult) content that wants to go mainstream
BY Yako Molhov
Leonid Radvinsky, a Ukrainian-born businessman and owner of the OnlyFans subscription service, has become a dollar billionaire, Forbes reported recently. Radvinsky owns about 75% of the parent company OnlyFans - Fenix International. Its share is estimated at about $1.8 billion.
OnlyFans, a site where celebrities, sex workers, influencers, celebrities and adult-film stars charge admirers for access to videos and photos, is in talks to raise new funding at a company valuation of more than $1 billion, according to people with knowledge of the matter, as Bloomberg revealed. Documents filed with Companies House showed that Fenix International, OnlyFans’ UK-based parent company, had increased its share count from 100 to 1 million. One person close to the company said management was holding discussions over whether to “widen the ownership”, adding that the revised capital structure gave it “the potential to do that”.

The British group’s popularity exploded during lockdowns, taking it from fewer than 20 million users before COVID-19 struck to more than 120 million, as bored consumers went online for entertainment and out-of-work entertainers sought to generate cash.

The startup, which is profitable, is working with an adviser to solicit interest from investors, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. The idea is to find backers who can help it become more of a mainstream media platform and lessen its reputation for porn.

This year, the London-based company is growing at a rate of over 100%. OnlyFans has said it’s paid out over $3 billion to the creators using the platform. The number of creators nearly quintupled to 1.6 million, including more mainstream stars like Cardi B, DJ Khaled, Fat Joe, and Rebecca Minkoff. The total number of paying fans rose more than 500% to 82 million. Profits after tax rose to $60 million from $6.6 million. It has over 130 million registered users.

Though OnlyFans has roots in adult entertainment, the site wants to be a place where a broad range of celebrities and athletes can connect with fans. It’s also looking to attract more advertisers, some of which may be wary of its porn ties.

So far, its celebrity users include professional boxer Floyd Mayweather and rapper Cardi B. Companies such as Sticky’s Finger Joint, a restaurant chain specializing in chicken fingers, have joined OnlyFans as part of their marketing strategies.

“Athletes are a creator genre we’re seeing a lot of growth in,” OnlyFans founder and Chief Executive Officer Tim Stokely said when Mayweather joined the site.

In enlisting more celebrities and athletes, OnlyFans aims to offer a view into their personal lives -- for a fee. That’s the case with Mayweather, who joined the site just before his exhibition fight with influencer Logan Paul. “I’m looking forward to sharing a glimpse into my life and some never-before-seen content while getting to know top fans,” Mayweather said in a statement.

Who is the man behind one of the big players in user-generated content?

Leonid Radvinsky

It is known that Leonid Radvinsky is 39 years old, he was born in Odesa and is a first-generation immigrant.

In the early 2000s, Radvinsky created a group of sites with links to "illegal" and “hacked” passwords to porn sites, when access to them was more limited than now. His company, Cybertania, said in a lawsuit against domain registrar Verisign that one Ultra Passwords website in 2002 brought it $5.000 a day, or $1.8 million a year. In the late 1990s such link sites were common and were used to market not just pornography but online gambling and other grey market activities.

Radvinsky was particularly aggressive, Forbes notes. Looking through the Wayback Machine’s website archive, Forbes uncovered 11 such sites, all created in the late 1990s and early 2000s by Radvinsky and his Glenview, Illinois-based business, Cybertania.

OnlyFans was founded in 2016 by Tim Stockle and his father, former Barclays investment banker Guy Stockle. The service allows content creators to sell videos, messages and articles to fans who pay from $5 to $50 per month. The author receives 80% of the funds, and the service - 20%. In 2018, at least 75% of the shares of the parent company OnlyFans were acquired by Leonid Radvinsky. The amount of the deal was not announced. At the time, London-based OnlyFans was a fledgling video and social site that allowed adult performers to make money from the comfort of their own homes.

With all film production – adult or otherwise – shuttered during the pandemic and millions of lonely people stuck at home, OnlyFans’ business has boomed. In the year through November 2020, OnlyFans posted revenues of $400 million, up 540% over the prior year, 80% of which came from American customers.

Forbes notes that Radvinsky remained elusive during the nearly 20 years between the start of his sex link farm businesses and his purchase of 75% of OnlyFans. In the early 2000s, he created a handful of sites linking to celebrity sex tapes and MyFreeCams, a site that claims to be the world’s number one porn-via-webcam service. He has also occasionally popped up in lawsuits. In 2003 and 2004, Amazon and Microsoft sued Radvinsky in U.S. district court in Seattle for alleged spam campaigns that used the Amazon name and Microsoft email tools to offer spam recipients “free money from the government” or links to adult websites. Radvinsky denied all allegations. The cases were settled out of court in 2005, and Radvinsky and his businesses were barred from using Amazon’s name in spam or using any of Microsoft’s email tools. His Cybertania business was sued in 2005 by a model, Sheila Lussier, for using her (clothed) image on one of his porn sites, an allegation the company fought. Lussier says she settled for an undisclosed sum.

OnlyFans and Twitter – match made in heaven or competition?

As OnlyFans is built to be used as an extension to content creators’ social media pages, the site doesn't have a marketplace feature. Creators need to drive their own traffic to their OnlyFans sites using other forms of social media. And the best social platform for that is Twitter since it allows porn content.

Social media, and the rise of services like OnlyFans where users pay a subscription to a particular adult entertainer, has turned these performers into stars with millions of followers paying to see their content – and letting the companies that support them take a percentage of profits.

As that trend continues, Twitter has announced “Super Follows”. The feature means that creators will be able to charge a subscription to view their tweets and posts. They also get access to a “Communities” tool that works like Facebook groups.

Twitter made no reference to adult content in its announcement, and has not given guidance on what rules sex workers will face if they make use of the new feature. But Twitter is already notable among the major social networks in its permissive approach to pornography, and those users who use it to promote adult content are likely to embrace new ways of monetizing that content.

Twitter’s move into this space means it competes with OnlyFans, but also with Patreon and Substack – the company recently purchased newsletter service Revue to better achieve that goal.

Twitter is testing a new in-app payment feature that will allow users to pay their favorite tweeters – but some critics are calling the social media platform the new 'OnlyFans' and says it could lead to people sharing nudes instead of tweets. Called Tip Jar, the new feature announced recently, allows users to send money directly to their favorite accounts via Venmo, PayPal and other payment services, which is a similar model for the adult-only subscription platform.

Reddit does allow pornography with various subcommunities for different kinks, and has no plans to ban it. TikTok, while banning explicit content, still has vast amounts of pornographic content and is also becoming more popular with adult entertainers. But there is a disparity of scale; YouTube and Facebook have significantly more users than TikTok, Reddit, and Twitter combined and with relatively little competition in the social media space, that means adult entertainers have relatively few outlets to share their content.

OnlyFans demands that all communication and money transactions between performers and fans happen in the app, forbidding performers from giving out their Venmo or PayPal on the app. OnlyFans takes 20% of all performers' earnings, which performers can withdraw eight days after earning. The site allows performers to post videos and photos and send text messages, voice memos, and photos and videos in direct chat. Because OnlyFans is a bigger company, it currently hosts more performers, including larger name accounts like Cardi B and Tana Mongeau. Having celebrities on the site makes OnlyFans more known to the public.

The competition

Like OnlyFans, JustForFans (JFF) is a subscription-based content-sharing site for performers to sell exclusive content directly to their fans. However, unlike OnlyFans, JFF is a site specifically for and by sex workers and adult performers.

“Unlike other sites that are ‘mainstreaming’ and further marginalizing sex workers, we are built exclusively for sex workers,” Dominic Ford, creator of JFF and sex worker, told Bustle. “Every decision we make is centered around how it will help models make more money.”

Ford launched JFF in Feb. 2018, eight years after he started Porn Guardian, an anti-piracy company that protects online sex workers and performers’ content. As a porn performer and director of his own porn studio, Dominic Ford, Ford knows all aspects of the adult digital industry and created JFF with these complexities in mind.

Calling itself the “ultimate adult blogging platform and marketplace,” JFF is only for sexual content. The site doesn't allow non-sex workers to make performer pages and has several comprehensive protections on performer’s content and fans’ information. Just For Fans appears to have more of an appeal to a gay male audience since most of the content creators are male models, gay adult stars and models, etc. However, both platforms are open to all genders and orientations.

JFF has both an “explore” homepage and an in-depth tag system, similar to Tumblr, where fans can search for specific content types, like MILF or Femdom. Additionally, the site encourages interaction between performers and fans on and off the site itself. On JFF, fans can watch performing camming, buy exclusive content, purchase physical items from performers (like underwear or polaroid photos), sext with performers, and get access to performers' exclusive Instagram or Snapchat accounts. Fans can buy monthly subscriptions to their favorite performer's pages, ranging from $4.99 to $14.99. You can also purchase specific content or service individually without getting a monthly subscription. JFF takes 30% of performers' earnings, with weekly or monthly payout options.

OnlyFans faces competition from other sites as well, seeking to profit from fan experiences. That includes Cameo, which lets celebrities sell personalized messages to fans. Baron App Inc., Cameo’s parent, said in March that it was valued at more than $1 billion after raising $100 million in a funding round from investors such as SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund 2 Earlier this week, Cameo announced it was adding basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson as a board member.

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