Bella Thorne ruined most of your former high school classmate’s side hustle last month (in case you hadn’t heard). That’s right, I’m talking about OnlyFans.com. A website that allows users to create personal content and sell it at the price they desire. Or should I say “allowed”, because last month former Disney star Bella Thorne duped users out of a million dollars in just one night. After claiming to have an “exclusive PPV nude photo” that she would be selling for $200 a view, Bella Thorne abused the platform and caused an abrupt change in OnlyFans policies. The reason for this change? Bella Thorne never posted a nude photo, only a photo of her scantily clad in a pearl bikini. While this photo was arguably hot…it wasn’t what she promised those who payed. This meant OnlyFans was responsible for refunding those users and reevaluating the terms for creators, putting virtually no responsibility on Thorne. OnlyFans has since changed their policies in order to have more control over creators and the prices they can set for their premium content, but this could have a long-term damaging effect on creators and consumers alike. Now, since sex work is real work, allow me to break down why this is bad business practice.
To make it a little easier to comprehend, try and think of OnlyFans content creators as independent businesses. Mom and Pop shops, if you will. Each of these businesses can specialize in a specific/niche kind of content. Due to the highly specific commission work they are doing; each independent business is allowed to set and negotiate the price of their work. This means consumers and creators build some kind of relationship in order to leave both parties satisfied with the transaction. So, we’ve established that OnlyFans.com was a free market for content creators, but what would that make Bella Thorne? Late stage capitalism. You see, when OnlyFans brought in high profile celebrities it was as if they were gentrifying the website. Meaning they were trying to make the website more appealing to average consumers by offering “Corporate Brands”. This makes the free market more competitive among the independent business because these “brands” come in with the upper hand of not needing the money generated by their new business. It’s almost more of an adventure, or tourism, for these “brands” that don’t rely on OnlyFans as a source of income. They have teams of people making sure content is consistently created, hired marketing teams to create buzz on social media, as well as makeup and wardrobe departments ensuring that everything looks of the highest quality. This would mean that consumers would avoid these brands to keep the market specific and stable right? Wrong. Consumers want the “top shelf” product, even if that product is nowhere near as personal or strenuous to make. As the quantity of content on OnlyFans grows with these added celebrities, the quality of advertised and recommended content diminishes. Worse yet, due to all of these bells and whistles, these recently brought on “brands” can charge a higher price for their mediocre content in order to pay off their employees. So, what happens to the independent businesses?
These Mom and Pop shops are forced to remain competitive, leading to higher prices for the same niche content they were providing before, and after a while they are forced to broaden their audience by pandering or simplifying their product. The rapid change in content, or quality of content, can lead to widespread buyer’s remorse among consumers. The independent businesses don’t offer the A-List feeling of the “corporate brands”, which results in the loss of regular consumers to “corporatized” content. This adds to the saturation of the content, and overall profits begin to suffer. This causes independent businesses to close up shop, creating space for the “brands” to expand. Why is this a problem? Because it’s a system that rewards mass production as opposed to quality of content produced by a business. Where the independent is able to make personalized intimate content, a “brand” is more focused on mass appeal. This can lead to consumers feeling like they have “too many channels, but nothing to watch”. This is because the “brand” has an end goal of only profits, and feels no obligation to its consumer. The “brand” never suffers because it started in the positive, and this may be where OnlyFans change of policies is most likely going to destroy independent businesses.
In any profitable streaming platform, the content creator agrees to hand a percentage of profits to the host. OnlyFans is no different, taking a 20% cut of the money its creators earn. So, when OnlyFans changed it’s policy to a 30-payout (as opposed to weekly), an open tip system to a $100 tip maximum, and a free market on personal content to a $50 maximum content price, it was the independent businesses who suffered the most. Your average independent business didn’t have a team of people to help create quality content, or create content quickly for that matter. They did all the work themselves, from the lighting to the camera setup. They invested their time and energy, but are now being told by OnlyFans that their time and energy is worth a maximum of $50. Not only is this discouraging, but it’s putting limitations on personal creation. Imagine you spent weeks on a painting that you were going to sell on Facebook marketplace, but when you listed your price at $200 (based on what you believe it to be worth since you created it) Facebook told you that price was too high and set your work’s value at $50. Then when you sold your painting, Facebook kept 20% of that $50 it forced you to price your work at. That is the dilemma these creators are facing.
It seems Bella Thorne didn’t fall far from the Disney business strategy tree. Whether intentional or not, she played a part in allowing a platform to seize control away from original creators in exchange for mass production of generalized content, and this could be bad news for anyone looking to branch out and work independently. If at any point you forgot we were talking about sex work, and you thought about your local boutique or diner being run out of town by a Walmart or McDonald’s…good. That is exactly what is happening to the people who sell content on OnlyFans in order to stay afloat or create the life they want for themselves. In the middle of a pandemic keeping everyone inside, and an economic crisis keeping people wondering how they’re going to pay rent next month, it’s important we step up and look out for each other. Even if that means defending sex workers, because who knows…maybe Bella Thorne will be diminishing the value of your career next.