How does OnlyFans, ostensibly an adult entertainment platform, make money from direct user donations when porn is free?
It now has over 120 million registered users and has paid out a total of over $5 billion to creators since its inception in 2016.
A quick back-of-the-napkin calculation using numbers from a leaked pitch deck shows that they are making more than 25 dollars per average user per year from the donations that users willingly give to content creators, most of which are adult entertainers.
Now, let’s return to the opening question:
How does OnlyFans profit when porn is free? What is their innovation, and what is the service they provide?
The short answer is virtual (adult) companionship.
It’s time to familiarize yourself with the word parasocial relationship, which has exploded in popularity since the second half of 2019.
Parasocial relationships are developed between a content creator’s audience and the creator, one-sided social interactions where the audience gets emotionally invested in and accustomed to the perceived social presence of the content creator.
Interacting with and supporting content creators on platforms like OnlyFans offers a unique experience: fulfilling the need for companionship. It transforms the media from an entertainment experience to something different: an intrapersonal gratification of the need for companionship or satisfying the need for companionship within oneself.
Just like video games and movies are different kinds of experiences, I want to argue that the experience users get from OnlyFans is a distinct new phenomenon, the birth of a giant category of online interaction: Parasocial companionship.
Parasocial Companionship as a Service
OnlyFans is by no means the only example of this trend, only an apropos excuse to bring up the topic of parasocial interaction when they’re in the news.
There is another word that has predictably exploded in popularity during the same time period. I swear I didn’t check this beforehand; the prediction is quite obvious, but here is the graph for the popularity of the term “simp.”
To put it chadly, simping is when you show unrequited romantic affection to the point where it becomes embarrassing. A simp gives his time, money, and dignity to a one-sided romantic relationship.
In terms of absolute usage, the word simp dwarves the word parasocial, but the romantic parasocial interactions of simps on OnlyFans are just the tip of the parasocial iceberg.
There is a category of streamers on Twitch and YouTube that provide similar parasocial relationships as a service but give parasocial alternatives to other kinds of human bonding.
Streamers like Hasan Piker, Destiny, and Vaush provide political parasocial tribal experiences for a left-leaning audience. Their live stream format of reacting to political content with familiar and uncompromising values shared by their audience creates a pleasant sensation of tribal belonging. Parasocial Companionship as a Service.
In a sense, you get to feel almost like you’re hanging out, and that’s a comforting experience.
Hasan, Vaush, and Destiny are examples of the new parasocial media that gives consumers intrapersonal gratification of their social needs. They provide an often-referred-to community that their audience can find comfort and companionship in and often find rival communities (even among each other) that they can bond over in mutual dislike.
I want to be clear; I am not including every content creator backed by a Patreon (or even an OnlyFans) in this category of parasocial media. Making money from direct user donations is not what makes you a parasocial media creator; it’s the emotional reward that consuming your content provides to the audience.
Contrapoints, Shaun, and other left-leaning video essayists may superficially occupy the same space of leftist YouTubers as Vaush and Hasan Piker, but their content is consumed differently from the latter’s, and gratify different emotional and social needs.
Outside of the political streaming sphere, there are other niches of parasocial media. Some streamers provide parasocial gaming nights, others fashion advice, and others debate philosophy.
Are you not-entertained?
I want to argue that these parasocial media creators should be meaningfully distinguished from the broader category of entertainment.
I want to argue, even, that they are not entertainers — the value they provide is different from what we traditionally understand entertainment to be, and their rise in popularity predictably coincides with increased actual isolation in the real world.
But maybe the phenomenon of parasocial relationships is only a subset of a more significant class of intrapersonal needs gratification. We could call it intratainment or autosatiation, where autosatiation is the intrapersonal (stemming from within oneself) gratification of an emotional need.
The social aspect of a parasocial interaction can be satisfied through simulated, projected, or one-sided social interaction.
The content creator is not directly interacting with you, but autosatiation provides a sufficiently close facsimile. in 2023, perhaps it wouldn’t even matter if an AI generated the content consumed.
Amidst these trends and emerging behaviors, Auki Labs spearheads a transformative vision for a shared sense of reality. With the Posemesh-enabled Aukiverse, we aim to connect people in ways that transcend the limitations of physical space. Our mission is to harness the power of spatial computing and create genre-defining experiences beyond traditional entertainment.
We understand that in the age of technology, human connection should not be compromised but rather amplified. Our commitment lies in creating AR apps and experiences that enrich our lives, deepen our connections, and bring us closer together in a world that sometimes feels isolated.
We aim to connect people in ways that transcend the limitations of physical space. We are building matterless domains where digital information fuses seamlessly with the real world, enriching human interactions with wonder and companionship.
Years ago, we recognized how the metaverse is more than just a platform for individual expression or consumption. We believe it can become a catalyst for meaningful connections, nurturing spaces, and genuine human experiences. Our ConjureKit SDK helps developers build their own shared experiences, allowing users to co-create moments of magic, joy, and wonder together.
Auki Labs is devoted to fulfilling the need for real connections and shared experiences in the digital realm. Together, let’s shape a future where augmented reality becomes a powerful conduit for unity, understanding, and collective growth.
— Nils Pihl, CEO of Auki Labs