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Is OnlyFans a Multi-Level Marketing Scheme?

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Last Updated on May 24, 2021 by Daniella

On the surface, OnlyFans seems like an empowerment dream come true. Users, mostly women, get the opportunity to create adult content with complete control over their business. 

Users can almost infinitely scale their business and create a solid side hustle out of it. During a global pandemic that has forced so many people out of their jobs and into their homes, for many the service isn’t just extra money: it’s a lifesaver.

What is OnlyFans, Anyway?

If you’re unfamiliar with OnlyFans the premise is simple.

Users aged 18 and over can create an account. Once logged in, you can do one of two things: The first is to follow other users and pay for their content, the second is to create your own.

Although not all accounts on OnlyFans post sexual content, it is what the platform is best known for. Of course, that definition is extremely broad. Some people post pin-up photos or written work, others do explicit videos. Regardless of what you sell, you have to prove you’re over 18 to earn an income. 

If you go to their website, OnlyFans is still marketing itself around allowing any content creator to post videos and photos for their fans. Workout videos, for example, continue to be popular. 

What is especially attractive about the service is you are completely in control of what you post. Everything from the ideas to production and presentation is in your control. No director required.

Sounds great so far, right?

onlyfans creator

OnlyFans as a Side Hustle

Since it’s so easy to sign up and get started OnlyFans has turned into a solid, sometimes even lucrative, side hustle for a lot of people. If you’re struggling to find ways to make money from home the idea of posting a few photos or solo videos can be pretty attractive.

It operates on a subscription basis, so people pay a monthly fee to access your content. That means creators can get a good idea of how much money they’ll bring in each month – as long as they keep making content, of course. OnlyFans pays you 80% of the money you bring in while pocketing the other 20%.

As the service came more into the mainstream support and education groups started to pop up around the income aspect. Who wouldn’t want to scale their business and make more money?

How harmful can tips and tricks actually be?

The OnlyFans Affiliate Model

If you’re not familiar with how referral or affiliate marketing works it’s really simple. When someone uses your code or link to buy something or register for a service, they get a commission. In the case of user-based companies, like OnlyFans, affiliate programs are a great way to increase your user base quickly.

If you’re a member and someone signs up using your referral code you actually collect 5% of their earnings for an entire year. 

What’s important to note here is that is incredibly scalable passive income. Anyone would find that attractive and some people earn substantial profits just through referrals and affiliates. Affiliate marketing itself isn’t a scam and many online creators have some part of their online income coming from affiliate earnings. MLMs just happen to also use referral or affiliate programs for their recruitment to incentivise members to recruit.

It Turns OnlyFans Into an MLM – Sort of

An MLM, or multi-level marketing company, is essentially a pyramid with the people at the top benefitting from everyone under them – a pyramid scheme. While this referral model isn’t exactly the same, there are a lot of shocking similarities to those types of companies.

First of all, you can base your entire business on referrals. Just like with an MLM company, you can make the bulk of your OnlyFans profit not with your own sales, but with your “team”. Coaching a team, rather than producing your own content, is big business in the OnlyFans world. 

Blown out incomes lure people in. Imagine going from poverty to making over $30,000 a month. Those stories are being shared around, but the truth is that those are the top 1% earners. And the top 1% of OnlyFans accounts earn 33% of the money coming in on OnlyFans.

Direct sales folks use similar tactics but the reality for both is a lot of work for a lot less money. 

Easy money and lifestyle selling. If the money isn’t enough these folks sell you on joining their lifestyle. Just like Tupperware lets you “party for a living”, OnlyFans creators can allegedly earn an income by uploading a few pictures from the comfort of their home.

Pressure, pressure, pressure. When all else fails, many MLMs and OnlyFans affiliates use this tactic – and you might not even realize it’s happening. Things like, “Hey, babe” (or “Hey boss babe” from MLMs)  and “Come on, you’d be great at this!”.

All of this is bad enough when you’re trying to coerce adults into joining, but imagine if you used these same tactics on children?

The TikTok Accountant

Regardless of how much you use the platform you probably know TikTok best as a place for teenagers. Many of the users are under the age of 18. 

It’s also become an attractive place for sex workers, better known on the platform as “TikTok Accountants”, to market their work. This is all fine and well when you’re showing content to other adults. 

@weights_n_freedomIt be like that tho😂 my OF is @cakes_n_freedom #accountant #boss #makeitrain♬ As An Accountant – Rocky Paterra


Unfortunately, everyone can see your videos.

Picture this: You’re 17 years old. You don’t want to work a service job and you have no idea how you’re going to pay for student loans. Maybe you don’t want to go to college at all. 

Like most kids your age, you’re spending time on TikTok. Suddenly you come across a video where a woman is making more money in a month than you would per year with your skillset. Maybe she’s even making more than your dad. 

The creator says that when you’re 18 you can join the platform and you, too, can make money. They might even invite you to a private group or Discord server to get tips and tricks if you sign up with their link.

Everyone is welcoming and supportive.

Kids Are Being Groomed

Now that it’s mainstream, people are asking teenagers to make OnlyFans when they turn 18. Two groups are responsible: Creepy people who find them attractive and want to see those types of pictures and predatory affiliates who think they can profit off young girls.

Then there’s the attraction marketing employed by existing users. They show off their earnings and that alone is enough to sway impressionable teens into making a money-focused decision. 

What purpose would someone have to share their income other than to encourage others to join? They’re not marketing their content, they’re marketing their profits. Money you could make if you joined too!

Why is this grooming, though? Both groups benefit from the teenagers joining. By definition, grooming is the act of manipulating someone so they’re more vulnerable to exploitation. 

Sex Work Isn’t Bad

Whether you’re 18, 38, or 80 there isn’t anything inherently wrong with sex work. Nor is there anything amoral about helping other people be successful at any work they choose to do and earning a kickback from that.

Thanks to OnlyFans, many successful adult stars have been able to diversify their income and earn a really good living. The clothing line Internet GF, for example, was launched by a team of top-earning OnlyFans models.

The problem is that it’s so easy to sign up for the platform without the opportunity to really vet what you’re getting into. For young people, that decision can be even more impulsive.

Currently, we live in a society that isn’t very sex-positive. In some cases adult content creators could lose family connections, face ostracism, have a harder time finding jobs later, and struggle to find supportive partners.

If they were coerced or pressured into it, then long-term consequences could also include mental health issues. 

What Happens Next?

OnlyFans is looking at their affiliate model. They already reduced the commission payouts in spring 2020, (you used to earn a percentage of their profits forever, not just one year) which might be an indication that it will be phased out in the future. 

If you have young people in your life who are interested in joining, try and help them understand the entire scope and realistic income expectations. Do this in a non-judgemental way. 

For those who are interested in trying the service out it can be a decent side hustle. Just remember that, like any small business, you’re going to have to work hard during the growth stage.

Money never truly comes easy.


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2 thoughts on “Is OnlyFans a Multi-Level Marketing Scheme?”

  1. BC | FrugalWheels

    That’s really fascinating. I can see your point on how the affiliate program is sort of MLM like in that it encourages people to recruit others. I would say it falls short in that there is a cutoff – you’re only making that for one year and only if they also make money (as opposed to paying in, like an MLM scheme). The money still comes from outside the pyramid, so no internal buy-in. But it is definitely interesting to compared the two.

    Interesting to me is the monetizing creators model – whether it’s the Amazon KPD program, Substack, etc. The question they all raise is, is it better to pay a fee to a company in exchange for their UX/payment system, or build your own? Seems like there are tradeoffs for each.

    1. Hey, I just happened to see this – definitely a good point. I agree it’s not exactly the same, but definitely similar in the sense of “your success is my success” rather than a single kickback you’d get from traditional affiliates. MLMs also require the downline to make money for them to profit off recruits, for the record.

      Porn is complicated when it comes to DIY because most web hosts don’t allow it in their TOS. I suspect Patreon cracking down on adult content is why OF took off in the first place.

      Even if you can host your content somewhere on your own you run into the issue of payment gateways, which again have tight regulations for adult content.

      A great example is Visa dropping PornHub because of their user generated content – which, if you’re not familiar, prompted a huge site clean up and removal of content uploaded by unverified users.

      Will be interesting to see what the future holds when it comes to people wanting to create their own content and the ever growing demand for amateur/niche stuff.

      I think at this point OF has a better reputation than MLMs, so maybe I was a bit unfair to compare. LOL.

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