May 22, 2020
Members Only

What Publishers Can Learn About Community From OnlyFans

Welcome to the end of the week! Before I jump into today’s essay, I would like to propose something new for paying subscribers. In early June, I’d like to host a Zoom call for 8-10 A Media Operator subscribers. It’ll be a chance to meet other people and discuss new ideas and opportunities. I’ll come with a basic topic to discuss, but honestly, I think it’d just be cool to get to know more people.

If you are interested in participating in this, let me know. I haven’t exactly picked the time or date yet, but assume late afternoon or early evening. Hit reply, let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll set it up. Obviously if dozens of people reply, I won’t be able to accept everyone, but we’ll do more of these.

Speaking of talking with people…

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with someone who has quite a bit of experience building large podcasts. We were discussing how much room there is to grow, especially with advertising as the primary method of monetization.

Podcasts have experienced a lot of growth recently and I believe they are pushing the limit on how much more growth there is. There will certainly be new shows that launch that catapult to success, but we are dealing with attention and there has never been more content and things to take people’s attention.

However, there is a community that podcasters and publishers overall should look to for insight into where growth and new potential monetization opportunities exist.

Enter the camgirl business.

There are plenty of sites out there, but the one that has received a lot of attention is OnlyFans. Models can create a private community where they share videos and photographs with members gaining access by paying a subscription. Some models across these sites can earn tens of thousands of dollars a month in revenue.

Sara Fischer at Axios wrote about the phenomenal growth these sites are having over the past few months.

In the week after Americans started receiving their stimulus checks, Tayler said saw a 22% uptick in traffic to their live streaming site and tips to models increased by 40%. 

Since February 2020, IsMyGirl’s web traffic has increased 500%, and since early April, a 40%-50% increase in model signups. About 250,000 new models have signed up since February.

However, there’s one part of Sara’s story that jumps out that I want to spend the rest of this essay talking about because it’s incredibly important.

“Porn is free on the internet, nobody needs to pay to see sex video or nudity,” IsMyGirl CEO Evan Seinfeld tells Axios. “But people will pay to have an interactive experience and to feel acknowledged and to be engaged.”

Being “acknowledged,” as Seinfeld says, often means that adult entertainers are pivoting from traditional porn exhibitions to more personalized experiences.

Gunner Taylor, director of strategic development for FriendFinder Networks, says a lot of the engagement the company is seeing now during the pandemic “is more about people sharing things online, even down to training classes for their pets.”

Now we jump into the business of media…

You can get news anywhere. When the President of the United States says something, you can get it at The New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal or any of the other primary subscription news organizations. But there are thousands of secondary sites that will also have that news, often using the primary sources for most of the original reporting and then adding some color commentary.

Like porn, most content on the internet is free and you can get a pretty good understanding of the news without paying. Yet, people flock to these large publications for their news. The New York Times has over six million subscribers. Something is working.

What about the other publications out there, all trying to build a business around consumer revenue?

On OnlyFans, which is currently photos and VOD, users can leave comments on each piece of content. The most successful models reply. Recall the quote above: people are paying to feel acknowledged. There are plenty of places to get this sort of content online for free. Yet, this is the only place that a user can go to interact with that specific individual. And often times, a single reply can keep a user engaged for a long time.

This is one of the big reasons that newsletters have become such a successful business. It’s not just me pushing information to you, but there is an opportunity for you to reply. Suddenly, we have a separate email thread going. But that’s easy when the medium of distribution is a primary communication channel. Email is built for discourse, so I fully expect people to reply when I send them a newsletter.

However, for publishers and podcasts, the discourse is not so easy. You publish an article, leave it up on the site and move onto the next topic. If there is discourse, it takes place on Twitter which only serves to benefit Twitter. A few podcasts will take user questions and then discuss them on the show, but by and large, both of these are just creators pushing content without any feedback loop.

How can you start to build that feedback loop?

For podcasts, consider taking the show “on the road.” Obviously we can’t do that today, but rather than just recording your podcast and then distributing it, turn it into an interactive experience. If you use Zoom, there is a split track function, which allows each audio file to be recorded locally. You can then merge the two files together post recording and have a much higher quality show.

Taking it on the road, though, means opening it up to comments from the listeners, either during the live recording, or after the main podcast is over. It might surprise the person you’re interviewing, but in many respects, the questions will be geared toward the podcast host. These are people that are listening to the show regularly, so the one constant is the host.

When things do return to normal, take the podcast on the road in the literal sense. Most musicians, for example, do not make their money through streaming services. Instead, they use that as a marketing tool to get people addicted to their music and then they go out on tour. They use the tour to sell tickets and merchandise. The record deal is just the marketing tool.

For publishers, I would like to see them bring back comments. For anyone that has ever had to manage comment sections on your site, this can bring a pretty visceral reaction. Comments can get pretty hostile. I believe The Information has done a nice job with their comment section. They call them “Contributors” and you actually have to email The Information to ask for permission to leave comments. You have to send a photo and include a short biography.

However, it doesn’t have to be a comments section. The Hustle, for example, didn’t put comments in its Trend product. Instead, it created a private Facebook group for paying subscribers to go and interact both with the creators of Trend, but also other subscribers. The idea is simple: like minds subscribe, so they will likely interact with each other.

Let’s pivot to B2B media. For publishers that are exploring ways to monetize through a higher-priced membership—we’re talking four figures and above—one product I’d consider implementing is quarterly or topical analyst calls. Think of them like you would a quarterly earnings call from a public company. Instead of taking questions on the health of your business, your members can ask questions about the specific topic.

This is a good way to take research that you might already be doing and increase the engagement around it. If you’re charging thousands of dollars for a membership, you want to take the relationship as deep as it can go.

Let me sum it up…

Some people are signing up just for the content and couldn’t care less about the engagement. I’ve probably only heard from 20% of paying subscribers. However, I believe it is important for publishers to find ways to keep their readers engaged. Each company is different and what works for one might not work for the other.

As you start developing your product, think about OnlyFans a little and find ways to build acknowledgement and engagement into it.

Like I said above, my way of doing that is by introducing these small, 8-10 person Zoom calls. Hit reply and let me know if you’d be interested and I will coordinate finding a time that works for everyone.

Thanks for reading! I hope you have a great weekend and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

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