The part of the Internet nobody talks about

You may have noticed a kerfuffle about a site called OnlyFans deciding to ban porn from the site. Since I’d never heard of OnlyFans that was news to me. But Benedict Evans — one of the most perceptive observers of the industry — spotted it and made this neat comment in his weekly newsletter:

When I first looked at Comscore, 20 years ago, you could see a list of the top 50 websites by traffic, but there was also a switch, turned on by default, that hid the adult sites. If you turned that off, you saw a whole other internet. Mostly, people kept it hidden.

It’s the same today – Pornhub alone claims a third as many video views as YouTube, and if OnlyFans was really on track to double GMV to $5.9bn of GMV this year, that put it in striking distance of YouTube (close to $10bn in ‘content acquisition costs’) and Netflix ($15bn content budget). This really is as big as US Steel, and mostly, we don’t look.

Puzzled by ‘GMV’? Me too. It’s defined as “Gross merchandise value (GMV) is the total value of merchandise sold over a given period of time through a customer-to-customer (C2C) exchange site.”

Footnote A helpful explanation from Recode:

OnlyFans was once heralded as “chang[ing] sex work forever.” Now OnlyFans is changing, too. The platform is about to ban most of the pornographic content that made it what it is today: a company worth over $1 billion with an estimated 130 million registered users who pay for subscriptions and send tips to more than 2 million creators. It does more than just host porn, but porn has become one of its key paid offerings. The company’s popularity soared during the pandemic, as some people turned to it for income after losing their jobs, and others turned to it for adult entertainment while stuck inside their homes.

Last week, OnlyFans announced that it would no longer allow sexually explicit content as of October 1. The company later blamed the move, which seemed to run completely counter to its business strategy, on pressure from banks that were rejecting wire transfers from the company to creators and closing OnlyFans’ corporate accounts, apparently because they disapproved of the sex work (or OnlyFan’s reportedly lax moderation of it) that took place on the platform.