Despite OnlyFans’ promise to not ban explicit content on its platform last month, the online adult industry is still in flux. Little clarity has been given as to why OnlyFans originally threatened to prohibit porn, only to quickly reverse course, leaving creators and consumers distrustful of the site and wary of what happens next. Could payment processors pull out from OnlyFans in the future? What will happen to the people who make their living on the platform? And should consumers be giving their money to a company that has no apparent interest in supporting sex workers?
As a former cam girl of five years and the co-creator and owner of the OnlyFans competitor ManyVids, Bella French has unique insight into these questions. In essence, ManyVids combines numerous types of adult sites into a single place where creators can sell subscriptions, perform live on webcam and host individual porn clips for purchase. Over the next several months, too, French plans to revamp ManyVids, scaling it upward and outward as an entity for online sex workers to not only earn their income, but document their lives in a way traditional social media platforms like Instagram and Tumblr don’t allow them to. Given its pro-sex worker ethos, multitude of money-making opportunities and the enhanced ways it connects consumers with creators, ManyVids is considered by some to be far more advanced and welcoming than OnlyFans.
French and I recently discussed why the world needs a site like ManyVids, as well as what’s going on with all the topsy-turvy changes happening in the world of online sex work from the perspective of both an adult business owner and a former cam girl.
How would you describe ManyVids, and what separates it from other adult content sites?
ManyVids is an ecosystem. It’s a one-stop shop for everything you need to sell adult content online. We have a section of ManyVids called VIP Fan Club — it’s pretty much the same thing as OnlyFans — but we also have a live section, profiles where you can sell individual videos and an option to bundle videos and a bunch of other services. We also have the ManyVids community, where there’s a separate VIP Fan Club, which there’s a free version of as well. We also do fun contests and run a pretty robust blog.
Most importantly, the platform is fully open. Unlike OnlyFans — which is fully closed — you don’t have to become a subscriber to see or interact with content.
How much has ManyVids grown since OnlyFans announced it would ban adult content starting in October — before, of course, changing its mind?
Our model signups are at an almost 100 percent increase. It’s been pretty intense. We’re tackling this expansion by hiring the right people. We’re ready for it, and we’re super excited about it.
There are rumors as well that Twitter might ban adult content, so we feel a strong responsibility to protect online sex workers and make sure that they still have a voice online. Because right now, it’s not clear what’s going to happen to them next.
How has your own experience in the industry informed the way you run your business?
Honestly, I don’t know how other people run businesses in this industry with no experience in it. Having worked in adult content myself, I have a deep understanding of the mindset of a model, how it feels when they have a good day, how it feels when they have a bad day, the physical pressure they put on themselves and also the emotional pressures they face.
This business is about understanding where the models come from, and knowing that they’re really smart. It’s important for us to listen to their concerns, comments and recommendations, which is something that we do all the time through our blog postings. For me, it’s one of the reasons why I love ManyVids so much — I see myself in all of those girls in some ways, and it’s important to make sure they’re happy.
What are some of the problems you see in the online adult industry today?
Trust and safety for creators are two of the biggest concerns. As a platform, it’s extremely important that you do your due diligence during onboarding to make sure performers are of-age and that they actually want to have their content posted. The problem for some sites is that doing those things can be expensive and time-consuming. So, they cut corners to try to grow faster, but they wind up doing things improperly.
At ManyVids, trust and safety have always been our top priorities. I was a cam girl myself, so I understand that reality and why it’s important to be part of a platform where you feel safe. What’s really important — and what’s the responsibility of all adult companies — is to make sure that the content can only be viewed by people that are 18 and over. That’s a huge challenge, and that’s something we’ve been working on for quite some time at ManyVids. That would be a really good place for the adult industry to be.
Likewise, we need better personal banking option for sex workers. You should be able to go to the bank and say, “I’m an online performer. I make adult content. I generate X amount of money a month, and I want to start a business. Can I open a bank account? Can I get a loan?” None of those things are available right now.
What are some of the specific things that ManyVids does to help verify the consent and age of creators as well as to cultivate a better sense of trust and security?
We have a Trust and Safety Department, and we have people [in that department] who have a lot of experience. On our site, you can’t even upload a video or a picture unless you’re approved with a government ID. On top of that, we do double verifications: We ask you to send your ID, then you take a picture with the ID next to your face and we ask you to write “ManyVids” and the date on a piece of paper to make sure that it’s you. It’s important for us to double verify everyone who appears in videos, so we have a co-performer verification system as well.
Do you have any concerns about ManyVids falling victim to some of the same issues with traditional financial systems and payment processors as OnlyFans and Pornhub have?
In this climate, you have to be ready to expect anything. That said, we work with Mastercard, Visa and banks, and we’re always compliant. We have to answer specific questions from them here and there. They do due diligence on us, and we pass those tests. So, we have a good partnership with those companies, and they do their job to make sure there’s nothing bad on the platform. We’re used to it.
Does ManyVids accept crypto?
We’ve accepted it for at least five years now. It’s great, but it’s a very small portion of the sales that are made.
Do you think that crypto can be a viable alternative to traditional banks on adult platforms?
What’s important to keep in mind is that there are companies being targeted by Visa and Mastercard, which is what caused the whole OnlyFans situation. When that happened and they said they wouldn’t accept online sexual content anymore, I saw some comments on Twitter from models talking about feeling suicidal. They were wondering what they were going to do next, and they didn’t know where they were going to generate income. We have to find solutions to this so this doesn’t happen again. Crypto is definitely a great way to do that, and right now, it’s really the only option outside of the traditional banking and credit card companies.
What’s your perspective on why OnlyFans announced those changes — both the prohibition of explicit content and the reversal of it?
I don’t have insider information or know anyone who works there, but from my understanding, they probably got tremendous pressure from banks and payment processors because they became so big. I think they had no choice other than to threaten a shutdown because of some of the things they have to adjust on their platform [like unverified content].
Obviously, when the news hit, it became this crazy thing, especially within the adult space. If something like that would happen to ManyVids, my first concern would be chargebacks. There were probably thousands and thousands of chargebacks right after that announcement, mostly from subscribers [on OnlyFans] saying to themselves, “I don’t want to be part of your subscription, because you’re not going to be able to sell things on OnlyFans anymore.”
When you have a very high chargeback rate, it’s dangerous. You could lose all your payment processors. It’s also not good for the banks. It became so chaotic that they probably figured out a deal, or bought themselves some time to stop the madness of chargebacks. There’s also a lot of other rumors that they wanted to get VC funding or investors, and those people weren’t interested in getting in on a website that’s hosting adult content.
What can be done to help bolster a sense of agency for online sex workers, so that they can feel more confident in their own security in the industry?
Right now, the most important thing is not to put all your eggs in one basket. When an announcement happens like with OnlyFans, you lose everything. If you only have an OnlyFans account, diversify for sure. That’s really, really important.
My hope is that all the other companies in this industry are taking all the recent events extremely seriously and putting in strong trust and safety measures. Because if we all come together and do things right, and then all those companies get audited by Visa, Mastercard and payment-processor banks, we can demonstrate that we’re doing things the right way.
We should also be leaders. We should tell those credit card companies what we want to bring to the industry and how we’re going to do it. The adult industry isn’t going anywhere. Trying to eliminate it is going to create more harm than anything because the content is just going to end up somewhere else in the dark web, where the consent and age-verification issues are going to get even worse. We should focus all our attention into how we can make this industry better instead of trying to kill it. We should never forget that there are people behind those content creators, too. It’s a show they put on — they’re entertainers and professionals — but they also have families and they have bills to pay. If this way of living works for them, then we have to make sure they can keep it.
At ManyVids, we respect models as business partners. We know that they’re smart, and we communicate with them, elevating them and making them feel like they bring something important to this world. I think that’s the most important thing — to give creators self-esteem, and the understanding that, even if the world is constantly attacking them and trying to take them down, that it’s a matter of staying tall and strong, and showing that this community’s a beautiful one. What happened with OnlyFans has helped people realize that there’s a lot of people within this industry, and that they can’t be ignored anymore.