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$500 a day to pretend to be a model: The big business behind OnlyFans ‘chatters’

The biggest stars on the adult platform are in such demand that they have turned to experts to impersonate them and take a commission from what they earn during those interactions

Onlyfans
The massive success of OnlyFans has given rise to agencies that offer "chatters" for the platform's most popular stars.David Trood (Getty Images)

Juan Hernández, a 22-year-old with a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology, wakes up early in his room in Santa Rosa, Philippines. Even though he only works six hours a day, he starts his shift early in the morning due to the time difference with his clients. Armed with a coffee, he sits at his desk and begins talking to potential buyers around the world to sell them exclusive deals offered by the woman who gave him the job. An experienced professional, he was hired because he demonstrated the fundamental skills for this job: telling raunchy stories convincingly and selling adult videos.

Hernández is one of a huge army of professional “chatters” employed by OnlyFans models to assume their identity and sell extra content. The system goes like this: OnlyFans subscribers can access exclusive and often pornographic content that models, ordinary people, and adult film stars make available in exchange for an average monthly sum that can start from $10 per month and reach up to $30. But the biggest profits lie elsewhere: in personalized chats with subscribers. That’s where the true profit potential is and where special, often personalized content is offered, which is purchased separately and for figures much larger than $10.

Sometimes stars also receive generous tips from grateful fans who enjoy their content. But as OnlyFans models accumulate hundreds of thousands of followers, they lose the ability to communicate with everyone. That’s where the chatters come in. They are specialized workers who hold conversations posing as the stars of the show and thus make more money for them. Chatters charge an hourly rate plus a commission on each unit of content that they sell, which can reach up to 15%.

These professionals are trained actors. “In the first weeks, a manager monitors your screen to evaluate your English, your speed and your naturalness when speaking,” explains Hernández. They send new hires scripts that predict conversations, personality guides for each model, and a small dictionary explaining their subscribers’ fetishes. For Hernández, the main thing is knowing how to “get into character.” “You have to know how to portray the model, speak like them, and know their background,” he explains. “Sometimes you go crazy with so many personalities,” Hernández confesses. He is currently a chatter for three models.

The Filipino has had this job for a year. It came to him as a recommendation from his sister-in-law, and it seemed strange at first. “I thought it might be illegal, but then I realized it was like my previous job.” He was a social media manager. Today, he is paid to talk to mostly male fans. His task is to create connections with them and try to sell them an unpublished nude photo or an exclusive video in which the model masturbates on the couch. In fact, he can offer any type of content that makes that follower feel special and privileged and, therefore, willing to pay generously. Hernández confesses that “part of the job of talking to sexually aroused men” is constantly receiving photos of their penises. “They have become a common occurrence in my life.” Hernández has a girlfriend who does the same job he does.

OnlyFans sexo
The OnlyFans platform was not conceived as a host for pornography, but its structure proved perfect for it.ANDREW KELLY (Reuters)

The chatters reveal how the conflict that comes with impersonating another person to earn a living has affected them in different ways. Hernández felt bad at first: “Both the model and I are lying,” he says. Although he admits to not having felt guilty for a while. For Ronald Soriano, who is also Filipino and a professional chatter, the dilemma takes on other considerations. “If you think I’m someone else, yes, I’m lying. But we learn to “become” the model, we adopt their way of speaking, the way they carry themselves, and their story. We become an extension of them.” Marlon De La Cruz, another chatter from the Philippines, is practical: “I’m just typing and satisfying subscribers, but yeah, maybe you can call me a scammer,” he says. OnlyFans’ terms of service are very flexible in this regard and make it clear that third parties can be used to help manage the account. Of course, it emphasizes that the account’s owner is legally liable.

Of the OnlyFans models contacted by this newspaper, none agreed to talk about using chatters. It would mean, perhaps, admitting the end of a certain magical connection between the sexual idols and their admirers. A model with almost 39,000 likes on her content justified her silence, saying: “Articles that reveal our trade secrets do not benefit us.”

Porn as a way of life

OnlyFans was not designed specifically for porn, but its structure met the needs of this market so perfectly — showing what cannot be shown on traditional websites — that it ended up defining the platform. Its popularity exploded exponentially during the pandemic, when filming in the porn industry was suspended at the same time as millions of people were confined to their homes. Many people turned to pornography due to the impossibility of having sexual encounters during the lockdowns. In fact, PornHub took advantage of the circumstance to make its platform temporarily free to attract new subscribers. And with OnlyFans, sex workers found a way to earn income easily from the comfort of their own home.

By the end of 2023, the platform had 3.2 million creators and almost 300 million subscribers. Many point out that if sex workers found the platform attractive, it is due to the high commission they receive (80% of the income) compared to the 75% that PornHub pays (although it still depends on production companies to fill its site with content, while on OnlyFans the models themselves directly upload their videos and photographs). The OnlyFans structure was applauded by many in the porn industry for eliminating the middleman and making porn stars, who were responsible for their own content, freer and more autonomous. Of course, it has also received criticism for being invasive and controlling and blurring the lines between its stars’ work and personal lives.

He believed he was in a relationship with the model. He sent her money to buy dresses, and encouraged her to continue publishing photos. I don't know if they're still together.
Sonya Popescu, chateadora profesional

Pornography is also the main feature of conversations between chatters and fans. Soriano explains that it is one of the things he likes most in the profession: “When I talk to fans, I try to learn new things, I get to know new fetishes.” He says that on one occasion he got carried away: “I was liking it, so my real personality and the one I was interpreting merged and I had a very natural conversation.” On that occasion he managed to sell $1,600 worth of pornographic material from the model who hired him. However, it had setbacks at the beginning. “I once spoke in a very dominant way while playing a model who presents herself as delicate, who sells a ‘girlfriend experience’ [pretends to be a loving girlfriend]. The subscriber got really scared, but I managed to fix it.” His skills have not gone unnoticed: he has just been promoted to manager of his own team of chatters.

OnlyFans became especially popular during the pandemic.
OnlyFans became especially popular during the pandemic.Ilustración: Blanca López (EL PAÍS)

Soriano shares that learning experience with many of the platform’s other users. In research from the University of California published in January of this year, 91% of participants reported having learned some new sexual activity through the use of OnlyFans. Through his work, Soriano has learned all kinds of details about shapes and sizes of anal plugs and men’s preferences and activities in BDSM.

Many subscribers are simply looking for company. “There are some fans who want to talk about life, they say good morning and ask if you have eaten,” adds Soriano. For Sonya Popescu, a 31-year-old Romanian chatter, women and men have their own advantages when it comes to impersonating an OnlyFans star: “As a woman I feel that my interpretation is more natural, my speech is more similar to what the model might say. But I think men know what they themselves would like to hear from a woman.” At the agency she worked for, her team (made up of men and women) ended up making a subscriber fall in love with her. “He believed he was in a relationship with the model. He sent her money to buy dresses and encouraged her to continue posting photos. I don’t know if they’re still together,” she jokes.

The Filipino presence

The huge number of Filipinos among professional chatters is due to a particular set of factors. The country has a conservative culture and is still recovering from the crisis caused by former president Rodrigo Duterte and his controversial war on drugs. The law prohibits citizens from producing content for the platform because it is associated with prostitution. But regulating employment as a chatter remains in limbo. And it thrives in this gray area. The time difference between the Philippines and OnlyFans’ largest market, the United States, allows chatters to work during the day while it is still early morning for consumers (the busiest time for porn consumption). In addition, workers can earn a higher income by billing in U.S. dollars rather than Philippine pesos. Juan Hernández, for example, chose the job because it is better paid than his old one (he was a web developer). “Within a month I had bought a new MacBook, and now I am saving to invest,” he explains.

The income changed the life of 21-year-old De La Cruz. The Filipino dropped out of university because he couldn’t afford it but, after starting to work as a chatter on OnlyFans, he has renovated his family’s house and treated himself to luxuries like a PlayStation. “It’s a lot of money and very easy to earn,” he explains. According to De La Cruz, the model he impersonated earned between $1,000 and $3,000 per shift. “You work from home or in a coffee shop and you can make $500 on your best day” (the minimum wage in the Philippines is about $10 a day). The young man recently left his job. “I already have experience, and I feel that there are other agencies that can pay me better.” He believes that the skill that is most valued in this job is generating a bond with the fan: “Once a subscriber told me that his grandmother had died. I told him: “Oh my God babe, how are you feeling?“ and he gave me $200 as a tip for the model.”

The platform that has given sex workers more autonomy is rapidly becoming a full-fledged business promoter. What started with models hiring people to help them with their private conversations has given rise to huge agencies with hundreds of workers creating as many interactions as possible between models and fans and making money from them. Could this be part of so-called digital pimping? Popescu acknowledges that these companies are in a morally gray area, but there is no pimping: “There are good and bad agencies, but the models can easily change from one to another.” And the lying? Hernández doesn’t care much: he feels good about his job and it doesn’t hurt anyone. At that point, he apologizes because he has to cut the interview short: “Forgive me, I have a lot of horny guys waiting for me to talk to them.”

All names in this report have been changed to protect the participants’ privacy

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