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Art by Mike Sullivan.
Art by Mike Sullivan.

The Bunnies Have Left the Mansion: Inside Playboy’s Quest to Reinvent Itself as a Tech Company

The media brand known for sex, partying and pleasure is betting big on NFTs, Web3 and a creator platform it’s calling “the uncensored Instagram.” Can Playboy survive in the age of OnlyFans?

Art by Mike Sullivan.
Feb. 18, 2022 1:00 PM PST

Mia Khalifa would be an obvious choice for a Playboy Playmate of the Month, if such a thing still existed. Instead, one of the biggest names in adult entertainment just signed up for its digital equivalent.

Khalifa, a social media influencer and former porn star with 27 million Instagram followers, is set to join Playboy’s new subscription content service, Centerfold, later this month. The platform launched in December with the vision to become, according to Playboy Enterprises CEO Ben Kohn, “the uncensored Instagram.” Two months in, the site looks less like a rehash of the old, Hugh Hefner velvet-and-lace aesthetic than a modern mashup of OnlyFans and Patreon. Its home page displays suggestive photographs of adult entertainers both female and male, plus the occasional YouTuber and makeup artist. It features an Instagram-style “following” feed showcasing its current roster, and a tab for messaging creators (for a fee, of course). Its founding creative director, with input on editorial decisions and creator recruiting, is rapper Cardi B.

Since Centerfold’s launch, Playboy has brought on a number of highly followed figures, from YouTuber Amanda Cerny to former adult film star Lana Rhoades to current porn actress Mia Malkova, who collectively boast more than 50 million followers on Instagram. But Khalifa is perhaps the site’s buzziest addition. “I was very excited and very honored,” Khalifa says. “I mean, it’s Playboy.”

The partnership is a change of course for Khalifa, who, despite only working in the porn industry for three months in 2014, has amassed over 1 billion video views on PornHub. When she popped up on a Zoom last week, wearing a purple tie-dyed sweatshirt and little makeup, and contending with a poor internet connection, she seemed more like a remote-working 20-something than a global sensation. But she had strong things to say about her other home on the Internet, OnlyFans, where she charges subscribers $12 per month for content she describes as “Safe for work, but spicy.”

“I feel like where OnlyFans is headed is no longer in support of sex workers. I disagree with a lot of their changes and a lot of their tactics,” she says, referencing the site’s short-lived ban on sexually explicit content and changes to creator payouts. “I would like to be on a platform that can be a place with a fresh start.”

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