Gumroad no longer allows most NSFW art, leaving its adult creators panicked

Gumroad, an e-commerce company for creators, updated its rules to more strictly limit NSFW content, citing restrictions from payment processors like Stripe and PayPal.

For creators who sell adult art, like explicit comic books or lewd cosplay photos, these sudden policy changes can be detrimental, resulting in an unforeseen loss of income.

“I'm concerned on a number of levels for my livelihood and the livelihoods of all types of creators in my sphere: artists, writers, sex workers and content creators of all kinds,” Sleepingirl, a kink educator and writer, told TechCrunch. “This is obviously far from the first site that is bending to the pressure of payment processors, and it will not be the last, but this is the first time my content (which is primarily academic and educational) seems to be threatened.”

Adult creators are taught to anticipate this kind of deplatforming; it’s happened on Patreon, which used to be much more lax about NSFW content, and it almost happened on OnlyFans. But that doesn’t make the impact of these policy changes any less debilitating. When creators have to port over their followers to a new platform, or direct fans to a different web shop to buy their products, the friction can result in a loss of income.

“We have been asked to be more rigorous in enforcing our ToS and must comply,” Gumroad founder Sahil Lavingia told TechCrunch. He declined to say which company asked Gumroad to enforce stricter rules. “Obviously, it sucks to do this. We don’t take it lightly that many creators rely on Gumroad for their livelihoods and have communicated that to our partners wherever and whenever we could,” he said. “We’ve been around since 2011, and this isn’t a new fight. It’s ongoing.”

This decision won’t be good for Gumroad’s business, either: The platform keeps a 10% cut of every sale, and adult content is popular on the platform. Competitors, such as Just For Fans, are already jumping at the chance to onboard these displaced creators.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to monetize sexual works online. In 2021, OnlyFans announced it would no longer host adult content, which was baffling, since the site is almost synonymous with sex (OnlyFans has tried to push its safe-for-work offerings, with little success). The site saw so much pushback that it reversed course; now, OnlyFans is able to accept credit card payments from Visa/Mastercard since it complies with the payment processor’s recent, more rigorous adult content policies. People who appear in porn on OnlyFans must verify their identity through both legal documents and biometric scans, and they must sign a form confirming that all models consented to be recorded.

These tightening restrictions have trickled down to artists, who aren’t actually performing in porn and aren’t representing real people in their work at all.

“Gumroad including ‘sexual coaching services or explicit instructional content’ as prohibited content makes me worried not only for my income, but for the discussion of safe sex and kink practices as a whole,” Sleepingirl said.

Patreon also updated its adult content guidelines this week to more precisely define what is allowed on the site. Adult creators don’t see this timing as coincidental.

“I don't know what to do next, personally, for my content,” Sleepingirl said. “I am trying to plan next steps, but Gumroad was an ideal, free storefront for e-books and instructional videos like I sell, and all other sorts of digital content. Almost all other services charge a hefty monthly fee and have terms of service that already disallow adult content.”

As for Gumroad, Lavingia is at a loss for what the company should do next.

“Should Gumroad hire a lobbyist?” he asked in an email to TechCrunch.