Backpage replaces Craigslist as prostitution-ad leader

Posted by on Oct 19, 2010 in Craigslist, Marketplace, Note from us

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Village Voice Media, with its Backpage.com classifieds site, is the new leader in prostitution advertising now that Craigslist has eliminated its erotic services ad section in the United States.

Backpage.com’s revenue from online prostitution ads in 23 U.S. cities increased 15.3 percent to at least $1,671,685 in September compared with August, according to research conducted by the Advanced Interactive Media Group in Altamonte Springs. Fla. That’s an annual rate of just over $20 million.

However, Craigslist’s decision in early September to reject any further advertising for escort services put a huge dent in revenue generated by prostitution advertising. In August, the AIM Group estimated that the top sites for prostitution ads would generate nearly $76 million in annual revenue. Without Craigslist, that estimate has plunged 48.4 percent to $39.2 million.

AIM Group estimated that Backpage.com’s escort-service ad revenue increased $221,000 in September, which is a pittance compared with the monthly $3.7 million that U.S. sex-workers, pimps and traffickers had been paying to Craigslist for listings.

“There are clear signs that some revenue and listings are migrating to Backpage and to other sites that specialize in prostitution advertising,” said Mark A. Whittaker, an AIM Group consultant who worked on the report. “It doesn’t seem likely that alternative sites will be able to absorb all of the money that had been spent with Craigslist.”

Village Voice Media on Monday announced steps to prevent placement of “illegal ads” in the “personals” and “adult” sections of its Backpage.com classifieds site, but it remains to be seen if any of those steps will affect its revenue.

“Now that Backpage has become the market leader in ads for prostitutes, it’s feeling some of the heat that Craigslist felt before it eliminated its adult-services ads, and that could be the reason it’s taking security measures,” Whittaker said.

Prostitution advertising stats September 2010Revenue wasn’t the only evidence of a shift. Unique visitors to Backpage.com increased 15.8 percent to 2.73 million in September, according to Compete.com. Meanwhile, Craigslist’s unique visitors declined 2.4 percent to 59.76 million, its lowest total in the last 12 months, the Compete.com numbers show.

In mid-September, the AIM Group published an analysis of revenue from sex ads on 12 websites, including Craigslist, which on Sept. 3 eliminated its ad category for sex-related services. A variety of organizations, including state attorneys general and groups that combat sex trafficking of underage girls, had pressured Craigslist for months to remove the section.

Although a Craigslist official told a congressional hearing Sept. 15 that the company had eliminated sex advertising for good in the U.S., he did not explain the decision. By discontinuing the ads, Craigslist stands to lose between $12 million and $15 million this year. Law enforcement officials in the U.S. had encouraged Craigslist to charge fees for sex-related ads. By charging, Craigslist was able to capture credit-card and other information that could have been useful to police investigating sex trafficking. Craigslist still publishes sex ads in other countries, including Canada, but sex-workers can post those ads for free.

Now that Craigslist no longer publishes escort advertising in the U.S., other sites are picking up the slack.

Overall, Backpage.com saw a 17.5 percent increase in the number of online prostitution listings. Backpage.com publishes classified ads from many alternative weekly newspapers, including the 14 owned by Village Voice Media. Other publishers who feed ads to Backpage.com include Creative Loafing, which publishes weeklies in Atlanta, Tampa, Sarasota, Chicago, Charlotte and Washington, D.C. Listings actually declined in the six cities where Creative Loafing is published.

The AIM Group also estimated listings and revenue for four sites that specialize in prostitution ads – Eros.com, CityVibe.com, MyRedBook.com and Escorts.com. The growth in revenue equaled or exceeded the growth rate for Backpage.com

Although it did not see a significant increase in listings, AIM Group estimated a 35.9 percent increase in revenue at Eros.com, which charges fees for basic listings and then up-charges for a “VIP” listing on the site. A researcher counted the different types of listings and multiplied by the applicable rates in each city.
CityVibe’s revenue increased an estimated 17.5 percent on a 63 percent increase in the number of listings. CityVibe has a relatively low price for basic listings, ranging from $1 to $5 depending on the city, and then charges additional fees for “featured” and “VIP” listings.

MyRedBook.com, which focuses on West Coast prostitution services, saw a 16 percent increase in monthly revenue. Its listings are found on “discussion boards,” and the site charges for enhancements to the postings such as adding a colored background and anchoring the posts at the top of the page.

The AIM Group estimated a 70 percent increase in revenue on Escorts.com, but for this report it expanded the count to include all 23 cities counted for the other sites (except MyRedBook.com, which only has listings for cities in the West).

When added to the Backpage.com gains, these sites in September collected an additional $420,730, 11.4 percent of the $3.7 million in estimated monthly Craigslist revenue.

Unique Visitors

The AIM Group also compiled information about traffic to a group of websites that advertise or list prostitution services. Unique visitors reflect the number of individual computers (IP addresses) that visit a site once or more during a month. A unique visitor may visit the site more than once, but that individual is counted just once in the total.

Here are “top 10” sites based on unique visitors during September and the percentage change from the previous month:

Unique visitors, prostitution advertising, Sept. 2010
Craigslist in Canada

Meanwhile, the nature of prostitution laws is changing in Canada, where Craigslist continues to publish ads for prostitution in its “erotic services” category. An Ontario Superior Court in late September ruled that some of Canada’s prostitution laws are unconstitutional, and the country seems to be taking a new look at its rules.

While that is occurring, prostitution and Craigslist are making headlines in Canada. In a town near Vancouver, police charged the operator of four brothels with bringing girls from Hong Kong to Canada and forcing them into prostitution. The man advertised on Craigslist, police told reporters.

Also, the justice minister in the Canadian province of Manitoba said on Oct. 13 that he planned to ask Craigslist to remove its erotic services category from the site in Canada.

The AIM Group counted 150,520 erotic services ads in four major Canadian cities – Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Victoria – for a 30-day period in August and September. This was the first time the firm counted the ads in Canada, so comparisons to previous months were not available.


This monthly update report has been funded by a foundation that has asked not to be identified, in part because it does not want to seem to be taking credit for the Craigslist change in practice, nor promoting other adult-services advertising media.

The original Sept. 15, 2010, report can be purchased on the AIM Group Reports page, and proceeds will be given to report’s sponsor.

Written by aimgroup

Jim Townsend, editorial director and a principal of the AIM Group, is a career journalist, consultant and interactive media pioneer with more than 35 years of experience in news management. Townsend joined the AIM Group in 2001 as an analyst and consultant and became a part-owner in 2003. He is based in Houston.

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