Sex ads continue slow migration

Posted by on Nov 23, 2010 in Craigslist

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ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. — A 1.6 percent increase in prostitution-advertising revenue during October indicates a continuing migration of sex ads, but at a slower pace since Craigslist shut down its erotic services section in the United States.

Prostitution-ad revenue in 23 U.S. cities rose to nearly $2.6 million in October, an annual rate of $31.16 million, according to estimates by the AIM Group, a consulting group based in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

Despite that gain, Craigslist’s early-September removal of erotic services ads put a giant dent in the amount of money spent on prostitution advertising. In August, the AIM Group estimated that the top sites for prostitution ads would generate nearly $70 million in annual online revenue. Without Craigslist, that number has plunged by 55 percent.

AIM Group tracked revenue on six websites containing prostitution ads and counted ad listings on three additional sites. The total number of listings increased 1.2 percent to 184,107 in October.

Village Voice Media and its Backpage classified advertising website, which is now the leading U.S. publisher of prostitution ads, saw smaller increases in October than in September. After a 15.3 percent surge in September, revenue for online ads in the 23 selected cities increased 3.8 percent in October to $1,736,137 — an annual rate of $20.83 million. In the last two months, Backpage’s projected annual revenue has increased 19.7 percent, to $20.8 million.

Of the remaining five sites for which revenue can be tracked, four actually made less money in October. The fifth site, AdultSearch.com, increased its October revenue 60.5 percent to $35,971, compared with the previous month. AdultSearch advertised heavily on Backpage.com after Craigslist removed escort advertising.

The amount of advertising doesn’t come close to the $3.7 million in monthly revenue Craigslist was making before pressure from a group of state attorneys general and anti-sex-trafficking groups forced the classified site to remove its escort-service advertising. “Escort” is a common euphemism for “prostitute,” and authorities and others argued that by publishing the ads, Craigslist was supporting child prostitution and sex trafficking.

The same groups and law enforcement officials are now targeting Village Voice, which owns Backpage.com, a site that publishes classifieds from alternative weekly newspapers owned by Village Voice and other companies.

“How many more girls will be trafficked before Village Voice Media takes comprehensive action to protect them? From what we’ve seen so far the answer is not nearly far enough,” Deborah Richardson, chief programs officer at Women’s Funding Network, said in a press release Nov. 12. “The fact is that girls are being bought and sold online while media companies that provide a platform for this illegal activity increase their profits and market share,” Richardson said.

And even though Craigslist removed erotic services ads from its U.S. sites, it continues to publish the ads — for free — on its Canadian and other international sites. Canadian law enforcement authorities are urging Craigslist to eliminate the ads.

In Canada, the number of 30-day Craigslist ads for erotic services in four major cities — Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Victoria — decreased 4.2 percent in October to 144,130.

AIM Group also tracked unique visits to 27 websites that either allow or specifically promote female escort advertising. After a 6.1 percent increase from August to September, the traffic declined 2 percent in October to 7.7 million unique visitors, according to statistics from Compete.com. For comparison, Craigslist had 58.8 million unique visits in October, down 1.6 percent from the previous month.

Here are the Top 10 sites, ranked by unique visitors according to Compete.com, that publish prostitution advertising:

AIM Group tracked prostitution ads and, where possible, calculates the revenue they generate in these cities: Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Dallas/Forth Worth, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Fla., Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Sarasota, Fla., Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa and Washington, D.C.

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 at www.aimgroup.com, and proceeds will be given to report’s sponsor.

Written by Mark Whittaker

Mark Whittaker joined the AIM Group as sales director in March 2009. His career in newspapers spans 30 years as a reporter, editor and online manager. He spent seven years as online managing editor and online director for PittsburghLive.com and the Tribune-Review Publishing Co. in Pittsburgh, and later worked as interactive media director for Beaver Newspapers Inc. in suburban Pittsburgh. At Beaver Newspapers, he was responsible for day-to-day advertising, design and operation of the company’s Web sites, supervising a staff of eight. At Tribune-Review, he oversaw about 20 Web sites, including ad sales, coordination between the Web sites and affiliated newspapers, and negotiating partnership agreements. He is based near Pittsburgh.

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