ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. (Feb. 18, 2011) – Led by Backpage.com, a Village Voice Media company, revenue generated by prostitution advertising online in the United States increased 1 percent in January over the previous month’s total to an estimated $3.15 million.
Of the January total, $2.1 million was generated by Backpage.com, now the leading site for prostitution advertising in the United States even though it brings in just 57 percent of the money once made by Craigslist.org from escort ads. In early September 2010, Craigslist abandoned its adult-service advertising sections after law enforcement officials and anti-sex-trafficking groups complained the ads promoted both prostitution and sex slavery involving girls under 18.
Based on information collected during the last five months, six websites tracked by the AIM Group would generate annual revenue of $33.5 million from the sale of ads for escort services and body rubs, common euphemisms for prostitution.
The five other major sites that sell prostitution advertising – Eros.com, CityVibe.com, MyRedbook.com, Escorts.com and AdultSearch.com – have seen a collective 49 percent increase in monthly revenue to a total of $1 million. But that amount, plus what Backpage generates, pales in comparison to the $3.7 million a month that Craigslist gave up. In August, the AIM Group, a global interactive-media consulting group, estimated annual revenue generated by prostitution ads in the United States would reach about $70 million.
Village Voice Media, which is also facing pressure from law enforcement officials, has made few changes to the adult advertising sections of Backpage. Backpage is the online classified advertising site for VVM’s 14 alternative weekly newspapers, the five weeklies published by Creative Loafing and a number of other publications, mostly alternative weeklies.
No other popular classified advertising site in the United States publishes ads for prostitutes.
Boosted by increased rates, Backpage’s monthly revenue from escort and body-rub advertising has increased 44.9 percent from $1.45 million in August 2010 (just before Craigslist dropped the adult ads) to $2.1 million in January 2011, the AIM Group estimated. The site had 2.8 million unique visitors in January, according to Compete.com, 19.8 percent higher than the 2.4 million recorded in August.
After Craigslist left the picture, the number of escort and body-rub listings on Backpage increased sharply, but then dropped back. January’s 86,489 listings were 100 less than the listings recorded in August. Backpage’s revenue increases over the last several months are due to price increases.
The AIM Group counts the number of Backpage ads for female escorts and body rubs in 23 U.S. cities over a 30-day period. Revenue is estimated by multiplying the number of ads by the advertising rates in each city, plus an assumed upsell to republish the ads four times. The research does not count ads published outside the primary cities, so it is likely the revenue has been underestimated.
Readers may notice that Backpage revenue increased even when the number of listings declined. Revenue gains in December and January can be attributed to higher rates. In November, overall revenue increased while the number of listings decreased because the company charges different rates in different cities. Listings didn’t uniformly decrease in all cities. For example, escort service listings increased in New York City, where rates were higher, and decreased in cities like Atlanta, Charlotte and Houston, where rates were lower. The net result was higher overall revenue.
Although there were September and October surges in unique visitors to prostitution-oriented websites and in the number of prostitution listings, both categories have since fallen to levels close to those in August 2010. Unique visitors to 24 tracked sites totaled 4.6 million in January, up 4.1 percent compared with August. And the number of listings on nine tracked sites is actually down to 171,644 in January, 5.6 percent fewer than in September.
To put all of those numbers in perspective, however, consider that Craigslist had 56 million unique visitors in January, down 8.5 percent from August. So, while Craigslist lost 5.2 million unique visitors, the group of 24 sites that promote prostitution only gained a total of 181,380. In August, the AIM Group counted 70,973 listings for prostitutes on Craigslist alone. That’s about 16,000 fewer than Backpage during the same month, but the research shows no gain in Backpage when comparing January 2011 to last August.
The AIM Group tracked prostitution ads and, where possible, calculated 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.
Overall, we look at 24 websites that either sell listings or promote prostitution in other ways. Of those 24, we are able to compute revenue based on the number of listings and published advertising rates for six – Backpage.com, Eros.com, CityVible.com, MyRedbook.com, Escorts.com and AdultSearch.com. We can also count listings on three additional sites – NaughtyReviews.com, Eccie.com, and A1List.net. For the remaining 15, we track only unique visitors because the other data is not publicly available or because the sites have so little traffic that their revenues or listings would be insignificant.
About the AIM Group: The AIM Group, formally known as the Advanced Interactive Media Group LLC, is the world’s leading consultancy in interactive media and classified advertising. It publishes Classified Intelligence Report, a continuous advisory service often called “the bible of the classified advertising industry.” The AIM Group works with leading media companies, broadcasters, dot-coms, yellow-page publishers and technology companies. It provides strategic and tactical consulting; sales training; proprietary and published research about interactive media, and other services. Founded in 1998, it is based in Altamonte Springs, Fla. For more information call (407) 788-2780 or see http://AIMGroup.com.
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. In addition, the AIM Group’s 47-page 2010 report on Craigslist, “Craigslist revenue to top $122 million,” is available through AIMGroup.com.
Note: Peter M. Zollman, founding principal of the AIM Group, and Mark A. Whittaker, senior consultant for the AIM Group, are available for comment on the research. Zollman is available at 407-788-2780, 407-788-3204 or 321-356-3182. Whittaker is available at 724-553-8428.