Traffic to U.S. websites that publish escort and body-rub ads hit a record in March, while five of those sites sold at least $3.2 million in online prostitution ads during the month.
March revenue from online prostitution ads increased 2 percent from the previous month and 8.6 percent from March 2011, according to estimates by the AIM Group, and it was just $60,000 short of the record set in January.
There were 6.1 million unique visits to 22 tracked sites, according to Compete.com. That’s a 6.3 percent increase compared to February and a 23.1 percent increase from March 2011. That’s the highest total since AIM Group began tracking prostitution-advertising statistics in August 2010. For comparison, Craigslist, the world’s largest classified advertising site, had 62 million unique visits in March.
Backpage.com, the general classified-advertising site owned by Village Voice Media, generated at least $2.6 million in online prostitution ad revenue during March – 81 percent of the total – and had nearly 3.4 million unique visits. Revenue was 2.7 percent higher than February, and 33.4 percent higher than March 2011. Unique visits to Backpage.com were up 8.1 percent from the previous month and 11.6 percent from March 2011.
Backpage is the leading U.S. site for prostitution advertising, a position it assumed in 2010 when Craigslist stopped publishing ads for adult services such as escorts and body rubs.
During the last 12 months, prostitution advertising in 23 U.S. cities generated at least $36.7 million, the AIM Group estimated. More than two-thirds of that amount — $26.7 million — was generated by Backpage. Between March 2011 and March this year, monthly prostitution-ad revenue has ranged between $2.9 million and $3.2 million.
When Craigslist closed its adult services section, the AIM Group had estimated it was generating about $3.7 million a month from the ads, an annual rate of $44.6 million. That’s nearly $8 million more than what has been generated in the last 12 months by the remaining publishers of prostitution ads.
Craigslist pulled adult services ads because of pressure from law enforcement officials and anti-sex-trafficking groups who complained the ads promoted both prostitution and sex slavery involving girls under 18.
Backpage is the online classified site for Village Voice Media’s 13 alternative weekly newspapers and a number of other publications around the U.S., mostly alternative weeklies.
VVM, which is also facing pressure from law enforcement officials, anti-trafficking groups and clergy, has changed the adult advertising sections of Backpage but continues to carry paid ads for escort services and body rubs. At the end of March, the State of Washington passed a law requiring websites that operate within the state to obtain documentation that advertised escorts are at least 18 years old. Other states, including Connecticut, are considering similar legislation.
Also, controversy around Backpage’s publication of escort ads led to two private equity firms, GS Capital Partners III (run by Goldman Sachs) and Trimaran Capital Partners, deciding to sell their interests in Village Voice Media back to VVM.
The U.S. Communications Decency Act protects publishers of online advertising posted directly by advertisers if the ads have not been reviewed before they appear online – even if they promote prostitution or include illegal references to discrimination in housing, for example.Village Voice Media also publishes escort advertising in its print publications, but the AIM Group revenue estimates include only online advertising in 23 of the 394 markets where Backpage.com offers localized sites in the U.S. Thus, its estimates of the company’s revenue from prostitution ads are extremely conservative. (VVM also offers Backpage sites in Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, the U.K., the Caribbean and Mexico.)
The number of Backpage.com listings for escorts and body-rubs increased in the surveyed markets to 98,995 in March, up 3.1 percent from February and up 4 percent from March 2011.
The AIM Group, an interactive-media consultancy based in Altamonte Springs, Fla., has been tracking prostitution advertising since August 2010.
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 additional charge to republish the ads four times. The research does not count ads published outside the primary cities, so it is likely revenue has been substantially underestimated.
The AIM Group has also tracked revenue for four other sites that sell prostitution advertising – Eros.com, CityVibe.com, MyRedbook.com and AdultSearch.com. (Escorts.com was tracked until it closed June 1, 2011.)
The consulting group also tracks the number of unique visitors to 22 sites that promote prostitution either with listings or by allowing “reviews” of prostitution services.
Here are the March unique visitors to the top 10 most-visited sites, according to Compete.com:
Although Eros.com and Eros-Guide.com are separate URLs, they both resolve to the same website, and the unique visitors for each have been combined.
The AIM Group tracked prostitution ads and, where possible, calculated the revenue they generate in these 23 cities: Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Dallas / Fort 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, the AIM Group studies 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 (which closed June 1, 2011) and AdultSearch.com. We can also count listings on three additional sites – NaughtyReviews.com, Eccie.com, and A1List.net (which stopped publishing ads in July). 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. Those sites are TheEroticReview.com, Sipsap.com, Preferred411.com, SexyEscortAds.com, BigDoggie.net, LocalEscortPages.com, HotLocalEscorts.com, MyProviderGuide.com, TNABoard.com, FindHotEscorts.com, EscortGuide.com, EroticServicesGuide.com, EpicDreams.com, Escortme.com, and BarebackEscorts.com.
The unique-visitors metric counts a user – a computer or IP address – only once no matter how many times the site is visited from that same location. It does not account for more than one person using the same computer, or one person visiting the same site from two or more different computers (one at work and one at home, for example).
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.
The AIM Group’s most recent report about Craigslist and free classified advertising sites is available through AIMGroup.com.
Note: Mark A. Whittaker, senior consultant for the AIM Group, and Peter M. Zollman, founding principal of the AIM Group, are available for comment on the research. Whittaker is available at 724-553-8428 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Zollman is available at 407-788-2780 or email@example.com.