ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. — Estimated online prostitution-advertising revenue on five U.S. websites declined 2.8 percent to $2.95 million in August compared with the same month in 2011. The August total was 1.4 percent higher than July, however.
Backpage.com, which accounted for 78.8 percent of the August total, saw an 11.8 percent year-over-year increase in revenue from online escort and body-rub ads in 23 U.S. cities to $2.3 million, according to estimates by the AIM Group. Compared to July, the Backpage revenue was up just 0.6 percent.
During the last 12 months, five tracked websites that sell ads and listings for escorts and body-rubs – both euphemisms for prostitution – have generated $37.3 million. Backpage, a general classifieds site owned by Village Voice Media, accounted for 77.5 percent of that total, $28.9 million.
During August, the number of listings for prostitution, escorts and body rubs totaled 170,565 on eight tracked sites. That’s a 3.4 percent increase from July, and 12.8 percent higher than the 151,260 listings counted in August 2011.
The number of unique visits to 25 tracked sites that promote listings or reviews of prostitution services totaled 6.2 million in August. That’s about even with July but 12.8 percent higher than August 2011.
With annual revenue of $37.3 million, the five tracked sites are collectively $7.3 million behind the yearly prostitution-ad revenue once generated by Craigslist, which closed its adult services section in September 2010. At that time, its ads for escorts and body rubs generated an estimated of $3.7 million a month. The AIM Group, a classified advertising consultancy, estimated Craigslist would have made $44.6 million from online prostitution ads in 2010.
In terms of revenue, Backpage has replaced Craigslist as the leading site for prostitution advertising in the U.S. 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.
Craigslist closed its adult services section under pressure from law enforcement officials and anti-sex-trafficking groups who complained the ads promoted both prostitution and sex slavery involving girls under 18. Their ire is now directed at Backpage and Village Voice Media, and the pressure has become more intense.
VVM, under pressure from law enforcement officials, legislators, 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. In 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; enforcement of that law has been stayed by a federal court judge following a lawsuit by Backpage.com. Tennessee has passed a similar law, and other states, including Connecticut, are considering similar legislation. The New York City Council and the city councils of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., have passed resolutions urging VVM to eliminate adult ads on Backpage.
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.)
In August, the number of unique visits to Backpage.com totaled 3.9 million, the same as July and an increase of 25.5 percent from 3.1 million in August 2011, according to Compete.com. For comparison, there were 59.8 million unique visits to Craigslist in August.
Also in August, Backpage published 88,895 listings for escorts and body rubs, the same as July and down 13.4 percent from 102,665 listings in August last year.
The following chart shows the change since August 2011 in unique visitors to sites that advertise escorts. (The AIM Group started by counting unique visits to 26 sites. Five sites have closed, and we’ve added four others to the count.)
The AIM Group, an interactive-media consultancy based in Altamonte Springs, Fla., has tracked revenue on Craigslist since 2004 and began tracking Craigslist’s prostitution-ad revenue in 2009, when the site first began charging for adult services ads.
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 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 AIM Group also tracks the number of unique visitors to 25 sites that promote prostitution either with listings or by allowing “reviews” of prostitution services.
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 25 websites that either sell listings or promote prostitution in other ways. Of those 25, 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 2011 and resumed in June 2012). We count 30-day listings where possible. Because MyRedBook.com displays just 500 ads at a time, we use numbers published on the site as our count.
For the remaining 17, 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, Escortme.com, USASexGuide.com, EscortContact.info, FemaleCompanions.com, DrDwg.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 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.