Online prostitution advertising generated at least $3.1 million in revenue in February on five U.S. websites, an increase of 9.8 percent compared with the same month last year, but a drop of 3.8 percent from a record high in January.
Nearly 80 percent of the revenue was attributed to Backpage.com, which generated at least $2.5 million from the sale of online ads for escorts and body rubs in 23 U.S. cities. February prostitution-ad revenue at Backpage.com increased 36.5 percent compared with February 2011, but was 3.8 percent lower than in January, according to estimates by the AIM Group.
During the last 12 months, prostitution advertising in 23 U.S. cities generated at least $36.6 million, the AIM Group estimates. More than two-thirds of that amount — $26 million — was generated by Backpage.com, a general classifieds site owned by Village Voice Media.
Backpage is the leading U.S. site for prostitution advertising, a position it assumed in 2010 when Craigslist stopped publishing the ads. At that time, AIM Group had estimated prostitution ads would generate $44.6 million in annual revenue for Craigslist. That’s $8 million more than what has been generated in the last 12 months by the remaining publishers of prostitution ads.
February revenue increased at only one of the tracked sites, MyRedBook.com, a northern California site that primarily runs ads for escorts on the West Coast. Revenue at MyRedBook revenue was $16,370, up 2.8 percent from January and just 1.6 percent more than February 2011.
Although overall revenue declined in February, the number of listings counted on seven tracked sites increased 2.1 percent to 252,948. The year-over-year gain was 41.2 percent.
According to statistics from Compete.com, unique visits to 22 sites that advertise or promote prostitution services totaled 5.6 million, down 6.1 percent from January. However, that number is a 27.6 percent increase from February 2011.
For comparison, Craigslist, the world’s leading free classifieds site, had 59.6 million unique visitors in January.
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.
Village Voice Media, 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. Most recently, The New York Times ran a Sunday opinion piece by Nicholas D. Kristof excoriating Village Voice Media for carrying ads that involved trafficking in children and women.
Backpage is the online classified site for VVM’s 13 alternative weekly newspapers, the five weeklies published by Creative Loafing, and a number of other publications, mostly alternative weeklies.
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 declined to 96,020 in February, down 3.4 percent from January, but up 4.4 percent from February 2011. Unique visits to the site declined to 3.1 million, down 4.2 percent compared to January, but up 14.5 percent from February 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.)
Here is the estimated monthly revenue from the last 12 months — March 2011 through February 2012 — at sites that sell prostitution advertising or listings:
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 February 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://www.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: Peter M. Zollman, founding principal of the AIM Group, is available for comment on the research. Zollman is available at 407-788-2780 or firstname.lastname@example.org.