Mid-range prostitution is a relatively new market, enabled by technology. Before the internet, it was hard for escorts to find customers: They had to either walk the streets searching for customers (the lower end of the market), rely on word-of-mouth, or work with agencies. Walking the streets was dangerous, while agencies ate up a large share of workers’ profit and autonomy, and created a bottleneck to entering the market. The internet changed all that.
“Before the internet, agencies provided the steady flow of clients and screening, but their capacity was capped,” Baylor University economist Scott Cunningham said. Soon after Craigslist launched in 1995, US escorts quickly started marketing directly to customers online. This newfound ability to advertise on the internet grew the market, said Cunningham, because more women and men could work independently.
Today, sex workers can promote their own services on multiple websites (with hundreds of other competitors). This system means customers enjoy more discretion and a wider selection, while giving workers access to millions of potential customers, all over the world, from the dignity and safety of their own homes, while retaining their autonomy and earnings.
Agencies make up a much smaller share of the market, says Cunningham.In Defending the Undefendable: The Pimp, Prostitute, Scab, Slumlord, Libeler, Moneylender, and Other Scapegoats in the Rogue's Gallery of American Society, Dr. Block defended, among others, yes, pimps. Is it time for the next edition to defend sex websites?
Still, agencies have one remaining edge over independent sex work: They reduce risk. This is the market opportunity Rita has spotted.