Someone's getting rich off the online drug marketplace Silk Road. A new paper estimates that sales of drugs and other illicit goods on Silk Road total $22 million a year. Meanwhile, Silk Road got a fancy new redesign. It's officially boom times on the digital black market.
Silk Road is, of course, the online drug marketplace that uses the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and the anonymizing network Tor to allow users to sell weed, meth and ecstasy as easy as used books on eBay while keeping them relatively safe from law enforcement.
We don't know the identities of its members, but we finally know how big the thing is. Carnegie Mellon researcher Nicolas Christin used a computer program to crawl and download all the public listings on Silk Road for six months, from February to August 2012. (.Pdf of his paper here.) Christin found that sellers conducted an average of $1.9 million in total sales per month, or $22 million per year. (1,400 sellers were active over the period, though a 60-person "core" were the only ones active the entire period Christin conducted his observations.) This earned the site's operators, who get a cut of each transaction, around $143,000 a month in commissions—or $1.7 million a year.
And Silk Road continues to grow steadily, with about "50 new active sellers per month," according to the paper.
The leadership structure of Silk Road is a mystery, but it's safe to say the bulk of the ever-increasing sales commissions go to Silk Road's head administrator, known as Dread Pirate Roberts. Last month we wondered if authorities were closing in on DPR. DPR had been suspiciously quiet in recent months, and new reports had confirmed the DEA were investigating the site while rumors swirled of law enforcement infiltration.
But then DPR came back with a bang in late July, announcing a spiffy new redesign that updated the bulky Silk Road interface with smooth Web 2.0 corners and other improvements.
"I feel it matches the integrity and professionalism of our community and the robust technology that empowers it," DPR wrote on July 22nd when introducing the update. "New comers will now have the confidence they need to take that leap of faith and make their first purchase."
Like any successful businessman, DPR is putting some of his earnings back into operations.