With the media reporting that internet drug dealing is on the rise, it’s no great surprise that new marketplaces have started popping up wanting a piece of the action. Most of these seem to be wannabes with no real hope of making a dent into the big boy’s market share. But a couple seem determined to provide real competition to Silk Road, the undisputed market leader with 7,053 drug listings.
Newest kid on the block is BuyItNow, complete with a peculiar Code of Conduct, which includes such rules as “Never serve any government” and “Never hold significant assests in countries known to sieze assets” [sic]. The administrator seems to have put a great deal of effort into the creation of the site, but with only ten listings it hasn’t made much of a splash.
Sheep Marketplace arrived to a little buzz in mid February, but is waning at a mere 32 drug listings and 44 registered forum members two months later. The administrator seems hopeful (or deluded) though, posting in early April: “Since the launch of Sheep, 35 days have passed. Since then there have been several thousands of experiments on SQL injection. We have over 5000 registered people and some sinner who received permanent BAN.”
RAMP – the Russian Anonymous Marketplace – seems to be fairly active, though having to use Google Translate to figure out what is going on is a little time-consuming, so check out what they are all about at the wonderful Weirder Web here: Russia’s version of Silk Road is growing fast.
Newcomer Atlantis has had an aggressive marketing campaign since its debut in March. As well as blatantly advertising on the Silk Road forums, Atlantis has actively recruited SR sellers and offered opening deals on seller accounts. Any verified Silk Road vendor has been allowed to become an instant ‘Verified Seller’ on Atlantis, meaning they have the badge that usually takes a minimum of fifty flawless transactions to acquire and can ask unverified buyers to finalise early.
They’ve also been responsive to member suggestions and requests and are proactive in messaging members about scams. One Silk Road member wrote, “The admins over at Atlantis are very flexible, and they have implemented almost all the reasonable suggestions that people have made to the admins here. I think in a years time the road will either adapt, or die.” Originally only accepting Litecoin, the site recently responded to pressure from the drug-using community to accept Bitcoins as well.
Still, despite all this, Atlantis currently has only 355 drug listings. They acknowledge making inroads into the black market share will not be easy. “You need to give customers a good reason to move from their existing market. We do this in several different ways: Usability, security, cheaper rates (for vendor accounts AND commission), website speed, customer support and feedback implementation. Other markets would need to improve on all of these aspects to make an impact. We welcome the challenge,” a representative said via email.
One marketplace that has steadily and quietly been growing with a reputed $400,000 in sales per month as of April is Black Market Reloaded. BMR has been around since at least February 2012 and currently has 3,940 drug listings (though many more non-drug listings than the other sites). The site has responded to its growth – much of it a result of Silk Road’s two weeks’ downtime last year – by implementing some changes in an effort to fight scammers and lift sales.
Still, many drug users refuse to use BMR for ethical reasons. Unlike Silk Road, which claims to take a “high moral ground” when it comes to what it will sell (it claims not to list any items or services the intent of which is to defraud or cause harm to another person), BMR sells not only drugs, but poisons, firearms and explosives, stolen Paypal accounts and credit card numbers, and online banking account numbers and passwords. The site stopped the contract killing listings recently not for any moral reason, but because they were deemed to all be scammers.
Silk Road’s founder, Dread Pirate Roberts, is not too concerned by his site’s competitors yet. “Competition is healthy and I welcome it,” he said, “so long as it is friendly.”
For the most part, despite some temporary defections during Silk Road’s outages and downtime, vendors and sellers alike seem happy to stick with the status quo. Devotees of Silk Road are quick to forgive any issues and many staunchly defend the Road against any potential competitors. As one disciple put it, “Don’t bother looking for a better version of the Silk Road… You’ll never find what doesn’t exist.”
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