Not an 'Ebay for Drugs': The Cryptomarket 'Silk Road' as a Paradigm Shifting Criminal Innovation

Judith Aldridge

University of Manchester - School of Law

David Décary-Hétu

University of Montreal - School of Criminology

May 13, 2014

The online cryptomarket Silk Road has been oft-characterised as an ‘eBay for drugs’ with customers drug consumers making personal use-sized purchases. Our research demonstrates that this was not the case. Using a bespoke web crawler, we downloaded all drugs listings on Silk Road in September 2013. We found that a substantial proportion of transactions on Silk Road are best characterised as ‘business-to-business’, with sales in quantities and at prices typical of purchases made by drug dealers sourcing stock. High price-quantity sales generated between 31-45% of revenue, making sales to drug dealers the key Silk Road drugs business. As such, Silk Road was what we refer to as a transformative, as opposed to incremental, criminal innovation. With the key Silk Road customers actually drug dealers sourcing stock for local street operations, we were witnessing a new breed of retail drug dealer, equipped with a technological subcultural capital skill set for sourcing stock. Sales on Silk Road increased from an estimate of $14.4 million in mid 2012 to $89.7 million by our calculations. This is a more than 600% increase in just over a year, demonstrating the demand for this kind of illicit online marketplace. With Silk Road functioning to considerable degree at the wholesale/broker market level, its virtual location should reduce violence, intimidation and territorialism. Results are discussed in terms of the opportunities cryptomarkets provide for criminologists, who have thus far been reluctant to step outside of social surveys and administrative data to access the world of ‘webometric’ and ‘big data’.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 29

Keywords: drug markets, cryptomarkets, webometrics, drug dealing

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Date posted: May 15, 2014  

Suggested Citation

Aldridge, Judith and Décary-Hétu, David, Not an 'Ebay for Drugs': The Cryptomarket 'Silk Road' as a Paradigm Shifting Criminal Innovation (May 13, 2014). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2436643 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2436643

Contact Information

Judith Aldridge (Contact Author)
University of Manchester - School of Law ( email )
Oxford Road
University of Manchester
Manchester, M16 9QR
United Kingdom
David Décary-Hétu
University of Montreal - School of Criminology ( email )
CP 6128 Succursale Centre-ville
Montreal, QC H2P 2H4
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