In the 1990 movie Pretty Woman, high roller Richard Gere is able to secure six full days of Julia Roberts' sexual services for $3,000. Nowadays, (at least here in Los Angeles, where the movie was set) a first-class hooker costs considerably more than $500 a night. One big reason is that, like all other businesses, the oldest one is being utterly transformed by the Internet. And it's changing in ways that ought to transform the way we think about it as well.
Recently, I had the experience of escorting "Veronica" through the main dining room of Spago. She is a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty, and heads turned as she poured across the room, her dress speaking to every man there in the international language of bugle beads. Veronica is apparently no stranger to Spago. She and the maîtresse d'hôtel exchanged knowing smiles as we were seated. And when she's not there, she says, she's often at the Peninsula, the Regent Beverly Wilshire (the Pretty Woman hotel), the Four Seasons, and so on. She lives at the beach. She drives a Mercedes S420. She doesn't ask what you're having before she orders foie gras.
Actually, Veronica was "escorting" me. In her early 30s, Veronica's been an "escort" for four years now but only recently listed herself on the Web. Her ad featured a
Professional intelligent and sexy
I'll make a great impression on your behalf
All with the elegance and grace of a true lady
Available for intimate evenings and corporate affairs
Shopping or a round of golf, I also ride and fly
Whatever your pleasure
I'm happy to be by your side
There was no mention of price. A day or so after I e-mailed a query to the address listed, I got back this e-mailed response:
Let me remind you that I am an escort, I require a one time introductory fee of $500.00. $500.00 per hour and $2,500.00 for the evening.
If this is acceptable to you we can set up an appointment.
Within a few days we were at Spago.
(A note on method: Slate paid Veronica's $500 introductory fee in return for an interview, conducted in public, and nothing else. She's a businesswoman who gives men what they want for a price. I wanted an interview. In fact, I was being paid to conduct it. Why should she give it away for free?)
I discovered Veronica's ad on a site called
Veronica paid LA Exotics $100 to list her for a month. She says she got more than 250 phone calls off that, which produced three new men who've hired her at least once, and who, she predicts, will be added to her stable of regulars. In business terms, three out of 250, or 1.2 percent, is her "yield." Apparently prostitution is like the magazine business, where a low yield from solicitations can nevertheless be profitable, depending on renewals. Veronica claims that the ad produced several other qualified customers who are now on her waiting list. She says her regulars are all married, all over 35, and all "high-end corporate," except for some NBA players. Of the newbies, she says, one lives in San Francisco; one in Portland, Ore.; and one in New York. If they come to her, they spring for everything, including one of L.A.'s deluxe hotels and her omnipresent clothes and jewelry needs. If she goes to them, it's more of the same, plus a first-class plane ticket for the trip. She says she only works two nights a week. If true, and if she gets her posted rate, that's $200,000 a year for less than half-time work.