Sept. 19, 2002 - Selling love over the Internet seems like the perfect business model. Virtually all your content is donated for free. Your customers are motivated by the strongest urges mother nature can conjure up. And they think $20 a month is cheap compared to the price of a drink at a singles’ bar. Until recently, there had been a catch — the weird factor. But that’s a distant memory now, since it seems everyone’s doing it. Virtual matchmaking has become the Internet’s third killer app, behind e-mail and the Web. Can the “mad growth,” and genuine profits, continue?
Far from the cloak-and-dagger days of newspaper personals, online dating has gone mainstream. Match.com sponsored NBC’s Wimbledon coverage last month. Yuppie New Yorkers sometimes include their Nerve.com aliases in every e-mail, as part of their virtual calling card.
Over 18 million people visited online personal Web sites in June, according to research firm Jupiter/Media Metrix — up from 14.8 million last October. And nearly one in five men who are online say they do some “window shopping” on the personals at least once a month.
Those meteoric growth numbers have been seen before in the age of the Internet, from many dot-com flameouts. But there’s a critical difference in the online personals space — paying subscribers.
Perhaps money can’t buy you love. But love, it turns out, is one of the few things people are willing to buy online.
A real return to romance
Market leader Match.com now has 600,000 customers forking over about $25 a month.
uDate.com, which also operates Kiss.com, had $1.5 million in revenue in June 2001; last month alone, the company took in $4 million, according to president Martin Clifford, and the company has just enjoyed its fourth straight profitable quarter.
Yahoo, No. 2 in the online personals category, is much cagier about its growth, but the company beat its chest about its love site at its most recent quarterly earnings announcement, saying personals made a “very significant contribution” to revenues.
“I don’t know if you’ll continue to see the current mad growth,” said Jupiter analyst Stacey Herron. “But online personals will still grow at a healthy rate.”
The key, Match.com president Tim Sullivan says, has been marketing efforts to “legitimize the category” during the past 12 months.
“My own sister got married last month to a guy she met on Match. It’s very mainstream now,” Sullivan said. “Anywhere I go, if I’m in a crowd of more than 6 people and say what I do, invariably someone comes forward and says that they have been using Match.”