10 things dating sites won’t tell you

10 things dating sites won’t tell you

Quentin Fottrell

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As the data breach of hi5 mobile site the adultery website, AshleyMadison, has shown, online dating doesn’t come cheap – in terms of monthly fees and, in extreme cases, public embarrassment and lawyer’s fees in divorce court. Hackers alleged late Tuesday that they had dumped account details and log-in information of around 32 million users of the website, revealing millions of street addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and credit-card details. Avid Life Media called it “an act of criminality.” Many people are looking for love online, and some – even those who are already married – are looking for hook-ups, but even those who are looking for love should be aware of what lies ahead.

10 things dating sites won’t tell you

Nobody said it was easy. Roughly 30 million unique users, or about 10% of the U.S. population, visit dating sites every month, according to market researcher Nielsen. And many of them pay a hefty sum for that chance to meet their perfect match. At the two biggest subscription-based sites in the U.S., Match ($42 a month) and eHarmony ($60 a month), users can save by signing on for, say, a six-month bundle ($24 per month and $40 per month, respectively). And some sites, like PlentyofFish and OkCupid, offer basic membership for free. But most subscription sites automatically renew until the customer cancels, and those fees can add up.

Indeed, for online purveyors of love, business is booming. While people used to meet mostly through friends, says Reuben J. Thomas, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Mexico, “that’s been sharply on the decline since the advent of the Internet.” The dating industry is now worth about $2.4 billion, with revenue split between advertising and subscription services, up revenue up around 5% per year, according to a report by research firm IBISWorld. Of that, around $1.1 billion is from online dating, $576 million is from mobile apps such as Grindr and Tinder, and the rest is made up mainly of matchmakers and singles events.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that as the popularity of online dating has risen, so have prices. A decade ago, many sites were free or had minimal fees of around $20 a month. (Match charged $9.95 per month when it launched in 1995.) eHarmony, launched in 2000 and marketed toward people seeking long-term relationships, blazed a trail with its prices, charging some of the highest in the industry, says Mark Brooks, a dating-industry analyst and the editor of Online Personals Watch.

Of course, there was a business reason for charging low rates in the early days, some experts say: Sites needed to stock the sea of love with fish. The faster they attracted users, the more useful the sites would be, Brooks says. And paying fees, he says, can have an upside: People may be more likely to actually use a site if they pay for it.

Not so long ago, if a couple met online, they’d accidentally on purpose fail to mention it in their wedding speeches. Nowadays? Online dating is not only mainstream, but the fastest-growing segment is baby boomers, experts say. In fact, 16% of online daters are over 50, according to IBISWorld. Two years ago, the advocacy group AARP launched its own online dating service, AARP Dating, powered by dating site HowAboutWe. It’s a good fit, says Brooks, the online dating consultant, especially given that 25% of AARP’s 37 million members are single.

Another site, OurTime (a subsidiary of InterActiveCorp, which also runs Match and OkCupid) also targets members in the 50-plus age category.

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