Monetising Love: The Other Side of Dating Apps
Dating applications are prospering world-wide, and businesses are cashing in.
Since the mid-90s, online dating became popularised by the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail and hasn’t stopped growing since. Over the last 20 years new apps continue to spring up; now, 48% of 18–29-year-olds report using online dating regularly.
What most people don’t know about these apps – Tinder, Hinge – is that they are both owned by just one company.
The Match Group owns over 45 online dating companies. In 2019 its revenue totaled $2 billion. No signs of slowing down either: during the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Match Group exceeded their own estimates with 10 million new paying subscribers by the third quarter 2020.
The Match Group has a monopoly on dating – so what? Economists warn us that monopoly power negatively impacts consumers with the firm reaping the gains, but is this the case? Arguably, not. In 2017, 39% of couples reported meeting their partner online, a sharp increase from just 2% in 1995. The effect was even stronger for same-sex couples, 65% of whom reported meeting their partner through these apps. Even with monopoly power, it seems the Match Group has had a genuine positive impact on people’s lives.
Pay to Win
But online dating is ultimately a business. These apps generate revenue through ads or subscription plans. Yet despite paid features being available, studies as far back as 2008 have suggested that they are unlikely to increase your chances of finding a date. Increasing monetisation of dating features suggests that users are simply cash-cows for the Match Group.
In fact, in December 2020 Hinge, announced a new “Standouts” feature. A section on the app where users can view a curated selection of profiles who are “most your type” and incidentally get the most attention on the app. What’s more, these are users that “you won’t see elsewhere”. To match with one of these users requires a special form of currency, purchasable for £4 per like.
Hinge has essentially created an exclusive showroom for their top talent where price matters. Those featured in this showroom won’t know they are on display and have no option to remove themselves from the aisle. Hinge markets itself as the “dating app to be deleted” suggesting a genuine shot at finding your life-long partner. But the Standouts feature reflects an experience closer to online shopping, as opposed to the fairy-tale of true love sold in You’ve Got Mail.
Down the Slippery Slope
This move from Hinge is just one of many in the online dating industry which increasingly monetises love. But one’s mind does wander where this route will lead.
Could price discrimination be next? Tinder is way ahead of us. Since 2015, UK users of Tinder Plus above the age of 28 have to pay prices 4 times higher than younger users. It is not beyond the scope of imagination to then expect similar price discrimination based on physical attractiveness, intelligence or even wealth. At what point does this monetisation become truly unethical?
A Fresh Approach
“Thursday” is a disruptive start-up redefining the dating industry. Users spend only one day a week on the app, whilst the app is closed for the remaining 6 days a week, moving away from the superficialities of endless swiping. The company is now starting to be known for its guerrilla marketing tactics, tongue-in-cheek humour and being an outlaw brand, wishing to challenge the status quo. CEO of Thursday, George Rawlings said that the app “is here to change the game and shake things up…Thursday is an app for people who don’t like dating apps!”. Could this be the business model needed to radically shift the dating industry and put users first?
These fresh ideas reintroduce the person back into online dating. They provide a future for sustainable, mindful dating which may be the solution to improving user satisfaction.
Users have the right to buy into monetised dating. But companies should do more to recognise their users as human beings, not simply streams of revenue. Fresh, ethical approaches to online dating are more than desirable. Because finding a date should not be breaking your bank.