Online dating: So is true love what you get from the net?

The online dating agencies are fighting it out for business as more and more Britons turn to a new way of looking for love. Alex Lawson reports on how money can be made out of romance

The dating website Cupid broke up with its former lover – healthy profits – yesterday as it fell into the red after a 2013 full of heartbreak.

An amicable break-up with former chief executive Bill Dobbie in December had been preceded by an arduous independent review by KPMG. The study last summer by the accountant found no irregularities and cleared Cupid of accusations that it had created fake user profiles to lure new customers.

After posting a £2.8m adjusted loss, down from a £4.2m profit the prior year, the new chief executive, Phil Gripton, vowed to get the business back on track. But is the public's love affair with online dating altering altogether? Almost two decades since its inception, meeting via the internet is now a commonplace, shame-free route to romance but users' habits are changing quickly.

Research from Mintel shows that 28 per cent of Britons have looked for love on free dating websites in 2014 – drawing level with meeting through friends for the first time – and 12 per cent on paid-for sites. But Cupid, along with rivals including Match.com, eHarmony, Plenty of Fish and MySingleFriend, are facing intense competition from agile smaller pretenders.

A raft of sites aimed at office workers have sprung up, all pinstripe suits and messages about being time-poor. Niches based on religion and cultural interests have been joined by those offering a "slap and tickle" specialism in the post-Fifty Shades of Grey era. Meanwhile, despite a plateau in divorce rates due to economic worries, older users who feel younger at heart are grabbing their iPads.

Mintel's senior trends consultant, Richard Cope, says: "There is definite potential for any site which is niche, whether it's for Muslim, Jewish, younger or older people. You have to be careful to be subtle when targeting the older generation – they are the baby-booming kids of rock'n'roll who are still sexually active and find life insurance-style ads about companionship with pipes and slippers condescending."

Anyone with the misfortune to see the batch of Lord Sugar's apprentices who attempted to market dating for the over-60s under the moniker "Friendship & Flowers" on BBC 1 last year will attest to this point.

So how do you make money from online dating? Subscriptions for sites with large and diverse memberships remain dominant. Cupid reported that last year user payments surpassed advertising revenue for the first time.

Traditional media brands have also found that paying customers can boost the balance sheet. The Guardian's online Soulmates section boasts 350,000 users. The trade title Farmers Weekly brought a new lease of life to its business model as it raised eyebrows beneath the flat caps through its Muddy Matches service. As with all e-commerce, the growth of first laptops and then mobile devices has disrupted the status quo. Google data shows that searches for "'online dating"' peaked in February 2007 as users move towards smartphone apps and social media to find love.

The dating blogger Victoria Thompson met her boyfriend through Twitter and believes it offers an ideal platform to flirt: "Twitter is almost nothing to do with what you look like, more about your personality, opinion and interests. Everybody can sound good in 140 characters."

With questions still looming large about Twitter's business model following last year's IPO, embracing its position in the dating market might prove enticing.

Its arch-rival, Facebook, is playing a bigger role in the dating market through its link-up with Tinder. The casual dating sensation, which went mainstream in the UK last year after sweeping the US, allows Facebook users in the local area to rate others' photos. It has proved a nifty app for the time-pressed who want to flick through photos with friends peering over their shoulder at a smartphone.

"It's like a game and Tinder themselves talk about 'playing' it," says Ms Thompson. "Tinder is almost exclusively about your appearance apart from a short bio. Even on the bio people tend to link to their Instagram accounts, rather than Twitter, which suggests it's all about the image."

Mr Cope adds: "We're being reared on the notion of our own individuality and the belief that we need tools and filters to find other like-minded individuals, rather than put our faith in adages like 'opposites attract'."

The world's largest dating site, Match, made its play in the app space last year with a partnership with Snap Interactive, owner of the social dating application AYI, which has been downloaded to 70 million Facebook users' accounts.

For Cupid, Mr Gripton has turned the company's sights on to three main areas: developing existing sites such as the cheeky 999-loving uniformdating.com, expanding internationally, and monetising valuable research on users' habits to sell to advertisers.

The worth of data is also not lost on Match. "The core offering of a dating site is so powerful," the chief executive, Sam Yagan, said. "We are what stands between you and this person you really want to meet. It's one of the most effective paywalls there is."

Customers may yet fall out of love with online dating sites which demand they sift through a mountain of profiles and messages. But businesses smart about monetising mobile use may just win the public's heart.

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
i100
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

Chief Financial Officer

120-150k: Accountancy Action: We are looking for an experienced CFO from a min...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?