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.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
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

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution