The business of eternity: Dating websites capitalize on happy endings

1246 maintains a traditional “pay-to-play” model where users pay subscription fees to access the full potential of the website.

Online dating for LDS singles is changing rapidly. LDS Matchup hopes to maximize the free dating app model made popular by Tinder on a website format.

The world of online dating and other alternatives to traditional ways of meeting new people, such as matchmaking services, are becoming more attractive to many singles. The options in alternative dating services are expanding, and their popularity is on the rise.

Since the early 2000s websites LDS Singles, LDS Mingle and LDS Planet have produced ads, boasting thousands of LDS profiles to view. The stigma of online dating continued with these websites, because many thought of those willing to pay the fees for a full online profile as more desperate.

Despite this connotation, the big three LDS online dating websites still made good money off those willing to pay for more options.

According to BYU grad Amy Stevens, CEO and founder of the matchmaking service LDS Matchmaker, online dating services as a whole are approximately a $2 billion industry and about 30 percent of marriages start online.

With the advent of the dating app Tinder, online dating now has a free option, with hundreds of seemingly attractive people in any given area. Tinder allows a user to see a profile for an individual in his or her area, swipe right or left on the profile to indicate if they are interested, then be matched up with any users with a mutual interest. By targeting a younger crowd, Tinder erased the idea that only older people use online dating.

While the motives of Tinder users were touted as less than honorable at first, the app has taken off among LDS users in places like Provo as a legitimate way to meet people.

“The stigma around online dating has definitely decreased drastically, but for those still holding on to fears and anxiety about trying it out, the simplicity of the apps help push them over the edge to give it a try,” Stevens said. “I think free sites and apps are a great introduction to trying online dating and often have many hidden gems who would not be found on the paid sites.”

However, many LDS users were not sold on Tinder and its reputation. Not to mention the fact that the app couldn’t help if a person wasn’t in a place with a high LDS population. Thus LDS Matchup was born.

David McKnight, a 39-year-old pharmacist and BYU graduate, saw the effect Tinder was having on the dating world and created LDS Matchup in response.

LDS Matchup’s original sell line was “Tinder for Mormons.” Although it differs from Tinder in several ways, such as the ability to expand the search radius outside a user’s immediate area, it is similar to Tinder in the most important way: it’s free.

According to McKnight, about 10 unsuccessful LDS dating websites are started every year but can’t get enough people interested to make it worth the fee charged. LDS Matchup broke that mold, and it might mean trouble for the big three paying LDS dating websites.

LDS Matchup started in September 2014 and has now passed 20,000 members, rivaling the boasted stats of the paying sites.

“I always felt as if I were being held hostage by LDS Singles, LDS MIngle and LDS Planet in that they don’t allow you to send or read messages unless you pay up to $20 a month,” McKnight said. “And although Tinder is free I wanted to be able to meet a pool of LDS singles with similar morals and values.”

The paid membership technique has worked for the websites for a long time. According to Laura Seldon, managing editor for LDS Singles and LDS Mingle parent company Spark Networks, the websites make approximately $12 per user each month.

The profits are enough that it can rely very little on ad revenue, deriving approximately 95 percent of revenue from member subscriptions.

LDS Matchup, however, derives no profit directly from the website. McKnight won’t even run ads on the website, as he feels it cheapens the look. “We’re doing this more as a gift back,” McKnight said.

Now the question is raised whether a for-profit site such as LDS Singles or LDS Mingle can compete for customers who now have free options available to them.

McKnight calls it “the Tinder effect.” It is essentially a shift in the expectation of cost for online dating. According to McKnight, the Tinder effect that has caused many to see online dating as something that should be free will eventually cause paying LDS dating websites to become obsolete.

LDS Singles, however, isn’t worried yet. According to Seldon, sites like LDS Singles and LDS Mingle still have the advantage in the fact that they cater to a more serious crowd.

“We see these two communities as oriented towards the more serious dater — someone truly looking for a long-term relationship,” Seldon said. “Given this, when people come to the site they are sharing that very important mindset and, in turn, find the quality of the interactions to be much stronger.”

Seldon asserted that free options could lead to more LDS Singles and LDS Mingle customers in the future. “As the audience using these free apps and online dating sites matures, they often want to join our sites. Why? Because they are getting serious about finding a healthy, long-term relationship,” Seldon said.

Despite the confidence displayed by Spark Networks, the LDS Matchup success in the LDS community is striking. According to McKnight, it has grown to more than 20,000 users in less than a year, recently had its first reported engagement and has users in every age range, from 18- and 19-year-olds to people in their 70s.

“One of the first things our clientele states on why they want to use our service is that they ‘hate online dating,’” Stevens said. “Having a trusted adviser to guide you through the process, work on your behalf and provide a stronger sense of confidentiality and safety are all reasons that people choose personal matchmaking over online dating.”

The industry for alternative dating options seems to be growing stronger and showing no signs of slowing down. “Online sites and matchmaking services are appealing to many because it gives singles a way to generate more dating options than they would in just day-to-day activities,” Stevens said.

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