There was a time when any couple that met online would tell people they met ‘at a bar’ or ‘through a friend’ to avoid the stigma attached to digital matchmaking. Today, though, swiping in public is just about as casual as sending a text, and the phrases ‘tinder date’ and ‘first date’ have become essentially synonymous. As society moves away from often unsolicited approaches in bars and buying rounds of jägerbombs for strangers in nightclubs - both of which, obviously, still happen - dating apps are actually quite a good way of ensuring at least some level of reciprocation before conversation is struck.
Tinder has 50 million active monthly users. 10 billion matches have been made and a host of competitors have found success adapting the Tinder model and bringing something new to the table. Bumble only allows only women to initiate conversation in an extension of Tinder’s matching process, Happn matches you only with people you’ve crossed paths with - as terrifying at that is to some - and same-sex incarnation Grindr has incredible popularity. The loss of stigma, a mobile-first landscape and a trend towards gamification has the dating app market size at over $2 billion, ripe for exploitation if a good strategy can be found.
Monetization has been an issue for the industry since its conception, though. The average user spends around 90 minutes a day on dating apps and logs in 11 times every day - the potential for revenue is huge but, with the amount of quality competition out there, only the most established apps can risk proper monetization; they’re better placed to risk turning away users. In fact, even Tinder suffered heavily from their introduction of Tinder Plus, its subscription service adding extra functionality to the app and allowing for uncapped ‘likes’. Prior to the introduction of Plus, Tinder had a four-star average rating on the App Store - the version following monetization averaged 1.5 stars. This kind of dip isn’t disastrous for an incumbent so ubiquitous as Tinder, but for a fledgling app it could prove fatal.
Some avoid subscription and employ a freemium model, following in the footsteps of gaming apps. Essentially, premium features can be bought but, rather than being paid on a monthly basis there is no time constraint and users can use their ’10 profile boosts’ (for example) as and when they please. This model caters more for initial user acquisition, given the lack of anything that resembles a contractual obligation and the relative cheapness of one-off purchases. It’s an unstable method, though, when compared to a sponsorship, on which customers become accustomed to a level of functionality. Tinder has an estimated one million paying users, the price of which controversially changes based on the user’s age, a distinction far more capitalist than it is ageist, as explored by Wired.
Others will toy with advertisements on their apps, though the likes of Tinder and Bumble are largely free from obtrusive ads. The nature of swiping - casually liking or discarding other users - is particularly suited to native advertising. After minutes of research, I was just shown one on Britain’s EU referendum, for example. Political messages are actually a perfect example of dating apps’ ability to hit very specific demographics; advertisers can use the wilfully submitted age, gender and location information to build a picture of their audience, and there is no group in more dire need of politicization than millennials. Pop ups and banner ads are off-putting but, just as the likes of Instagram can seamlessly weave in advertising natively, any swiping app is ripe for unobtrusive messages that can be discarded with the ease of a swipe.
As more people become comfortable with the idea of meeting a partner online, and more dating apps feel they have the user base to properly monetize, expect to see a lot more people paying for their services. I don’t - in fact, I don’t know anyone that does - but the numbers speak for themselves, and advertising on these apps is inherently less irritating than pop ups or ‘your content will begin in 5’ video adverts. Tinder and their competitors have banked on the fact that gamification makes dating apps addictive, and anyone that’s serious about meeting the love of their life will happily spare $9.99 a month to do so. It’s cheaper than spending 90 minutes every day in a bar, anyway.