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The price we'll pay for a date

Collage of vintage romance imagery
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Today’s dating app users are willing to pay for more options and control.

Driving the news: Match Group, parent company of apps like Tinder, brought in $1.7 billion in revenue in 2018, with the latter contributing nearly half of it ($805 million) via user subscriptions for premium features. More than 97% of Match Group's revenue comes from subscriptions to its apps.

When it debuted in 2012, Tinder found success among young adults by letting them quickly set up a profile with minimal effort, and chat with nearby users for free.

  • But in 2015 it began rolling out paid subscriptions with premium app features, such as unlimited right swipes, rewinding back, “super likes,” and the ability to switch locations.
  • Today, Tinder has 4.3 million average paying subscribers, responsible for most of the company’s revenue growth.

Unlike early online dating sites, most contemporary apps don’t charge users to send messages to vetted potential dates.

  • Instead, paid features align much more with their users’ more casual dating habits, such as expressing interest in an unlimited number of suggested users or changing their mind about someone they initially rejected.
  • In short, users are happy to pay to have more options of potential dates.
  • More than 60% of Tinder subscribers are paying for the more expensive tier, Gold. Notably, it lets the user see who has expressed interest in them without having to reveal themselves — going against Tinder’s signature double-blind matching model.

These apps tend to generate less revenue per subscriber, but they also spend less to acquire new users and subscribers.

  • Instead they grow via word-of-mouth rather than expensive advertising, says Match Group.

Yes, but: Legacy dating sites like Match.com, which charges users to chat with romantic matches, is still a good business. Rival eHarmony, known for its use of an extensive questionnaire to find compatible matches, had 10 million users and 750,000 subscribers in 2017.

Go deeper: Our special report on the future of dating