The key revenue stream for dating sites comes from getting site users to become subscribers.
While most sites allow anyone to create a profile and post pictures (on some sites, these are screened with varying interpretations of tastefulness), and often to receive emails from interested people, most sites require users to subscribe in order to be able to send emails themselves.
In addition, income increasingly comes from add-on services such as text messaging (with RSVP.ie, this can be done directly from one's PC, adding a small revenue stream for Esat BT), real-world singles events with paid admission or, in the case of Match.com, letting a subscriber pay extra to receive emails even from people who aren't subscribers.
Nonetheless, though dating has been a solid market for several years - has been around since 1995 - internationally, it's less rosy now than before.
Growth has been doubling every year for the two big rivals in this area, - which has just arrived in Ireland as a partner site on Microsoft's portal site - and Yahoo Personals. In fact, online dating has been such good business that even in a small place like Ireland, the discerning single can find a proliferation of local to global sites: from the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaker site ( to ( from Ireland.com's new service ( to Maybe Friends ( and Irish Soulmates (
US online research company Hitwise currently counts 844 different web dating services in the United States, up 11 per cent on 2003 - some global players with millions of users and multi-lingual sites, others more localised services or niche players targeting a diversity of dating tastes. There are sites catering to gays and lesbians, those seeking casual flings, and Catholics (
While Business Week recently stated that only about 20 per cent of site users for and Yahoo Personals convert to paid subscriptions (a figure Ms Bedford declined to confirm), the numbers obviously add up for the sites themselves.Looking for a like-minded liberal Democrat in the US? For Esat BT's dating site, business has been excellent, says Mr Larry Taylor, web development manager at Esat BT.The site has 20,000 registered users and, between June and September, saw a 35 to 40 per cent growth in revenue, he says, with 50 to 100 users online every evening.Likwise, editor Ms Deirdre Veldon reports good membership numbers for the site's dating service: "The site has enjoyed huge success since it launched in February, with a membership of over 54,000 already, equally split between males and females.And we're not just talking about traffic volumes - from a financial point of view, our revenues have increased by over 80 per cent in the last six months." Ireland, while small, is attractive to a global site like because of its "unique demographic", says Ms Samantha Bedford, Match.com's UK and Ireland manager.