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Online Dating Looks Overseas for Growth

Jan 30, 2008
As far back as the Paleolithic era, there have been matchmakers. Primitive man probably exchanged their daughters for a good spear or loin cloth at some point. In the middle ages, families exchanged their daughters for labor, land, goods, and even status.

Some know them by the Yiddish term "Shadchen." And you probably thought the correct term was "Yenta," but it's not (I admit I did too). A Yenta is simply a gossipy woman. In almost every society, a community member set himself or herself up as the person to set up unions.

Enter the Internet. In the late 1990's, online dating began to take market share from the dominant matchmaking tool of the time--newspaper voice personals. The internet could simply do some things better. After all, physical attraction is a big part of the equation and the internet could show a picture, even if the photo was taken ten years or thirty pounds ago.

Today, there are over one thousand internet dating sites in the USA alone. They vary from the highly publicized brands like eHarmony and Match to niche sites like JDate that cater exclusively to Jewish singles--without the Shadchen. Proprieters vary from large companies to entrepreneurial sites run off of entrepreneur's home office laptops.

The internet dating industry rang up $649 million in sales in 2006, and eclipsed $700 million in 2007, according to Juniper Research. Of the 92 million unmarried adult Americans 18 or older, 16 million have tried online dating, according to the Pew Internet and Social Lifestyle Study. That's a lot of clicks, or people hoping to click.

Internet dating has been around since the late 1990's, but it exploded in 2003 with a 77% growth rate. Growth has slowed to 10% recently partly because of competition from the recent phenomenon known as social networking sites. With sites such as Facebook, you can essentially flirt for free. Just like in the Paleolithic era.

In the face of declining growth, online dating brands such as MatchLink, operated by Spark Network Services, are looking overseas for growth. Expanding internationally, however, comes with some cultural challenges. In Japan, for example, it isn't really necessary to ask for hair color, because there really aren't too many blondes. Then, there's cultures like China and India where it's important to adhere to the local traditions.

International expansion is definitely the way to grow the industry. "We've enhanced our offering to include a more international dating database," said Bob Bentz, director of marketing for Spark. "You really need to think global and act local in today's online dating world."

Like with most products, the real jewel for international expansion appears to be China and India. Sixty million internet users are of marrying age in China, according to iResearch, and that market segment alone will grow to 128 million by 2010. Already, 14 million Chinese use online dating, but only 500,000 pay for the service, thus creating a marketplace where advertiser-sponsored services must be the norm.

In India, where up to 90% of all marriages are arranged, local online dating companies are already racking up some impressive numbers. A local site, Shaadi, already boasts having arranged 800,000 marriages. Online dating revenues in India are growing by 50% per year and hit $30 million in 2006.

The growth in China and India prove that when it comes to online dating, love needs no translation.
About the Author
http://www.matchlink. Anthony Wayne works in the marketing department at Spark Network Services which provides online dating services to over 100 newspapers and radio stations in the United States and Canada.
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