Dating: Free Members Vs Paying Ones

Alex Henderson

Professional dating services were around long before the advent of the Internet, but in the digital age, dating websites have taken matchmaking to a whole new level — and that includes adult dating sites.

From gay dating sites to BDSM dating sites to Cougar/MILF dating sites to swinger dating sites, the adult dating arena is not only bringing people with similar interests together; it is also making money for many of the companies that are operating those sites. But exactly how adult sites should make themselves profitable is an ongoing topic of discussion, and there has been much debate over the profitability of free memberships vs. paid memberships.

Anywhere from 30-45 is usually the main range that you want to be in. Those people are the most likely to pay for services.

Both free members and paying members can be profitable for adult dating sites, albeit in different ways. Paying members are profitable in that they are paying a recurring fee in order to access a site’s premium features; free members can be profitable because they create traffic and help the site make money whenever they click on ads. Some adult dating sites offer free memberships exclusively and operate on strictly an advertising-based revenue model.

But many well known adult dating companies offer a choice of either a free membership or a paid membership, including Adult-FriendFinder.com (which has said that is has more than 30 million members worldwide).

Paying members of dating sites, according to one school of thought, are preferable members not only because they are giving the site money every month, but also, because they bring an element of seriousness to the equation.

One person who has been a strong proponent of the paying model is Julia Macmillan, who founded the U.K.-based cougar dating site ToyboyWarehouse.com in 2006.

ToyboyWarehouse.com caters to women who want to date younger men (although Macmillan has often been quoted as saying that she dislikes the term “cougar”) and men who want to date older women, and the site states that “members abide by one simple rule: that women date men at least a year younger, and men date women at least a year older.”

ToyboyWarehouse.com offers free memberships, but in order to send or receive messages or take part in the site’s forum, one must pay for a Silver Membership. And the site is set up in such a way that older women who are really serious about dating younger men and younger men who are really serious about dating older women are strongly encouraged to upgrade to a paid membership.

But again, free members can be beneficial for an online dating company because they create traffic; even if a free member never spends a dime on a site but visits frequently, he/she is still creating traffic. In fact, there are highly successful online adult dating companies that have more free members than paying members.

One of them is the Northern California-based Dating Gold, which has a large affiliate program and offers a broad portfolio of dating sites that includes DateMatch.com, Amateur-Match.com, Romancer.com, GayAmateurMatch.com, LesbianAmateurMatch.com, EbonyAmateurMatch.com, AsianAmateurMatch.com and eeMatch.com.

Dating Gold CEO Allan Henning estimated that Dating Gold has about 15 million members worldwide and that out of that 15 million, about 90 percent will remain free members and about 10 percent will become paying customers at some point; Henning added that some members will go back and forth between free memberships and paid memberships. The 90 percent who remain free members is a total of roughly 13.5 million people in many different parts of the world, and that is a lot of international traffic for Dating Gold’s portfolio of websites. So Henning certainly isn’t knocking free members, who are good for business. But when some of them upgrade to paying memberships, they are generating traffic and paying a membership fee on a regular basis.

“We allow our free customers to use our free features forever as long as they have their account,” Henning noted. “We allow our customers to go back and forth from free to paid as often as they want. They can be a paying customer and go back to free. Or if someone hits them up again, they can go back to paid.”

Asked to describe what type of online dating experience paying members are seeking compared to free members, Henning explained: “The paid members of the site are usually more active in their profile and their photos. They are just more involved. They are more involved in the experience. Even when they are still free members, they are more involved in using the site. If you get a free member who is logging in more frequently and updating their profile with more information, they are more likely to become a paid member than someone who is not doing those activities.”

Henning added that the paying members are also likely to be older than the free members. “Usually, the paying age range is 25 and over,” Henning observed. “A lot of times, people under 25 are the least likely to pay. Anywhere from 30-45 is usually the main range that you want to be in. Those people are the most likely to pay for services.”

In the adult entertainment industry, it has often been said that while people in the BDSM community are greatly outnumbered by people who prefer vanilla sex, they are great customers to have because they are so passionate about their kinky lifestyles.

Webmasters who specialize in BDSM erotica and companies that sell kinky sex toys often use words like “commitment” and “dedication” in connection with their kinky customers, and such words also come up a lot where members of BDSM dating sites are concerned.

In a November 2010 commentary that appeared on edatecentral.com’s dating blog, one proponent of paid memberships asserted that among dominants and submissives as well as switches, paid members are simply taken more seriously than free members. “When you are a paid member,” e-datecentral.com’s blogger asserted, “it shows that you have a dedication to the lifestyle and finding someone within it.”

Kinky or vanilla — heterosexual, gay or bisexual — the subject of free memberships vs. paid memberships is one that will no doubt continue to generate lively debates in the profitable world of online adult dating.