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Paid dating sites are facing increasing amounts of frustration from members and a fresh volley of attacks from free dating sites.

Match knows what’s coming: 2010 is the year that free dating sites go on the attack, taking paid dating sites to task on a number of fronts. At some point, a massive advertising budget might not be able to sweep this issue under the rug.

Markus at PlentyofFish pointed me to his blog post, Match.com No longer top dating site, sends in the lawyers, where he states that Match sent him a letter asking him to prove how the site grew so large and a number of other questions.

Match.com says its not possible that plentyoffish has as many signups as we do every day.   Match says there is no way we can generate as many relationships and dates as we do.    Match than demands that we enter into a confidential agreement where we show them how we are able to generate more relationships and dates than they do, and how we got so much bigger along with a lot of other things they want to know.

Thats what we call a fishing expedition. I met the author of the letter to POF, Match’s General Council, Marshall Dye, years ago at the first SITRAS dating industry event. Marshall is probably the longest-standing member of the Match team. Has anyone been there longer? I wonder how many other dating sites she’s sent letters to this week?

It’s Ok, Cupid

The Match fishing expedition is just the beginning. Take a look at this recent post from OKCupid, Why You Should Never Pay For Online Dating. Christian, a founder of OKCupid, has gone to considerable lengths to put together an informative, slightly wobbly and biased argument against paid dating.

Today I’d like to show why the practice of paying for dates on sites like Match.com and eHarmony is fundamentally broken, and broken in ways that most people don’t realize.

…As a founder of OkCupid I’m of course motivated to point out our competitors’ flaws. So take what I have to say today with a grain of salt. But I intend to show, just by doing some simple calculations, that pay dating is a bad idea; actually, I won’t be showing this so much as the pay sites themselves, because most of the data I’ll use is from Match and eHarmony’s own public statements. I’ll list my sources at the bottom of the post, in case you want to check.

OKCupid does some back of the envelope calculations based on membership lengths of 6.5 months and revenue to find out that eHarmony, by best guess, has around 750,000 subscribers. With 20,000,000 claimed profiles, that means that 96.25% of all eHarmony profiles are inactive or dead. Furthermore, only one out of 29 members is contactable.

At Match, the odds that you are flirting into the void are 93.1%.

It turns out you are 12.4 times more likely to get married this year if you don’t subscribe to Match.com. Raises eyebrows.

The OKCupid blog does a commendable job of clueing singles into the fact that paid dating sites rely on paid members to email inactive ones, thus raising the chances that the non-paying member subscribes in order to read emails, and a lot of other ways that singles end up with a raw deal. This revelation is not exactly new, it’s just that now bloggers and the media have gotten a whiff of the story and I assure you this is not going to go quietly into the night. Imagine the AT&T and Verizon 3G coverage commercials, only replace with paid and free dating sites duking it out with marketing dollars and social media efforts. It’s remarkable that it took free dating sites this long to take a stand, and what a stand this could turn out to be.

One area where OKCupid chose not to tread in the article is customer service. Match has said for years that one of the primary benefits of a subscription-based service is access to customer service representatives. I’ve talked to hundreds of singles who have called their dating site about a broad spectrum of topics, the most common being billing and relationship advice (you wouldn’t believe what some people ask when they call a dating site 30 minutes before a first date).

Overall, another great effort from OKCupid to provide basic number crunching and insights into the differences between free and paid dating. Its only fair that they publish their own relationship metrics now, come on, guys.

On a personal note, congrats to Markus at PlentyofFish on his upcoming nuptials.