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Media Matchmaking 

Newspapers are still fixing people up, and it doesn't look like that's going to change

click to enlarge JESSIE SPACCIA
  • Jessie Spaccia

Somehow, in the midst of covering City Hall and chasing grisly murders, newspapers also got into the business of hooking people up. Indeed, before there was even an Internet where people could try their luck at online dating, the task of matchmaking fell to your local paper.

Here at the Inlander, people could place ads in the paper, and those ads came with a phone number where readers could pay to leave messages, check messages and connect with each other. It was a good side business for a while, but eventually the Inlander dropped the personals and made the "I Saw You" section free. (People are still using them to hook up, though, as you can read here.)

Still, in a time when business models are shaky and papers around the country look to diversify, they've moved their personals online and tapped into the huge business surrounding the hunt for love.

Although there are plenty of free sites gaining market share, some paid services remain wildly successful and are considered moneymakers. It just goes to show that there are things online that people are still willing to pay for. Are your favorite magazines and newspapers trying to get a slice of the love business because it's the key to keeping them around? That could very well be so, because they sure aren't offering to find you a mate for free.

Personals were a cash cow for newspapers in the early '90s, and papers like Seattle's The Stranger and the Chicago Reader are reliving those glory days by offering paid online dating subscriptions to their readers in the form of Lovelab and Lustlab, and Matches, respectively.

"We don't operate on a charity model. There is some income that comes in from the labs," says Carey Christie, the Stranger's director of events and promotions. "If they were losing money, we probably would not do them for much longer."

All three operate similarly. An account is free, but you could pay anywhere from $5 to $40 to communicate with other users. You don't have to pay for anything, but in order to make your time online effective, it's probably in your best interest to shell out a few dollars because your money gets you unrestricted access to all the systems' features.

For some outlets, there's more appeal in broadening a brand's reach. New York magazine has partnered with HowAboutWe, an app that markets itself as the only dating site that actually encourages you to spend less time online and more time meeting people in the real world by focusing on the date itself and offering IRL date suggestions. It's gained visibility working with popular magazines.

By partnering with publications, HowAboutWe is trying to reach as many people as possible by tapping into specific audiences who read and engage with certain websites and magazines. There is the benefit for magazines in being offered a way to provide great services to their readers and make some money while they're at it (considering we're in a digital age, and perusing the classifieds is less and less common), says Ariana Anthony, senior publicist for HowAboutWe.

These partnerships operate on a revenue sharing basis where each magazine and HowAboutWe split a percentage of the revenue based on the number of users who sign up through a certain magazine's site.

"We're always looking for ways to provide great service to our readers in a way that fits our brand that also can generate some incremental revenue for us, and the relationship with HowAboutWe hits all of those criteria," says Michael Silberman, general manager of digital media at New York Media.

The idea is that if you're paying, you'll be more committed. You'll be checking more often, and you'll have a better chance for success. There is also the warm, fuzzy feeling of helping people make connections and fostering a sense of community among readers.

Though your online dating subscription probably won't be the savior for a sinking ship, popular newspapers and magazines have found a way to tap into a heavily used resource in a way that benefits you and them. Even when people are downloading music illegally and streaming movies for free online, they are still willing to pay for access to love. ♦

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