The real reason nobody is going to pay for Tinder? Creepiness isn't a business model
The dating app Tinder, which lets users accept or reject potential mates in their area by swiping right or left, has plenty of users -- 50 million, according to some sources. But like so many wildly popular products in the new app economy, it doesn't make any money.
The company hopes to change that today with the launch of Tinder Plus, a paid version of the app that, for $9.99 a month in the US, will offer users additional features like the ability to revisit the last person they left-swiped in case they reconsider -- or, in what's a more likely scenario, they rejected the person accidentally. The paid version will also include the option to browse matches in other cities than a user's current location, presumably in case a user is planing near-term travel and wishes to set up some dates ahead of time. Tinder Plus will also be ad-free, meaning that the company plans to ramp up his advertising initiatives soon -- an inevitability for all social apps. And according to the Verge, paid users will never be limited in the number of "likes" they are allotted over a 24 hour period. This last feature was not included in the official announcement because it's still in the experimental phases. To crack down on spambots, which "like" every user in order to send spammy links to porn-y websites, Tinder began limiting the a user's daily number of "likes."
There are plenty of reasons to doubt Tinder's ability to turn randy millennials into paying customers. And many have already written takedowns of Tinder's paid option -- replete with perfunctory "swipe left" jokes. But it's not just the Internet's thinkpiece mob that is skeptical of Tinder Plus. In a note to clients obtained by ABC News, Morgan Stanley explained why it handed an "underweight" rating to IAC, the parent company of Tinder, OKCupid, and Match.com. In short, millennials don't pay for anything, the investment house's analysts write, especially not social apps. Furthermore, the note says only 4 percent of singles are willing to pay for online dating apps, and Tinder Plus is not likely to change that percentage dramatically.
But millennials' antipathy toward opening their wallets isn't the only reason Tinder Plus may be dead-on-arrival, or at least underwhelming given Tinder's lofty valuation and hype. Because not only is the percentage of people willing to pay for a dating app phenomenally low, but the use-case in which a person is willing to pay has little to do with Tinder's value proposition.
A friend of mine in her late-20s -- firmly millennial territory here -- met her husband on that most un-millennial of dating networks, eHarmony. I asked her why on earth would she join a paid dating service when OK Cupid and Tinder were free. The answer wasn't eHarmony had better matching algorithms or a better-designed product. It was because she knew the users of eHarmony were serious about finding a soulmate, given that they were willing to drop cold-hard cash to use it. That paid filter lent the platform an air of exclusivity, in her mind -- not to mention the implication that everybody who used it had at least a modicum of disposable income.
But Tinder, less than any other dating platform, is not about finding a soulmate. It's not impossible, and plenty of people on Tinder are interested in a relationship. But the app's emphasis on looks over personality make it far better-suited to "hook-ups" than anything else, a fact that its usage and positioning in pop culture have reinforced. Furthermore, going back to the eHarmony scenario, one of the biggest reasons to pay for a dating app is to signal to other users that you've done so -- that you're serious about finding a relationship. As far as I know, however, Tinder offers no such signal when a person pays for the service. In fact, in the context of Tinder's community, discovering that a user pays for the app could come off as creepy and pathetic.
Finally, there's the nature of the premium features. The ability to "undo" or "unswipe" is a nice convenience in case you accidentally hit the wrong button or swipe the wrong way -- I know it sounds silly but it happened to me on a number of occasions during my brief stint as a Tinderer. But it was still a pretty rare occurrence. And while I don't doubt the demand for this option, users' clamoring for a feature is one thing -- opting to pay for it is another entirely.
The more notable added feature is the one that allows users to find matches in other cities. Sure, there is a legitimate use case for it as detailed above -- the woman or man who plans to visit a different city next week and who wants set up some dates in advance. But more commonly, this feature will be used to creep on (or spam) an even-greater number of women. And because the women in question will live in other cities and are less likely to share mutual acquaintances, the risk to the kind of man who wants to send gross, harassing messages is even lower than normal. I know a lot of women who refuse to join Tinder -- or join it begrudgingly -- precisely because of their fear of this type of harassment. Given this, the "around the world" feature may actually dissuade many women who are already on the fence about joining Tinder.
And that's the real problem with Tinder Plus: Creepiness doesn't scale. Sure, the premium features might convince a significant number of creepazoids to drop cash on the service early on, but any feature that makes it easier for trolls and bullies to reach a wider group of targets is going to alienate more users than it will attract in the long run. Even the most legitimate reason to sign up for the paid version, which is to avoid ads, will only be worth $9.99 a month if the advertisements are truly horrible -- which won't serve Tinder's long-term monetization ambitions either.
That's not to say Tinder will never figure out how to make money. There are some very smart people working there, and when a product has so many engaged users on its service, there's always a way. But Tinder Plus, as it's currently constructed, is not a magic money bullet. At this point, Tinder would be better off following WhatsApp's lead by charging a comparatively minuscule amount -- $0.99 annually -- to all users. That way, Tinder can respond to users' feedback without making them cough up $120 a year, and it can make a little money without empowering the creeps and thereby alienating many of its less awful users.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]