OPW -- Apr 2 -- Just a few weeks ago the likes of NPR were reporting that while the economy is hurting, online dating seems to be booming as people seek companionship and understanding during hard times. However, Spark Networks, who are responsible for such sites as JDate.com, ChristianMingle.com and BlackSingles.com, showed down numbers in their Q4 results. Paid memberships were down 11% from Q4 2007, and down 12% for the full year. Revenue followed the same trend, showing an 18% decrease to $13.2 million for the quarter compared to $16 million for Q4 2007. Spark Networks were down 12% ($57.3m) for the full year compared.
During Q1 2007, the Chairman and CEO of Spark Networks, Adam Berger, reported that “JDate.com grew for the third straight quarter following last year’s price increase” and they launched an additional website, JDate.co.uk, for the U.K. Spark Networks did not report separately on JDate.com, but lumped it in with its other Jewish Networks.
By the end of 2008, numbers for Jewish Networks were no longer growing, noting a 5% decrease in revenue for Q4 and up by a mere $100,000 from the prior year. Considering they added a whole new site to this category, you would expect to see a more significant revenue increase for the year. Paying subscribers were also down by 5% over the previous quarter, down 7% compared to Q4 2007, and down 4% for the year. Berger did note his disappointment with second half trends and the fourth quarter in particular, “as revenue and subscribers decreased sequentially in each online segment”. It should also be noted, however, that JDate experienced an “overhaul” in Q4 and began a re-launch in early 2009 for what Spark Networks clearly hopes will be a better financial year for online dating.
Interestingly, it is reported on Compete.com that JDate is actually up by 8.6% for the year, though this is not reflected in Spark’s report because of the aforementioned Jewish Networks lumping. After JDate.com, the next 3 largest Jewish dating sites are Frumster.com, which was down by 12.6% for the year, JewishFriendFinder.com, which was up 1.8%, and JewishCafe.com, which was up by 12.9% according to Compete.com. Based on this outside information, it begs the question of Spark Networks as to which of its Jewish Networks sites are dragging down the numbers for the year, since JDate seems to be doing rather well.
As Berger noted, revenue was mostly down across the board for Q4, as well as for the year as a whole. 'General Market Networks' (AmericanSingles.com) posted a 25% decrease for the quarter and 51% for the year, though Spark Networks is attributing this largely to a 59% decrease in the marketing expenditure. Spark has been winding down the once category leading AmericanSingles since it decided to go the niche route and buy MingleMatch back in 2005. 'Other Affinity Networks' came out about even with the prior quarter at $3.5 million, and was even up 3% compared to the previous year. Offline & Other Businesses was down 54% compared to Q4 2007, although it was up 18% from the prior quarter, it was still down 22% for the year.
To increase their bottom line Spark Networks also decreased operating and direct marketing expenses for 2008. Operating expenses, which include customer service, sales and marketing, and technical operations, were reported to be down 12% from the previous quarter, and down 19% from 2007 end of year. Direct marketing expenses were down 27% from the previous quarter, and down 29% for the year. Perhaps they should be increasing this, instead?
Sure, Spark is down, but how about the rest of the dating industry. How is YOUR dating site doing year-over-year now compared to last year, now that Valentines is over? Your comments please.
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