Hinge May Start Charging Users As It Zeroes In On Serious Dating

Given the extent to which I cover dating apps, you may be surprised to know that I’m not much of a digital dater. In fact, I’ve only ever had monogamous, exclusive relationships with people I’ve met offline, with one booty call exception. Shout out to the man I now refer to as “Tinder Tim.”

I met my current girlfriend at a BBQ, and the one before that through friends, and the two before that in college. I still use dating apps to swipe, and even exchange messages with folks (partially for entertainment, but mostly to stay in the know about new features and culture trends on the services I cover).

But that spark that happens when you lock eyes with someone at a bar is something that only ever happens in real life for me. It’s a level of chemistry that goes beyond “DTF?” and wonders instead, are you down to tell me about what you want from life? What your favorite movie is? Take a walk?

As it stands now, the real-life equivalent of this hasn’t yet been built by online dating services. At least not for millennials.

Match.com and eHarmony focus on true compatibility, and host a network of users who are more likely to be looking for a serious relationship, whether it’s because they’re older or because they came specifically to the Match.com or eHarmony brands for that reason.

According to Match.com’s newsroom, only 25 percent of its users are under the age of 30, with another 25 percent over 50 years of age, and the rest falling in the middle. Shockingly enough, eHarmony’s largest age group is aged 18 to 24, making up 30 percent of the 15.5 million members on the site. That said, the brand still feels much older and out of touch with today’s young single dater.

OkCupid could be considered as the only dating service for serious relationships that exists for a younger demographic. Still, it’s a heavy service, requiring an investment of time and energy to use.

An opportunity presents itself. Currently, there is no light-weight dating app for ‘serious’ relationships serving millennials. From what we’re hearing, Hinge might be looking to fill that space.

According to sources close to the matter, Hinge is undergoing a huge makeover, ditching the swipe mechanic and adding a paid subscription layer to ensure folks who use it are there “for the right reasons,” as they say on the Bachelor.

Hinge provided the following statement:

We are continually focused on helping our users find meaningful relationships. To that end, we’re always working with our users to test new concepts. However, at this point nothing is confirmed – everything from friend endorsements to concierge matchmaking has been on table. What we do know is that each global release continues to be the result of enormous amounts of work alongside our community in an effort to understand what sparks online connections that have the power to become lasting offline relationships.

In short, Hinge seems clear on wanting to build real, lasting relationships, rather than facilitating hookups.

While I’m short on details, there are a number of reasons why this seems like a logical move to me.

From a revenue perspective, it’s nearly impossible to compete with Tinder with advertising. There is always a Lyft to the Uber, in all realms of consumer-facing technology, but no one wants to be the Lyft to the Uber. Right now, Tinder is overwhelmingly Uber, and all the dating apps that compete are only enjoying a small slice of Tinder’s pie.

And when it comes to dating apps, monetization almost requires that you are the incumbent. No one wants to see native advertising as they browse for love and/or lust. They tolerate it on Tinder because Tinder is where everyone is. If there was some magical bar where you could choose from thousands of potential sexual partners, you’d probably tolerate the crappy beer.

But Hinge has never wanted to be a magical bar. Hinge wants to be more of a “get-together” with friends, where you might meet someone (a friend of a friend) who has already been “verified” in some way. The app has positioned itself as a more reliable, or even serious, version of Tinder, grabbing matches from people who know your friends through a Facebook connection.

Hinge’s swipe mechanics, and the fact that it uses a “free to play” model, mirror Tinder so closely that it’s only natural for Hinge users to mirror the behavior of Tinder users. That wouldn’t be so much of a problem, except that it exposes one of Hinge’s greatest problems: inventory.

Users on Hinge can’t simply swipe right on everyone they see, or even swipe endlessly. Your matches can only come from friends of friends on Facebook, which is a limited number. Users simply can’t behave the same way they do on Tinder — playing the swipe game for the fun of judging others.

This is why Hinge introduced expiring matches and the ability to re-match. Once a user has swiped and matched with their complete inventory on Hinge, that leaves nothing else to do. Nowhere else to look.

By adding a level of curation to the system through subscription, and exposing that curation via re-vamped mechanics (ditching the swipe), Hinge will attempt to turn limited inventory into a pro instead of a con.

This not only differentiates the service from behemoth Tinder, but also from other dating apps that have their own unique characteristics — Bumble lets women swipe first, Coffee Meets Bagel focuses on one match per day, and Happn zeroes in on location.

Hinge’s core offering, eligible singles that have been verified through Facebook connections, is only strengthened through this revamp. And if the company can pull off actually serving up genuine companionship that turns to love through an app, consistently, then that differentiating factor may be strong enough to give Tinder a real run for its money.

At that point, the main question is this: how will users feel about paying for Hinge? Part of the reason that younger dating apps like Tinder and Bumble have dodged the stigma of online dating, which has plagued more traditional services like Match.com or eHarmony, is that they are free to use.

Paying to use a dating service could imply that the users are generally more desperate to find love or lust then folks who use free, lighter dating services like Tinder. A younger demographic may not respond well to this.

That said, Hinge has already established itself as a popular dating service among younger people. Tinder introduced a premium version of its service with Tinder Plus and, in some way, set the stage for other paid (yet still lightweight) dating services in the market.

With that context in mind, Hinge might have a better chance at avoiding the the potential for user’s fearing they look desperate.

There’s no word on when Hinge plans to roll out this new, more expensive version of its app. But Hinge, like most dating apps, is most certainly looking to make form follow function with regards to differentiating from Tinder’s perceived hookup app and focusing on more serious relationships.

Additional reporting by Katie Roof