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Last Updated: Monday, 13 February 2006, 11:40 GMT
Europeans eager for love online
A courting couple
Many couples meet online, but the US market may have peaked
Fewer people are signing up to costly dating websites in the US, but Europeans are still searching for love online, research shows.

Thousands of people will spend this Valentine's Day with a date or partner they first met online.

But while Europe's online dating market grew by 43% in 2005, the numbers of US subscribers fell for the first time.

Some 5% of users in the US used paid dating websites in 2005, down 1% from 2004, according to Jupiter Research.

US internet users blamed the high cost of subscriptions to online dating sites for a falling membership rate in 2005, said Nate Elliott, who wrote the Jupiter report.

High prices were cited by 37% of users who did not sign up.

"Only one-third of internet users who went to online dating sites in the last year became paying subscribers," Mr Elliott said.

"Our research shows there is an opportunity for dating sites to use targeted discounting strategies to convert more of their visitors into paid customers."

Regional differences

Mr Elliott warned that the continuing boom in European use of online dating was not expected to continue indefinitely.

There was already a marked difference between the numbers of people signing up in northern Europe, specifically the UK and Germany, and the take-up rate in southern countries like Italy and Spain.

The US market is effectively saturated after experiencing years of swift growth, he said.

Europe's current affection for online romancing may appear spectacular, but the industry has slowed after growing by 80% in 2004.

Analysts predicted that by 2009 the European dating market will reflect the current single-figure growth in the US.

Emerging social networks, such as MySpace, were not being seen as a threat by online dating companies, added Mr Elliott.

"They don't have the tools or the right audience to help people to find a date."

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