Looking for love: Newspaper diversifies revenue stream with dating website

Northern Love is a new dating site sponsored by Alaska Dispatch News, part of the paper's effort to build new sources of revenue.
Northern Love is a new dating site sponsored by Alaska Dispatch News, part of the paper’s effort to build new sources of revenue.

A new dating website is trying to help Alaskans find love. It belongs to a parent company familiar to many across the state, and is an effort at diversifying revenues, shedding light on the unconventional ways media groups are trying to find money to pay for the news.

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Chances are you haven’t yet visited www.Northernlove.net.

“It’s a little bit like Tinder, without the swiping,” explained Maia Nolan-Partnow, director of sales and special content at Alaska Dispatch News, the state’s largest newspaper, and now operator of Northern Love.

Nolan-Partnow couldn’t tell me exactly how many people have signed up so far, but just a couple key strokes into a broad search of guys looking for gals showed us a few hundred profiles belonging to men spread all over the state, from Sitka to Russian Mission.

The layout, profile pages, and information asked of subscribers are all fairly typical of mainstream dating sites.

“Here’s someone who’s Christian, he’s widowed, he’s got a master’s degree, he’s an engineer,” Nolan-Partnow listed off after clicking on a profile. ” And look, he lives right here in Anchorage, so if we wanted to meet in person we could.”

It doesn’t take long for us to scroll over to a picture of a different guy posing above a dead dall sheep to get a reminder that, like most online dating sites, it is a mixed bag.

“He’s married!?” she exclaimed with a shock. “Hmm. Ok. That might not be the kind of person I would be looking for, but as you can see: A wide-range of values.”

ADN is hardly the first newspaper to venture into online dating. As media companies experiment with ways to diversify revenue sources, papers like the Guardian, Sunday Times, and the Daily Telegraph in Britain have set up sites to make matches among their readers. It’s actually sort of a full circle, since classified ads used to be one of the most profitable parts of a newspaper before the rise of sites like Craigslist.

“This seemed like something that some of our readers would find useful, or at least entertaining,” Nolan-Partnow said, adding, “And also pays for the news, to ensure we can keep delivering the news and supporting our mission.”

Nolan-Partnow isn’t sure if Northern Love will be profitable. Like many Alaska media outlets, ADN gets a significant amount of its site traffic not just from across the state, but from all over the country and abroad, spiking during events like Iditarod. The anomalies complicate revenue projections.

Dating sites tend to do best when there’s a high volume of users, typically in large markets like New York, Texas, and California. But a fringe benefit is that if people are perusing potential partners and compulsively checking messages on their devices, that all drives site traffic. And traffic is attractive to advertisers.

“Local newspapers and local radio stations are growing, and people also want local dates,” said Gary Taylor, vice president for North America at White Label Dating, the company partnered with ADN to launch Northern Love.

White Label works with around 30 clients in the U.S., and basically has a dating site template that newpapers like ADN then tailor to their readers. In exchange for a share of revenues, White Label handles the digital infrastructure, and–crucially–oversees the data-base of users, which is the currency of online dating.

White Label is just one asset owned by the Ventro Media Group. The company holds several other mainstream and niche dating sites, like Just Singles, Global Personals, and Man Central Dating. But the user data-bases are merged, meaning customers who came under the Ventro umbrella through an app like Jiko (“Tinder for thinking people”) might be co-mingling with someone who just created an account with Northern Love.

“From a customer perspective it’s definitely our biggest asset, purely because people want lots of people to look for,” Taylor said. “They want to have choice.”

This is still a relatively novel approach for American newspapers. White Label has been in the U.S. for half a decade, Taylor said, but only ramped up its efforts 18 months ago.

“My impression is that this type of thing may be a little more prevalent in Europe,” said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the Poynter Institute. “And I’ve often heard references to a Swedish group that had a lot of success with a weight loss club.”

Thus far, American companies have tended more towards diversifying revenues with products like live events, sponsored content, and digital marketing services.

The one constant right now in the news business, according to Edmond, is change.

Going forward, Nolan-Partnow believes everyone is going to have to experiment with new ways to raise revenues.

“We are in creativity mode all the time,” she said. “And you have to be! You have to be in order to be a news organization in a landscape where the way people consume news is always changing.”

Northern Love has a free version, and a premium subscription service that are both up and running.