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Internet fuels romance industry

Valentine's Day means flowers, candy and romantic dinners. It's a big day in the romance industry .

Dating generates big bucks, but those bucks are not just going to singles bars. Increasingly they are going to the internet. The business looking for love in all kinds of places is booming. It's hard to get exact numbers but experts estimate the dating business - personal ads, and dating services - tops $1-billion a year.

The first explanation for the rise - people are not getting married - at least not as early as the once did, and many people are not staying married.

Mary Spio is the editor of One2One - a lifestyle magazine for singles. She says America is at a cross roads.

Fueling the growth in the dating industry is the internet. On-line personal ads generate about $500-million a year - according to the on-line publishers association.

Since it's inception in 1997, Yahoo Personals has grown dramatically. It's among the leading on-line personal ad services. It's one of the top three revenue producers for the on-line content provider.

Yahoo Personals marketing director Sandy Micek credits technology advances and increasingly busy lifestyles for her company's growth.

Industry insiders say personal ads are also losing the stigma of desperation. One to one magazine's Mary Spio says that's because of technology and even reality television shows.

The growth of on-line personals has cut into print personal ads in newspapers, many of which now offer a web based personals.

The cyber personals have also hurt traditional bricks and mortar dating services. One2One magazine's Mary Spio says there is one exception - specialty dating services like It's Just Lunch - which offers personalized match-making services and arranges low-stress lunch and after-work dates.

The owner of the Columbus It's Just Lunch says their business has grown as other companies have gone out of business. Pamela Lanier says in five years, her business has grown from 250 clients to 1,700 clients. Lanier says she's not worried about the internet threat.

But other It's Just Lunch franchises have closed. The cost difference is large - it's just lunch charges $1,000 for a six month program.

Internet postings are free at first, and about $15 a month, if you want to contact someone you see on-line.

As for the future of dating services, after sharp growth a couple years ago, on-line dating revenues have flattened, but analysts expect it to remain strong.

It's also fueling a sub-industry - technology companies that produce compatibility programs, sophisticated chat rooms and streaming video services. Also in the works- internet personals with 3-dimentional pictures. Now that's really getting personal.