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WhatsYourPrice.com: Online Dating or Escort Service?

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By James Furbush on April 7, 2011

So it turns out that The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase was right: Everybody’s got a price. In the world of online dating, a new website aims to drive that point home.

WhatsYourPrice.com is a new site launched by Brandon Wade, founder of Seeking Arrangement, the “Elite Sugar Daddy Dating Website.” Wade hopes to bring an old-fashioned economic model to the online dating scene — his new site promises that those “who have high standards” (read: people who want to date someone out of their league) and “are willing to pay for the chance to go out on a first date” will have opportunity and incentive to meet the right person.

But, wait, that’s not all. Perhaps, best of all, they claim, if you get propositioned for a date, regardless of how said date turns out, you’ll be compensated for your time. Compensated? That sounds almost like, well…couldn’t be.

It also sounds cynical, maybe a little tawdry. Perhaps it even borders on an escort service, if you rush to judgment. An online dating service where people pay one another for a first date? It’s not exactly taking your crush to the prom. But Wade, an M.I.T.-educated businessman, doesn’t see it in those terms.

“We want to make this a G-rated dating service,” he told us via telephone. “We don’t want the R-rated element like escort services and things like that to be here. You buy for a chance to impress someone who may not give you the time of day. What you do with that first date is up to you. Now those people have a shot to turn it into something.”

Essentially, Wade sees his site as turning dating into a monetary negotiation between interested parties. His site intends to facilitate those negotiations and collect a a tidy profit as the middleman.

Even though the site launched two weeks ago, Wade and his business team are waiting to hit a user base of 10,000 people before going public. Currently, there have nearly 9,000 members.

So here’s how it works: Just like any other online dating service, you sign up and fill out a profile. And just like any other site, you upload your picture and bit about your personality, then you search for people you may want to date. Then, the WYP Twist: You begin negotiating with them. That’s when the fun begins. Will it cost $100 to coax someone into a first date? $30? $15? $1,000 to date someone?

People willing to pay are referred to as “the generous,” and people willing to be paid are known as “the attractives.” Which is exactly why people are a bit taken aback at the site. Hot people don’t exactly need another handout when it comes to dating, but now they get compensated for it, too?

“That’s not the target audience, even if it is the inspiration,” Wade admitted to us, reluctantly. The company’s website is marketed toward the rich and beautiful, because Wade says, controversy is good for business. “The goal of the homepage is to create controversy for people to go ‘Wow!’ We’ve found from market research that people say I wouldn’t use the site when they first visit and then they let it sink in and come back and say it seems like a great idea.”

And though he sounds earnest about it, it’s still hard to shake the feeling that this is somehow different from an auction block for sugar daddies and hot chicks. Or something less than legal.

Sure, he’s quick to point out that it’s not men paying women, but also women paying men. Really, it’s anyone who is generous enough to want to date another “attractive” user. Attractive, he insists, also means much more than just physical beauty. So far, 500 first dates have been arranged by the company, and once a date has been arranged, the rest, as Wade says, is none of their business.

“A lot of normal people are using the site and people are accepting dates for $20 or $30 or $15. That’s not rich guys. It seems fairly reasonable,” he said.

After a price has been negotiated and site users unlock the ability to set up their first date with one another — for a fee, which is how the site makes money — the only time money exchanges hands between users comes on date night. Wade suggests people do half before the date and half afterward (should they use unmarked bills, too?). If dates get canceled, then no money exchanges hands.

According to Wade, the Las Vegas-based company has also put several policies in place to make sure everything is on the up and up. They have a team approving every single profile and every single photo to make sure they conform to the company’s “decency” standards.

But what is someone uses a fake photo? “That is a way for people to trick the system,” Wade says, “but the system gives users the ability to report other users.” If a person turns out to not be who they say they are, the profile is flagged and reviewed. Since Wade and his team “control everything,” they can react quickly to ban profiles.

There is an economic cost associated with just about anything these days — buying a house, a car, groceries, the right to negotiate with Japanese baseball players, dinner and drinks on a date — but when that something becomes the opportunity to date, people are quick to label it prostitution. But when you begin to scratch the surface, ultimately, the site seems to cut through the murky financials of dating. Money transactions are a huge part of dating. Where you take someone for dinner, who buys the drinks, what you do for a living, how you’re dressed, small gifts like flowers all cost money. So why is it such a crime when a website just makes that aspect of dating open?

More than anything, this is an interesting experiment for people to see what they are worth on the open dating market. How much would it take to get you to go out with somebody else?

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