Noel Biderman, the CEO of Avid Life Media, the company that operates Ashley Madison, the popular dating site for dissatisfied married people, hopes to offer Japanese women a chance to have a little fun of their own.
“What I’m uniquely bringing to Japan is a leveling of the playing field,” said Biderman, a married 42-year-old, attired in a gray suit while seated on a sofa beneath a blow up of the service’s promotional graphic — a woman holding her index finger to her lips. “Men do have all those playgrounds. Women don’t.”
With more than 19 million anonymous members worldwide, the infidelity service on Monday launched its operation in Japan, a nation whose demographic statistics for intimacy represent a particularly lucrative market.
According to the results of a survey released in June by condom manufacturer Sagami Rubber Industries, 55 percent of married couples consider their relationship “sexless,” which is defined as having intercourse less than twice a month.
“That is an interesting void to fill,” says Biderman, whose approach since launching the site 11 years ago in Canada has been to assemble a place to attract females — Ashley and Madison were two popular names for girls in the U.S. at the time — interested in various amorous activities with an expectation that men would then follow in droves.
For Japan, Ashley Madison‘s 28th country, that has certainly been the case. In the first four days, the site registered approximately 75,000 members, a substantial figure considering Biderman had targeted acquiring 100,000 new users per month.
“It is a good indication that we are providing something there is an appetite for,” he says, adding that eventually Japan will rival the U.S., the site’s biggest market.
In separating itself from conventional dating sites, where one may easily pretend to not be attached, Ashley Madison specifically seeks out married people who are unhappy with their sex life or in a relationship in which they are being neglected.
The system is simple. After navigating to the site, a profile based on the user’s age, physical characteristics, and location is built. This data set is then used to bring up a selection of hopefully intriguing profiles.
Male users pay 4,900 yen for 100 credits — the currency used to interact with women, who do not pay. To engage in an email conversation with a female user requires five credits. For chatting, the fee is based on the elapsed time, much like a taxi meter. Virtual gifts with a message can also be sent.
Interaction across international borders is possible. “If we think a foreign woman will be appealing, and she has indicated a willingness to travel to Japan, speak to someone in Japanese, we will display her in the search results,” says Biderman. “So you can choose to communicate.”
A translation engine makes the exchanges smooth. “I really felt that the opportunity for Japanese men to communicate with foreign women, to chat with a girl from Sydney or California, was going to be enticing,” he says.Until 2010, Ashley Madison, only operated in North America. Japan is the company’s first country in Asia. “Through our research, Japan jumped off the page,” Biderman says.
In addition to an established e-commerce sector, Japan boasts a network of approximately 30,000 love hotels. Over one million couples use such an accommodation each day.
Japan also has a large number of deai-kei “encounter” matchmaking sites already established — a fact that does not concern Biderman. “I always look at it that we do not have competition,” he says. “We invented a vertical.”
In recent years, there have been many cases of deai-kei sites being busted for using employees to pose as users to generate large fees from lonely hearts. Such practices are not unusual, says Biderman. “The challenge we have is to distinguish ourselves from them, which is a challenge we have everywhere,” he says.
To be sure, there is a lingering question about morality that hangs over Ashley Madison. In addition to number of heated discussions with Biderman on television talk shows, the company was generally banned by NBC from advertising during the Super Bowl in 2009. (For his part, the CEO says he has never used his service to have an affair, and that his wife supported the initial concept of the site.)
Much like any online service site, Biderman claims he is simply a facilitator — after all, it is not as if happily married people are being coerced into using the service.
“People may bristle at the fact that married women now have a platform to pursue something like this,” he says, “but I think that’s probably a permanent landscape change that was bound to happen whether I did it through my service or they did it through other opportunities like Facebook. Technology is going to change how we pursue social relationships.”