Lonely hearts aren't a post-Communist phenomenon, but the number of personal ads crowding the pages of Annonce, this city's three-times-a-week personals-only newspaper prove that the love market has boomed. Since the collapse of communism in 1989, entrepreneurs have been exploiting Czechs' embrace of the most capitalistic of pursuits-paying to find a mate-with a swelling number of computer dating services, singles clubs and personal ad vehicles.
Under the Communist regime, couples who didn't meet in school often found each other on the job or at political meetings. But with the advance of democracy, both men and women are working longer hours and spending more time toiling at the office than socializing.
"Now at work people are mainly working," said Petr Trojan, editor of Ty a Ja (You and Me), a 60,000-circulation monthly for singles. He also operates a dating service of the same name. "Because everyone made the same money, people would not work too much and they had time to get to know people."
Not so anymore, contributing to the circulation boon of Mr. Trojan's magazine, available on newsstands for 50 cents. Among the personals are ads for local hangouts such as the Hollywood Sex Club, along with more upscale ads for the English-language newspaper the Prague Post and the local Canon camera store outlet.
publishes personals for free but steers clear of dating services. "A lot of people don't trust dating agencies," said Hanka Nekrapilova, director of the newspaper's international advertising department. "They think it is easier to place your own, confidential free ad than to let an agency mediate." Annonce offers a singles' dating club free to members who place ads as a way to get to see people face-to-face without a private meeting.
Ty a Ja, however, doesn't believe in free love. For $2.50, the lovelorn can fill out a questionnaire found among the often nude photo-illustrated features, which is entered into a computer pool. In its five years of existence, Ty a Ja has accumulated a databank of 6,000 singles without a jot of advertising.
There aren't any reliable figures for the size of the computer dating market but it's known to be small. "I think it will be [a big moneymaker] in the future," said Katerina Kucherova, director of Prago Kontakt, a formerly state-run computer dating service privatized in 1990.
But at $7 per matchup, Ms. Kucherova may have to wait for her first million. "Czechs don't want to pay for these services," she said."
As a result, takers for her service learn only the bare bones facts about prospective mates. Because of the cost of processing, Ms. Kucherova asks only a few questions, such as occupation and marital history. Still, this hasn't discouraged the 4,000 love-seekers who subscribe to the service.
Both Ms. Kucherova and Mr. Trojan claim good results but neither track figures. "If we went to all the weddings we were invited to, we would be fat alcoholics," Mr. Trojan said.
Whatever form they take, matchmaking services haven't figured out a way to advertise.
"It's a little problem getting some [satisfied customers to appear in ads]," said Mr. Trojan. "They say, `Yes, we are fantastic and lucky [that you helped us find each other], but sorry, we live in a small village and if you write about us everyone will know we met by computer'."