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Angie’s List IPO: Is Angie’s List stock a buy?

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The service company reviews site Angie’s List could IPO as early as this year, according to a Reuters report.

While we don’t have solid financial numbers, we do know revenue at the company was up 40 percent last year, and the site expects to the end the year with 1.8 million members (per Reuters). The standard monthly fee for the site varies by geography. Here are the various membership packages available in two random areas (Dayton, where I am, and Brooklyn, New York):

Angie’s List Membership Prices in Dayton, Ohio

Angie’s List Membership Prices in Brooklyn, New York

Prices are nearly three times higher in the New York area and there are significantly more membership packages available:

Hypothetically, let’s say the average member pays $5 a month to access the site. With 1.8 million members, the site could generate $9 million a month or $108 million a year. Once the site’s acquired a long-term paying member, it turns into a cash cow. That’s the beauty of subscription-based membership sites.

Of course, Angie’s List likely pays high membership acquisition costs. You hear and see their marketing campaigns everywhere, and it’s not unusual for subscription-based sites to pay acquisition fees of more than half of what they’ll eventually earn from a new client.

The adult dating site Friendfinder is a great example. Each subscriber costs FriendFinder an average of $47.25 to acquire. Sounds expensive, but each new acquisition spends an average of $80.17 in membership fees.

Subscribers are the name of the game, and I guarantee the single most-watched metric inside Angie’s List headquarters is a daily report on the number of subscribers the site has. If that number is in a strong up-trend, Angie’s List stock is a buy. If it’s flat-lining or even declining, the company will have to lower prices or radically change its approach to avoid a MySpace-like flameout.

Right now, though, it looks like the good times are rolling at Angie’s List. The site’s reach (or percent of global Internet users who visit Angieslist.com) has accelerated since the start of the year:

Source: Alexa.com

The big question, though, is whether Angie’s List has a product that’s worth shelling out for in the face of an ever-growing number of free online review sites. Just about every big player in the country is dipping its toes in the reviews business from YP.com to Yelp to Google Places. That competition makes me nervous, but it’s hard to argue with 40 percent growth in revenue.

Even if Angie’s List remains a small site serving a small niche of clients, it can still pull in cash hand over fist. What it does with that money may decide the stock’s fate. The right acquisitions, partnerships and marketing could turn Angie’s List from a niche site into a must-have for consumers.

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