The joy of ARPU

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 At a publisher session at DMEXCO in Cologne in September (like Cannes, but for ad and marketing tech, and minus sun and glitz), the Daily Telegraph disclosed that registered readers were five times more valuable than unregistered.

It didn’t use the term ARPU – average revenue per user – to describe the calculation, but it might as well have done.

ARPU, for want of a better description, is a way of finding out whether you’re fishing in a depleted pond for sprats and plankton, or oceans teeming with fat tuna and lobster. 

It’s no surprise that, compared with the sprat of an unregistered user, a registered one is like a lobster…well, maybe a scallop or a baby crab.  A multiplier of five sounds good, but we don’t know against what: it could be diddly squat. 

Even though we don’t have the absolute value of a registered Telegraph reader, ARPUs are a useful benchmark for publishers. It’s a surprise more don’t talk about it.

The term is common in other areas.  Spotify’s average ARPU globally is €4.89 (although I’m not clear whether this covers both premium subscribers and those who take the ad-funded model, and I also guess that it would be higher in more developed markets);  Twitter’s ARPU is between $7-$8 ; and Facebook’s ranges from $5.50 globally to $23 in North America and $8 in Europe.

Of course ARPU all depends both on the business (Sky, Vodafone, Netflix would all be higher) as well as the model. I can’t find the Mail Online’s (and my maths is failing me in an attempt to work it out) but I’d guess it was a fraction of Facebook’s given its open-all-doors policy. The FT’s by contrast, given the cost of an online sub, would be much higher.

According to one report, the New York Times has an advertising ARPU of $3, and a digital subscription one of $140.

I’d bet the Telegraph’s ARPU is also a fraction of Facebook’s, but at least it is now getting a sense of where the value of its audience lies.

And that’s why ARPUs matter for publishers. If they want to understand where the value lies in their business model, or a potential shift in one, an ARPU is a good place to start. If a traditional B2B publisher is facing threats from digital incomers, an ARPU analysis will help it man the defences.

But a word of caution. As the Spotify figure shows, one global ARPU calculation is probably meaningless – rather like the old joke about the statistician who drowned in water that was three inches deep on average.  

Rather, publishers might want to develop a range of ARPUs: one might be a total, including all revenue – covering print, online, ads, subscriptions, events and so on.

After that, they can develop other ARPUs. Like the NYT, they can identify an online ad ARPU, an online subs ARPU, and a combined one. Like the Telegraph, they can build one for registered users. If they can sift the data (and it’s relevant) they can do it by country or by traffic source. Is a reader coming from X more valuable than one from Y? And as publishers develop their activities, so they can be extended into events, conferences and so on.

The possibilities are many. But so are publishers’ competitors these days, and they may be operating different business models too.

For publishers who don’t know where they derive value from their own operations, this is like fighting with one hand tied behind your back.

Dominic Mills