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MSN plays the numbers game – again

The maths don't work - again

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When Microsoft sent out its latest bragging about MSN figures, alarm bells started ringing.

"MSN Reaches $3.6 billion in Online Holiday Shopping and Tops 4 Million Subscribers", trumpeted the press release.

"MSN Internet access saw unparalleled success as its US subscriber base topped the four million mark this past quarter. In addition, MSN users spent an estimated $3.6 billion online during the fourth quarter," it continued.

We were impressed - divided between four million, that worked out at more than $850 spent online per user ( as Cyber India Online which first alerted us to this press release pointed out).

But wait a minute, the MSN press release came one day after ISP giant AOL's announcement on its festive e-retail figures. AOL said its members spent $4.6 billion online during Christmas. This represented "approximately 70 per cent of industry analysts' estimates of all consumer online spending this holiday season," according to AOL.

So somebody was twisting the truth. Plus, AOL has 26 million users - so why did MSN users fork out $850 each, but AOL's just $170?

Steven Harris, a senior research analyst at IDC, admitted MSN's figures "do sound very high". "AOL is typically the master in this domain, and normally has the highest percentage (of spend per user)," he said.

So how did MSN get its members to spend so much cash online?

"The $3.6 billion spent by the MSN users is independent from the four million MSNIA subscribers," an MSN representative admitted.

So the $3.6 billion wasn't spent solely by MSN members?

No. "Although some of the numbers do include some of the four million subscribers, the $3.6 billion represents all users that went through MSN to spend dollars," she added.

So these "users" could be members of other ISPs, including AOL?

In a word, yes. ®

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