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United Online’s (NASDAQ:UNTD) Classmates Media (CLAS) unit filed for a $125 million IPO in what could be a good litmus test for social media plays on Wall Street. Classmates isn’t Facebook (all resources), but does have enough name recognition to garner interest for investors looking to buy into the social media hubbub.

The company plans to trade under the ticker “CLAS” and has lined up some heavyweight investment bankers–Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank.

With the IPO it appears that Classmates is trying to front run some buzz ahead of social media peers such as Facebook and LinkedIn. MySpace is already part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire. Classmates, which seems like it has been around forever, has 50 million registered user accounts as of June 30 and 2.7 million paid accounts.

Not too shabby for a site I’ve basically left for dead aside from a few visits following email prodding. It’s also not bad for a site that doesn’t rank among class.pngthe top global social sites, according to Comscore. Classmates Media also includes MyPoints, a loyalty marketing service with 8.4 million members as of June 30.

After the IPO, United Online will control the company’s Class B shares and Classmates. Classmates’ IPO filing didn’t detail how much United Online will own. United Online , which also owns NetZero, acquired Classmates in November 2004. MyPoints went public in 1999, and was acquired by United Airlines’ parent in 2001. United Media then bought MyPoints in April 2006.

As for the financial outlook, Classmates Media is running a small loss. For the quarter ending March 30, the company had a net loss of $250,000 on revenue of $42.4 million. For 2006, the company had a profit of $171,000 on revenue of $152 million. The annual results are on a pro forma basis as if MyPoints and Classmates had been combined. Both were subsidiaries of United Online.

The biggest risk factor mentioned by Classmates is competition with the usual suspects. From the SEC filing:

Our social networking services compete with a wide variety of social networking Web sites, including broad social networking Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook; a number of specialty Web sites, including LinkedIn, Reunion.com and Monster.com’s (NASDAQ:MNST) Military.com service, that offer similar online social networking services based on school, work or military communities; and an increasing number of schools, employers and associations that maintain their own Internet-based alumni information services.

And…

Our MyPoints loyalty marketing business faces competition for members from several other loyalty programs that offer competitive online products and services, including Ebates, Upromise and ThankYou Network. We also face competition from offline loyalty rewards programs that have a significant online presence, such as those operated by credit card, airline and hotel companies.

The company’s plan seems to be increasing and maintaining paying subscribers, a tough chore considering “only a small percentage of members initially registering for our social networking services sign up for a paid subscription at the time of registration.”

I have seen a few folks pay for Classmates.com, but it takes repeated emails. More often than not people try Classmates, but don’t buy. To wit:

The number of free members returning to our Web sites has been decreasing, and if we were to continue to experience such decreases, it would likely adversely impact our number of paying subscribers.

Bottom line: From United Online’s perspective the IPO is a nice move to monetize Classmates at what could be the peak of the social media buzz. For investors, the deal may not be such a no-brainer.

Source: Looking To Invest In Social Media? Check Out Classmates Media's IPO