According to the New York Times, America Online and Yahoo are planning to exploit their positions as two of the world’s largest e-mail providers to make megabucks, a fraction of a penny at a time.
America Online and Yahoo, two of the world’s largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from 1/4 of a cent to a penny each to have them delivered. The senders must promise to contact only people who have agreed to receive their messages, or risk being blocked entirely.
The Internet companies say that this will help them identify legitimate mail and cut down on junk e-mail, identity-theft scams and other scourges that plague users of their services. Thy (sic) also stand to earn millions of dollars a year from the system if it is widely adopted.
AOL and Yahoo will still accept e-mail from senders who have not paid, but the paid messages will be given special treatment. On AOL, for example, they will go straight to users’ main mailboxes, and will not have to pass the gantlet of spam filters that could divert them to a junk-mail folder or strip them of images and Web links. As is the case now, mail arriving from addresses that users have added to their AOL address books will not be treated as spam.
If my address book is indicative of the entire Internet community, only 16 percent of people currently utilize these two services. It is easy to envision how AOL and Yahoo will attempt to use the volume of accounts they serve to control the marketplace. I don’t believe this will work for two reasons.
My snail mail box is filled six days a week with spam of the paper variety. Although the cost is considerably higher, the expense does not stop unsolicited advertising. AOL and Yahoo are not going to stop spam, but they may make millions of dollars from what could almost be described as marketplace extortion.
It would be rightfully described as extortion if users didn’t have any other options available, but they do. To begin, spam traps and filters are likely continue to improve, but even if they didn’t, paid e-mail won’t work as long as there are free options available. If AOL and Yahoo think that every small company, organization, or individual that owns a domain name and corresponding mail server is going to drop their service in order to jump on board with the major corporate domains, they are sadly mistaken.
When people find that they are not getting e-mail messages from loved ones, business partners, classmates, etc., they will drop Yahoo and AOL and use one of the many free services, even if it contains a bit more spam.