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February 05, 2006

It’s My Mailbox; Pay Me

AOL and Yahoo are preparing to charge large mailers for “priority” delivery to user mailboxes.  You can read all about it here in the NY Times or almost anywhere else online.  Allegedly this is an anti-spam effort rather than a revenue-raising exercise.  “We’re only doing it for you…” say AOL and Yahoo to their users.

OK.  Let’s assume that these companies are right and that the only way to cut down on the volume of spam without entrapping all the mail you really do want to receive in spam filters is to charge the senders a “postage” fee.  Then why not pay the postage minus a handling fee to the subscribers who are receiving the mail!?

Certainly the mailers would rather have their payment go to the reader of their mail – who might then be more favorably disposed to the advertiser.  It’s my time that’s taken up by reading or deleting the mail; why shouldn’t I get paid for my attention?

Aren’t these small sums? Sure but the Internet has many ways to deal efficiently with small sums: PayPal, credit against your AOL bill, designate to a charity.  Getting the money from the mailers to the readers isn’t a problem; it’s an opportunity.

Yes, phone companies both charge us for lines and charge callers (indirectly) for calling us on those lines.  That’s a broken and over-complex model which needs to disappear.  In fact, as I posted here before the current controversy, those “access charges” ought to be paid to us as well since we own or rent our access lines.

Yes, the Post Office keeps all the revenue it gets for stamps.  But we don’t pay the Post Office a monthly fee for delivery to our mailboxes. Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path points out “Consumers pay for the email boxes with dollars (at AOL) or with ads (at Google/Yahoo/Hotmail).”  Return Path has a vested interest because they “bond” senders of bulk email with a seal of approval meaning that the senders are only sending what’s requested and should be allowed through spam filters.  But Return Path has also been successful from both the mailer and the recipients’ POV in assuring that people do get the email they want.

I DON’T want to get email from anyone who is willing to pay a toll to a middleman.

Whatever is done, there has to be a mechanism to assure that emailbox owners can permit any mailers they designate to reach them free of charges.  AOL says that it will continue to deliver mail from mailers who are in the recipient’s address book.  But doesn’t say that senders will have any way to know how much mail would have been delivered even if they didn’t pay a toll.

I have a personal interest here.  Many people subscribe to both Fractals of Change and my novel hackoff.com by email.  The email serialization of either text or audio is sent by FeedBlitz.  FeedBlitz, which distributes many other blogs as well, is clearly only delivering requested email – this isn’t spam.  You have to go out of your way to subscribe. But FeedBlitz looks like a mass mailer to AOL or Yahoo because so many people use it to subscribe to blogs  I’m happy to send the serialization free of charge but I’m not going to pay AOL to deliver it.  I don’t think readers will take kindly to being denied receipt of material they subscribed to because AOL or Yahoo want to charge a toll.

Steve Gillmor says in a post on ZDNet: “RSS got another big boost today when portals-in-the-headlights AOL and Yahoo? decided they wanted to scrape some vig off of the email stream.”  Many people are saying that the problem of spam and the proposed solution of tollbooths will just lead to everyone switching from email to RSS (Real Simple Syndication) for receiving subscription-type content.  Fred Wilson points out that RSS, great technology that it is, is still not implemented in a consumer-friendly way.

Our experience with subscriptions to hackoff.com is that early subscribers, who were already blog readers and tended to be early adopters, chose RSS more often than email.  But, as the readership has expanded beyond the blog-addicted, a higher and higher percentage of new subscribers choose email.  Everybody understands what email is.

Brad Feld also has a growing number of email subscribers to Feld Thoughts.  He blogs “I’ll simply tell my AOL subscribers that they have lots of other free email services available to them that accept my email.” His post on the subject is entitled Has AOL Just Endorsed Paid Spam?

Net, net: 1) the Spam problem is getting better, not worse, so it may be that no new solution is needed; 2) if anyone is going to get paid for accessing me by email or phone or any other communication device, it ought to be me that gets paid (or who decides who doesn’t have to pay).

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» Yahoo! and AOL Sneakily Selling Our Attention from SortiPreneur
(Let me start this with a disclosure: I do not like AOL. I don't like their walls, which they finally took down recently, and nickel-and-dime attitudes.) NY Times reported Sunday that Yahoo and AOL are planning to roll out a [Read More]

» Postage Paid from Cox Crow
Tom Evslin opines on the attempt by AOL and Yahoo! to charge postage to bulk-mailers: Its my mailbox; pay me! Paul Hoffman suggests that Any sane ISP will wait to see how badly their competitors fail in introducing this new anti-service before ... [Read More]


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