Would you pay to send an email?

Posted on February 5, 2006

There have been rumors for many years, that eventually, it will cost a user to send an email. And since spam has become a ridiculously annoying part of everyday work, the chatter for paid communication has picked up again.

But I still didn't believe something like this would happen anytime soon, until I saw that America Online and Yahoo are beginning to implement a system that will give preferential treatment to companies who pay for sending bulk emails.

No, this doesn't mean you're going to have pay AOL a buck to email grandma. For now, this focuses on companies using bulk emailing systems. Maybe you receive emails with special deals from your favorite stores and restaurants, or maybe you have subscribed to email newsletters from clubs or charities. With the new setup, the emails sent will still be sent, but if the companies pay, the Internet powerhouses will make sure the emails are delivered responsibly.

And as usual, the big guys are trying to eliminate the little guys, and this type of payment plan still won't work.

First, it's extremely easy for individual users to flag messages as spam, even those that are delivered to people who actually asked for them. So why would a company pay for emails if they are still showing as spam. Or better yet, why would a user want these emails to still show when they just flagged them as spam?

Secondly, AOL and Yahoo think that spammers don't have money to pay for this preferential treatment. Unfortunately, some do, and on top of that, they could devise ways to send many more messages than they are buying.

In the end, what happens is AOL and Yahoo gain extra revenue, along with the partner who is providing the email postage. Smaller companies who can't afford it might lose out, and users will eventually still receive the same amount of email.

Maybe one of these days, the large Internet companies will figure out a legitimate way to fight spam effectively. Until then, I think it's in their best interest to not start focusing on how much more money they can make without truly offering anything new.