Why Is Aol Still Charging People For “Email”?

Now this is just hilarious. Apparently this Arizona woman has been paying for “email” for almost a decade — even though it’s been available free for a while and free for Aol users since 2006.  According to a year-old “New Yorker” article by Ken Auletta, over 75% of the dial-up portion of Aol’s 3.5 million subscribers are like Traci Casale. So why are these idiots people still paying for email? I mean you know things are bad when a publication called “Arizona Family” is making fun of you.

Well actually Casale and others like her are not being charged for email, they’re technically still paying for the dial-up plan they signed up for originally, which they didn’t cancel after Aol made its software package free.

“One day I just looked at, you know, you’re going through your bills and every bit helps right now and I’m like, ‘Why am I paying for email? No one else is,’” Casale says naively in the report.

Maybe it’s not entirely her fault? According to one source, Aol intentionally doesn’t try too hard to educate these legacy customers about their email package now being free. We also heard that when Aol came out with the new “Project Phoenix” Mail product in 2010, many in Aol Consumer Applications wanted to market it as being free but their suggestions were overturned by higher-ups as the percentage of misinformed subscribers still ponying up just to use Aol Mail is very profitable.

Aol’s over 3.5 million dial-up subscribers brought in $191 million in revenue last quarter — which is still where the majority of Aol’s profits come from according to Auletta.

The reason why these local news reports are so sad is that even Cave Creek, Arizonans have figured out dial-up is a dying business. Sure Aol tries to sugarcoat this in earnings reports by boasting about its lowered subscription churn rate, but in plain English this basically means that there are fewer people leaving because there are fewer people to leave.

“AOL Mail is a web-based product that is free to all users regardless of their paid relationship with us,” Aol PR told me when I inquired as to why these headlines (somewhat mistakenly) accuse them of charging for it. Well, that explanation is much more clear than this vaguely-worded “Project Phoenix” press release.

Disclosure (in case you live under a rock): Techcrunch is owned by Aol.