Earlier today, Business Insider published a post that referred to AOL’s subscription business as a “scam.”
AOL’s subscription business is not a scam. The post that referred to it as such did not go through the proper editing process. It has since been edited.
We apologise to AOL and our readers for this mistake.
As an aside, the post’s still-harsh assessment of AOL’s subscription business is based on Ken Auletta’s contention in a recent New Yorker article that AOL’s remaining subscribers are mostly “older people who have cable or DSL service but don’t realise that they need not pay an additional $25 a month to get online and check their email.”
Now, no one is suggesting that AOL is actively misleading any of these people about the need to keep paying, and in the past AOL has been quite forthright with subscribers about how they can switch to cheaper (or free) subscription plans.
But if Auletta is right–if most of AOL’s remaining subscribers don’t realise that they don’t need to pay to get their email–it does raise some ethical questions about what lengths AOL should go to to alert them to this.
It’s certainly not unethical to sell people things they don’t need (if it were, half of the American economy would collapse). And AOL’s subscription plans do include benefits beyond email, including dial-up Internet access, telephone-based support, insurance, and so forth. And just because many of AOL’s subscribers don’t need those things doesn’t mean that AOL should stop providing or charging for them.
But perhaps AOL is a special case because it used to charge for what it now gives away for free, and because paying subscribers actively have to switch to the free plan as opposed to just being given it as the default.
Or perhaps AOL’s remaining paying subscribers are just lazy dingbats who deserve to throw their money away.
You be the judge. Feel free to share your own views on this in the comments below.