For the first time in its history, AOL is displaying ads along with e-mail messages to its paying subscribers, to increase the delivery mechanisms of its online ad inventory, an AOL spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.
This practice is common in free Webmail services but generally not in fee-based e-mail accounts, where the absence of ads is normally considered a perk of being a paying subscriber.
Before taking this step, AOL surveyed its subscribers and ran a test and found that the inclusion of banner ads with AOL Mail messages generally wouldn't bother them, she said.
The ads are being shown to AOL subscribers using version 9.0 of the company's proprietary access software, she said.
AOL has displayed banner ads on the main AOL Mail inbox for several years, but had refrained from publishing ads within individual messages. That all changed a few weeks ago and AOL is now inserting ads into the e-mail its customers read, the spokeswoman said. However, the ads aren't being targeted to users based on the content of e-mail messages, she said.
The implementation of this new practice had nothing to do with a disruption that slowed down AOL's e-mail system for several hours last week, she said. "We started doing this several weeks ago," she said.
AOL has in recent years been trying to shift its business away from its traditional "walled garden" model, where most revenue comes from fees subscribers pay to access proprietary content and services. Instead, AOL is moving towards a Web portal model, trying to attract as many Web surfers as possible to its sites with free content and services, and making money from online advertising.