How to fix AOL, part II

How to fix AOL, part II
: AOL is releasing its Communicator email/IM client. I’ve been using the beta for a few months now and I have to say it’s very good.

(I know this will look as if I’m suddenly shilling for AOL, having just written about their weblog/journal tool and now this — and I do own too damned much of the stock — but it’s just a coincidence.)

Communicator acts like a real mail client — like Outlook (though, unfortunately, tragically, it doesn’t come with a calendar) or Eudora — but adds important pluses: You can check any POP email (this is how I read my personal mail) and it does a good job of nabbing spam (getting about 85 percent, I’d say; you can have it hide the spam or just mark it and then you can delete it all with a click). It operates well. It acts like an Internet program, not like an AOL program. It tells you in email whether your IM buddies are online.

That’s the good news.

: The bad news is that AOL is sticking with its old business model and is giving this only to full AOL subscribers.

I’ve said before — and will say again now — that AOL would be far better off unbundling many of its services and not trying to get everyone to gulp down the whole service:

: I’d pay a few bucks a month for the AOL mail service with Communicator and its spam program.

: If I were a new blogger, I’d pay a price competitive with TypePad’s for AOL’s new journal service (with unlimited bandwidth: a slam-dunk!).

: I’d pay AOL for downloaded music as readily as I’d pay Real or

The reason I do pay for the AOL service is my job; I need to keep up on what they’re doing. If not for that, imagine that I were no longer an AOL customer. Then wouldn’t AOL be better off selling me a part of its service than the whole service? Wouldn’t AOL be better off maintaining a billing relationship with me so it could sell me more things — including content under a micropayment model (which, in turn, would drive content owners to work with them)? Wouldn’t it cost AOL a helluva lot less to market a simple email service to me to get me in the door and then upsell me later?

Shouldn’t AOL think of itself as the Amazon of content and services — we will sell you anything with one click?

AOL is stuck with its old model — one big size fits all — and its numbers are declining as a result. Broadband growth is only adding to the pain.

If AOL made it a goal to sell all of us something and have a billing relationship with more and more people it would start to grow again. And Wall Street would be happy. And that would make me happy.