AOL spent ‘over $300 million’ on those trial CDs

If you weren’t in diapers in the 1990s, odds are you remember seeing AOL trial discs on a regular basis. How much did it cost AOL to bombard mailboxes with those CDs for so long? As TechCrunch reports, AOL co-founder and former CEO Steve Case answered that question on Quora.com recently. The answer, in his words, is "a lot:"

I don’t remember the total spending but do recall in the early 1990s our target was to spend 10% of lifetime revenue to get a new subscriber. At that time I believe the average subscriber life was about 25 months and revenue was about $350 so we spent about $35 to acquire subscribers.

Former AOL Chief Marketing Officer Jan Brandt chimed in yesterday afternoon with more precise numbers:

Over $300 million ๐Ÿ™‚ At one point, 50% of the CD’s produced worldwide had an AOL logo on it. We were logging in new subscribers at the rate of one every six seconds.

Yikes! Of course, the "carpet bombing" strategy did work. Case points out that AOL went from fewer than 200,000 subscribers in 1992 to around 25 million in 2002, bumping the company’s market capitalization from $70 million to a mind-boggling $150 billion. Things didn’t exactly pan out in the post-dialup era, though, and neither did the merger with Time Warner. (You might recall Time Warner spun off AOL just over a year ago.)

Comments closed
    • Trymor
    • 9 years ago

    r[

    • albundy
    • 9 years ago

    heh, anyone collect enough to make an aol chair?

    • burntham77
    • 9 years ago

    A good buddy of mine used to work at AOL. He was one of the guys who programmed the interface and when he came on board, he was appalled at how awful the coding was. He sat down and wrote out a proposal illustrating all the ways in which he could fix it, but he said it would take some time. His bosses said it would take too long, so he was forced to do a quick and dirty rewrite. That, as he tells it, is why the AOL software was never as good as it could have been.

    • Trymor
    • 9 years ago

    If I dug through my basement, I bet I would find a box with 50+ of those suckers. Maybe I could package them real nice and e-bay them?

    • crabjokeman
    • 9 years ago

    I’m 28 and I’m still in diapers (by choice). Diapers are awesome.

      • NeelyCam
      • 9 years ago

      No need for bathroom breaks, can game 24/7 (as long as somebody brings beer

    • BenBasson
    • 9 years ago

    I remember those days. I politely requested via email that they stop sending trial CDs to me. When this didn’t work, I started cutting up the CDs into tiny pieces and sending them back. After only two or three times, they did actually stop sending them to me.

      • burntham77
      • 9 years ago

      Now that is called getting the point across.

      • shank15217
      • 9 years ago

      Wow u made a difference..

    • paulWTAMU
    • 9 years ago

    dude…I’ve never seen 800,000 CDs in one place before. I wonder what sort of physical storage they had to have?

      • Farting Bob
      • 9 years ago

      If my maths is right, each CD is 1.1mm thick. If they dont have any packaging, a single stack would be over half a mile high (880m) and weigh 12 metric tonnes.

    • clone
    • 9 years ago

    AOL owned the market and having bought it with free and cheap service abused it until everyone hated them, how a company could literally build a monopoly overnight only to squander that kind of dominance in equally short order is really quite impressive.

    bloatware…. agonizing bloatware was AOL.

    I wonder if the computers of today could handle the junkware they included on those discs because so many couldn’t back in the day.

    • Shinare
    • 9 years ago

    I have made many a creative CD sculpture thanks to AOL.

      • mnecaise
      • 9 years ago

      same here. CD art, c/o AOL.

    • horemans
    • 9 years ago

    I wonder how many are still trying to cancel their subscription?

    At one time it was easier to cancel your credit card, easier than convincing AOL to stop billing.

      • NeelyCam
      • 9 years ago

      I remember that… 1h waiting, 30mins talking to a customer “service” rep to convince (!) them to cancel. And next month they charged my credit card again.

      • yuhong
      • 9 years ago

      Yea, the attempts to make it hard to cancel to keep customers was very sleazy.

      • Johnny5
      • 9 years ago

      I’ve never had such a problem, but I would think the best solution would be to contact your credit card company and tell them to stop sending AOL your money.

    • Mystic-G
    • 9 years ago

    I remember the days where I had probably 10-15 AOL discs in my house for no apparent reason. lol… Curse you 56k days!!

    • Corrado
    • 9 years ago

    That… somehow doesn’t seem like THAT much considering how long they did it for. $300 million over 10 years on marketing? Don’t get me wrong, its a LOT of money, but in the grand scheme of marketing over 10 years for a company the size of AOL at the time…

      • shank15217
      • 9 years ago

      What are you talking about? The company wasn’t the same size in 1992 as in 2002, its a big deal.

        • Corrado
        • 9 years ago

        They didn’t spend $300 million in 1992. They spent $300 million TOTAL on the entire compaign over 10 years.

    • Voldenuit
    • 9 years ago

    Ouch. I wonder what the environmental impact of this is. Curse you, AOL!

      • sweatshopking
      • 9 years ago

      what? you some kind of hippy? environmental impact…. who cares? the environment is fine, just a bunch of whining leftist trying to stop good people making money, cause they’re jealous.

        • Voldenuit
        • 9 years ago

        Haha, that’s right. Someday I will build a computer out of hemp and show everyone! :p

        • ModernPrimitive
        • 9 years ago

        You hit the nail on the head

          • jdaven
          • 9 years ago

          I think he was kidding.

            • ModernPrimitive
            • 9 years ago

            i wasnt ๐Ÿ˜‰

            • sweatshopking
            • 9 years ago

            well i sure as heck was. you’re insane if you actually think that.

            • Trymor
            • 9 years ago

            …from your perspective.

            • jdaven
            • 9 years ago

            There is no perspective when it comes to the environment. Only scientific consensus culminated by an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence. You don’t have a perspective on why the sky is blue. It is blue for a very, very specific reason that cannot change over time.

            The only perspective that you can have is the opinion on how long it will take the rest of the world to accept what the scientific community has known for decades.

            • Trymor
            • 9 years ago

            l[< what? you some kind of hippy? environmental impact.... who cares?<]l That right there shows that people other than you can have a different perspective...the 'Hippies'. Careful, your high horse is showing...

        • NeelyCam
        • 9 years ago

        What, are you some texan oil-money rancher driving a big-ass truck that hates trees?

    • no51
    • 9 years ago

    I remember when AOL came on floppies. It was the best way to get a free floppy disk.

      • blastdoor
      • 9 years ago

      totally! That was actually useful.

      • colinstu
      • 9 years ago

      You don’t know how many AOL floppy disks I had laying around (and I would actually use to transfer files in the day).

      • swaaye
      • 9 years ago

      All of mine got bad sectors rather quickly.

      • TaBoVilla
      • 9 years ago

      mines came write protected >=( never managed to get over that obstacle..

        • NeelyCam
        • 9 years ago

        Um.. ‘tape’? look it up

          • Trymor
          • 9 years ago

          Wasn’t it punch?

          Edit: Maybe that was the high density trick I’m thinking about…

    • Starfalcon
    • 9 years ago

    1,000 years from now, when they are digging up our civilization, they will know when they hit the 1990’s due to all the AOL CDs in landfills. I know I did my share of tossing them in the trash….seemed like every magazine had one of them in it at the time.

      • bhtooefr
      • 9 years ago

      There was also a project – No More AOL CDs – that was going to collect and then return 1,000,000 AOL CDs.

      And by “return,” I mean, pull up to the front door of their headquarters in a few trucks, and unload them.

      They collected 800,000 before the project was cancelled due to AOL deciding not to send out CDs any more.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This