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E-Mail and Mailing Lists: When The Internet Was A Toll Road - Morgan Dawn Livejournal:The Here And Now
The Here And Now
E-Mail and Mailing Lists: When The Internet Was A Toll Road

How many of us remember the early days of email and mailing lists? When you had to pay for every message you downloaded?  If you were on CompuServe or Genie or AOL, messages within their network were often free – but every message from the “Internet” cost you extra. For example, a single Internet message on CompuServe cost 15 cents. A fan would pay $8.95 a month for the basic service. If you dialed in during business hours, you paid additional connection charges.   As long as it was after hours or on weekends, you paid no connect or online charges.  But each Internet message came  postage due.  The volume of mailing list email could literally nickel and dime your wallet empty.

Example CompuServe charges from 1994

                Read/Download Internet Messages:**
                first 7500 characters            $ .15 (or 25 cents in today’s money)
                additional 2500 characters       $ .05
                 ** If Internet messages are deleted without reading or automatically  
                    deleted by the system after 30 days, no charges are incurred.

                Users on CIS' Standard Pricing Plan ($8.95/mo with no connect charges for basic
                services, including e-mail) are given an electronic mail allowance of $9.00, which includes
                reading/downloading Internet messages)"

 Here is one fan who complained to a public mailing list in 1993 (message has been slightly edited)

 I love to hear from you, but PLEASE address your answers to the [mailing] list and not to me.  I simply cannot afford to pay the transfer charges every time a message is transfered from Internet to [my service provider].

 I can afford to read the [mailing] list three times a week, but if I get too many messages replying to me personally I shall simply have to stop posting.

Fans came up with creative workarounds. You might find a friend who had un-metered email and ask them to download an entire day’s worth of messages and forward it to you as a single message.  That way you could read everything and only pay for one (very long) message. And when replying, you would send all your responses back to the list in one single message.

 When digest email was introduced, the costs came down considerably and you didn’t have to bother your friends. On Virgule-L, one of the list admins ran calculations back in 1994 and here are the numbers (adjusted upwards to today’s dollars). 

In a typical month, a mailing list could generate about 600Kb of traffic.  Assuming one message per day (digest format), that would come to approximately  a total of $21/mo, or an extra $7/mo for those fans already paying the basic monthly charge. Assuming a very chatty month with 1Mb of traffic, the figure would be $32.00/month.

Note that these figures would be *much* more if the mailing list were received on a per-message basis, because each message would incur the 7500 character minimum charge of $0.25 cents, even if the message was much shorter than that.  So, assuming that you saw about 300 messages a month, and that 100 of those are 5000 characters over the 7500 minimum, the charge would be $84.00/month.  On a busy month where you would receive 500+ messages, it would be more like $115/month. 

So there you have it: the cost to subscribe to a single mailing list ranged between $32 -$115/month.

I shared this with a friend and this is what she wrote back: 

“…when people first started getting personal computers, there was all sorts of essays and comments and reactions from fans about how "online wasn't free," that everyone knew print zines cost cold hard cash but buying a computer, paying for modems, being online, ink cartridges, (some even tossed in the cost of their desks and chairs!), as an example of why the fic online wasn't actually "free," that those with computers had to put out a substantial financial outlay (which they did!), and that netfans were actually just as exclusionary regarding access as print fans. 

 But somewhere along the way, those comments completely stopped. No one now says stuff like that anymore. The cost of having computer access in one's home has been absorbed as a general cost of doing business. Today, complaining of those costs would be like complaining about having to turn a light on so you didn't have to squint at a fanwork in the dark.”

 When I attended Escapade, the slash convention the 1990s, the print fan vs net fan debate raged.  Netfans did not fare well in these discussions - net fans were elitists, running away to online places where the average fan could not afford to follow. Netfans treated fanfic as a product instead of a community gift. Net fandom encouraged Instant Gratification Mentality.  But these debates only lasted a few years. Then one year, someone at Escapade asked everyone in the room who did not have a computer to raise their hand. It was about 30% of the room. Three years later the same question was asked and one lone woman raised her hand. And thus we all became netfans. And it was good.

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2 comments or Leave a comment
talitha78 From: talitha78 Date: September 21st, 2013 04:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow, this is all stuff I did not know! Thanks for sharing it.
catalenamara From: catalenamara Date: September 26th, 2013 02:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I started online with AOL 1.0 for DOS. I never had to pay anything extra for internet messages. However, the monthly fee only covered X amount of hours per month (I don't recall how many hours; I think it was 20). In order to avoid paying overage fees, I followed the advice of other friends. AOL had an automatic download feature which would download multiple messages at once and then sign off automatically. Every time I signed on, I downloaded all the email/list mail which had come in since the last time I signed on. This only took a minute or two. Then I'd read and reply offline; go online and upload and send all my replies. And then download again.
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