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How Much Did Those AOL CDs Cost? A Lot.

By - Source: TechCrunch | B 98 comments

Sweet, free shiny thing!

If you were computing at all in the 1990s, you should remember those AOL discs (or disks) that would frequently show in your mailbox. Surely printing up all those CDs and mailing them out to millions of people couldn't have been cheap – and they weren't.

A question of Quora asked: "How much did it cost AOL to distribute all those CDs back in the 1990's?"

Amazingly, AOL's co-founder Steve Case answered with the following response:

"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 subscribrs. As we were able to lower the cost of disks/trial/etc we were able to ramp up marketing. (Plus, we knew Microsoft was coming and it was never going to be easier or cheaper to get market share.) When we went public in 1992 we had less than 200,000 subscribers; a decade later the number was in the 25 million range. …"

It may have cost a lot, but it certainly worked to build AOL into a nationwide force in the business.

Former Chief Marketing Officer at AOL, Jan Brandt, chimed in with a number and a staggering fact:

"Over $300 million :-) 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."

What did you do with all the free AOL CDs you received in the mail? Did you make crafts out of them? Did you use them to make neat light shows inside your microwave? Drink coasters at your computer desk? Tell us in the comments below!

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  • 4 Hide
    zozzlhandler , December 28, 2010 4:09 AM
    The ones with the silver logo made awesome guitar picks!
  • -7 Hide
    InTheCity , December 28, 2010 4:20 AM
    Nice way to waste a butt load of oil. Douchebags.
  • -1 Hide
    tomate2 , December 28, 2010 4:27 AM
    never seen one on those before... o.O
  • -4 Hide
    tomate2 , December 28, 2010 4:27 AM
    ops... one OF those... sry for double post... xD
  • 9 Hide
    longshotthe1st , December 28, 2010 4:33 AM
    I reformatted the floppies and used them as boot disks.
  • 6 Hide
    zipz0p , December 28, 2010 4:35 AM
    Microwave antics and a coaster or frisbee or two (they don't fly well, but they crash superbly).
  • 4 Hide
    ChefOfDeath , December 28, 2010 4:36 AM
    Discus throwing competitions with my friends, mostly
  • 2 Hide
    TheDuke , December 28, 2010 4:37 AM
    i might have a cd case of them somewhere
    I had somewhere around twenty of them but don't know how many are left
  • 3 Hide
    Marco925 , December 28, 2010 4:48 AM
    When my dad cut off internet thinking it wasn't necessary to save money, i used one of those 6-month discs to extend my life further, sure it was dialup but it was better than nothing.

    AOL helped me through 6 months of my life.
  • 3 Hide
    flinxsl , December 28, 2010 4:53 AM

    I think you belong on forums not tom's hardware
  • 7 Hide
    jerreece , December 28, 2010 5:14 AM
    The 3.5" floppy disks were awesome. AOL sent me one every now and again. I'd format them and use them for DOS boot disks. :)  Hardly ever had to buy floppy disks!
  • 0 Hide
    yao , December 28, 2010 5:19 AM
    I received a lot of such CDs.
    They arrived too frequent than needed.
  • 1 Hide
    alhanelem , December 28, 2010 5:29 AM
    what are AOL CD's?
  • 2 Hide
    alextheawesome , December 28, 2010 5:32 AM
    I remember those showing up in the mail all the time. And I was only around 6 years old or younger.
  • 1 Hide
    iLLz , December 28, 2010 5:41 AM
    I must have received at least 50 or more back in the day. Every time they updated the AOL software they sent one. I always got trial disks even though we paid for the services. They would also send one for different members of the household. It was ridiculous. They made ok, coasters for the computer desk so no liquid stains on the wood. I know someone who made ornaments out of them (go figure). Those were the days of highly contrasting colorful webpages. Yahoo was ugly as shit back then. I believe there is a site that shows you what different websites looked like back then, but I don't remember what it is.
  • 4 Hide
    aaron88_7 , December 28, 2010 5:48 AM
    InTheCityNice way to waste a butt load of oil. Douchebags.

    A handful of highly efficient Prius cars would consume far more oil than producing all those discs. Considering most people don't drive vehicles nearly as efficient, I'd say it's a bit hypocritical to criticize a major corporation for their marketing efforts when the criticizee is consuming more oil for their own personal uses.

    Let's not forget that AOL played a major role in developing the internet for mass appeal. In the mid 90's if you wanted the internet you usually got AOL. I still remember the day they stopped charging by the minute and gave everyone unlimited use. It took forever to get through to their overloaded network....but unlimited internet access, mmmmm now it it's hard to believe we used to pay by the minute!
  • -1 Hide
    iamtheking123 , December 28, 2010 5:49 AM
    And look where it got them...nowadays no one uses them except maybe for AIM (if that's still owned by AOL) but beyond that they're nothing.
  • 0 Hide
    ben850 , December 28, 2010 5:59 AM
    I remember back in the day i created a program that would automate their "invitation" feature which allowed you to send trial cd's to a specified address. Good times, good times.

    To think i was only 10 years old..
  • 1 Hide
    hemelskonijn , December 28, 2010 6:48 AM
    Being from Europe and old enough to remember the 90's this article takes me back to a time when indeed at least weekly i got a disk from an ISP of some sort or another. AOL was far from limited to the united states though granted i only got a disk from them about once each month (every magazine had one folded in). The others where from 'het net', 'Ilse', 'zon net' and 'planet internet' et cetera. Some providers where kind enough to provide some use full tools on their spam CD-ROM's like the newest versions of IE Netscape and later even Eudora and updates for common software as well as adobe reader and such. When they first start shipping them there was little to no use full software on them so i usually dumped them in the bin pretty fast however later on i would keep a stack around to give to friends who needed the updates or software on them since the CD-ROM's and floppy's that where actually loaded with shareware and demo's that came with the same magazines usually had one or two interesting things on them i wanted to keep around myself.
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