How Much Did Those AOL CDs Cost? A Lot.

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!

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • zozzlhandler
    The ones with the silver logo made awesome guitar picks!
  • InTheCity
    Nice way to waste a butt load of oil. Douchebags.
  • tomate2
    never seen one on those before... o.O
  • tomate2
    ops... one OF those... sry for double post... xD
  • longshotthe1st
    I reformatted the floppies and used them as boot disks.
  • zipz0p
    Microwave antics and a coaster or frisbee or two (they don't fly well, but they crash superbly).
  • ChefOfDeath
    Discus throwing competitions with my friends, mostly
  • TheDuke
    i might have a cd case of them somewhere
    I had somewhere around twenty of them but don't know how many are left
  • Marco925
    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.
  • flinxsl

    I think you belong on forums not tom's hardware