Pay Per Email

from the let's-think-this-through... dept

Someone over at ClickZ thinks he’s solved the whole “how to make money on the interent problem”. He thinks we should all be charged per email we send out. He actually comes up with a list of online services he’s willing to pay for, and email is one of them. Here’s my basic problem with this premise: if suddenly we have to pay for everything that we do on the internet, just to do the normal stuff that people do, we’re going to end up with ridiculously high internet bills – and then no one will use the internet any more. Part of the reason the internet is so useful and has become so popular is that it works as a great information source, at a very low cost. If everyone starts chaging for everything, then people will have to drastically limit what they do on the internet, and none of the sites that actually charge will even get enough money to stay in business. At the same time, fewer and fewer people will use the internet as much. So, the end result is basically killing off the internet anyway. The flat fee encourages usage – which in turn, makes the system more valuable. By cutting this off and charging for it – suddenly it’s less valuable, since fewer people will use it, meaning I’ll want to pay less. It’s a death spiral.

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Comments on “Pay Per Email”

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ScooterBoy says:

Re: Technolgically Possible?

well.. not doing something because “it’s hard” isn’t exactly a great reason. phone companies have been charging per-use fees over a distributed system for years now. when cellphone (and sat-phone) companies came into play, it added even more complication to the billing systems. The fees you pay for your phone bills are divided among the all of the carriers and transit providers involved. I can see a similar model for email.

szap says:

Re: Technolgically Possible?

Sure you can, from an ISP’s point of view. Block the SMTP port, force everyone from that ISP to use the ISP’s “approved” SMTP server. Correlate IP address
and account, and charge accordingly.

And that’s the kneejerk answer which does not take into account various ways of bypassing it, nor the ISP’s customers quickly switching to another ISP, webbased emails, and other points mentioned in todd’s post.

What you’d get is clueless people, e.g the ClickZ guy, paying extra for some “value-added-
service” by the ISP (virus scan, maybe). The
rest of us will get a good laugh.

alternatives says:

I demand a grandfather clause

When *I* started using e-mail, we had to know what machines talked to what machines.

So it would look something like this:


Given how long I have been using e-mail, I will demand I be grandfathered at 0 cost.

Now, ig clikz-knob wants to be useful WRT e-mail, start charging spammers.

Duffman says:

Chain letter

I received a chain letter a year and a bit back about Canada Post beginning to charge for emails, as they are losing money because people aren’t using snail mail anymore. There were actually so many people convinced that this was ready to pass as law that the national government had to issue a press release saying that there was not, and never had been, any such bill.

todd says:


I love it when someone dabbles with net economics. About as much as I love democrats dabbling with taxation.

Bandwidth used for e-mail has to be a ridiculous fraction of bandwidth used for surfing. Sort of like charging someone for a meal based on how much water they drank.

Since this gentleman has started down the slippery slope, I’ll start the hose to help him to the bottom.

First some caveats: price and cost don’t necesarily need to be correlated. Generally, as we know, price must exceed cost for a company to hope to turn a profit. The question of how to price doesn’t necessarily depend on how costs are generated.

The variable costs of sending an e-mail are zero plus epsilon. The sending ISP generally does not keep outbound e-mail very long on their mail servers, so there is a temporary storage cost associated with housing a sent mail on an SMTP server. There are also de minimus transmission costs and variable monitoring costs associated associated with heavy volume senders, so suffice it to say that a low-volume sender generates next to zero cost for their ISP.

Receiving behavior is another story. Infrequent mail-checkers actually cost their ISPs much more than frequent mail-checkers at the same level of mail volume (in the form of storage costs). Think of it as an inventory backlog versus JIT. You leave 10 meg of mail on your ISP’s POP server for a month — that has a cost. If you check every 5 minutes, however, the storage cost is virtually nil. Now someone will say that the cost of having a server respond every 5 minutes may outstrip the cost of storage for a month. Possible, but that merely puts a balance point in the equation and we can use inventory planning theory to find that optimal point.

So when I send an e-mail to Mike, why should I pay anything? Don’t know. Mike should pay something to receive his mail, but the cost Mike incurs is potentially inversely related to the frequency with which Mike checks his e-mail. Why should Mike’s behavioral costs flow to me? Don’t know.

Prove to me that “it’s broke” and then we’ll talk about fixing it.

Duffman says:

Re: Absurd

What would be ideal is to tax spammers – OK, you can send out your junk mail to whoever you want, but you have to pay $0.10 per email, or however much. Of course, then you have to define spam, blah blah blah, but in the idea stages it sounds kind of fun. Who know spammers would eventually fund the Internet?

ScooterBoy says:

Re: Re: Absurd

Yes.. email uses a tiny bit of bandwidth, but it’s measureable. I’m not saying to charge a HUGE amount for email — it could even be something like… $0.0000001 per email or something ridiculous like that.. cheap enough that I wouldn’t fret about sending out an email, but enough that bandwidth providers could make some money, and enough to make Spammers think twice.

todd says:

Re: Re: Re: Absurd

Scooter, I see your point. You are looking for a way to tax spammers, and I can understand that. I neglected that completely.
The only problem is that you would have to ensure everyone charges for e-mail, and lock down all the SMTP servers in the world.
Right now, spammers look for open relays to send their spawn — go to to check out a database of known open relays (with 30 day delay so that spammers can’t really use this to find new relays).
So until ISPs all over the world (and their customers) figure out how to secure their relays, no economics can save us from spam.
I won’t claim to know more than 10% of the technology at hand in this issue, but agreed that once the locks are in place, some pricing could help.

SMSMon* says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Absurd

Hang a second here. Think about SMS messaging. OK, out there in the boonies (i.e. the USA) it is no big thing, but in the rest of the world it is huge. And it is not free. It uses almost no bandwidth and the message size is tiny, yet it costs a lot – almost pure profit for the carriers in fact. Now, I am not suggesting that paying for email is a good idea – in fact it is so terrible and stupid that I expect that Bush will be right behind it from now on – but only pointing out that there is a world where people are already paying for their email and it is getting bigger all the time.

Joshua W says:

No Subject Given

I dont agree with this one bit. Whoever wrote this obviously has no networking experience and most likely has no idea how a mail server is ran. First off, it would be impossible, I will tell you why. You cant really track and pinpoint a user sending an email efficient enough to charge them. Spoofed IPs could be an issue along with anonymous proxys. An incoming mail server might be able to capture an IP but that doesnt tell too much and could possibly be checked through the ISPs logs checking which user logged on and when, and basicly be too much work for what its worth, and there is still the problem of Spoofed IPs, people getting charged when they didnt email. so that way wouldnt work. Another way would be by the email address you might think? Well Email addresses are easily spoofed, most Spam programs randomly generate and email address, also unless you have some web based email, the address really doesnt matter. I dont need to authenticate my email address to send an email. So that obviously wouldnt work. So its down to 1 thing, the SMTP server, the “Outgoing” mail server. The only way that would work is to have every SMTP server an authenticating type server weather it be your IP, or redo every mail client out there which we know is impossible and people useing older programs would be able to bypass it. Another reason why it wouldnt work is because you dont even need to use your ISPs SMTP server. Some email spam programs have built in SMTP server, Makes random emails, changes the subject around, you name it, it does it. Anything in the past with build in SMTP support, like almost every UNIX type, NT, windows, would all have to be erased because people can always make there own SMTP server and use it, just as I am right now. There is no way to do it and even if they did figure out a way there would be ways around it and the only people really getting charged are the poor saps that dont know any better. It would just be a mess. If you hate spam that much you should recommend Spam cop or some type of program to the admin at your incoming mail server, or an email program that can filter it out. I personaly dont care, I have a delete button, what do I care if there is a get rich quick scheme in my email, if anything it gives me something to laugh at.


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