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AOL, Betamax VCR and 8-Track Tape Player

Associated Press reports that stepping up its chase for online advertising dollars, AOL will give away e-mail accounts and software now available only to its paying customers in a 'strategy shift' likely to accelerate the continued decline in its core Internet access business.

The decision, announced by AOL parent Time Warner Inc., removes the few remaining reasons for AOL subscribers to keep paying when they already have high-speed Internet access through a cable or phone company. "We've listened to our customers, and many of them want to keep using these AOL products when they migrate to broadband -- but not pay extra for them," said Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner's president and chief operating officer.

The move marks 'the end of an era' for a company that grew rapidly in the 1990s by making it easy for mainstream consumers to connect online, giving millions of Americans their first (Internet on training wheels) experience of e-mail, the Web and instant messaging through discs that continually arrived unsolicited in mailboxes.

AOL subscribers have already joined the ranks of the Betamax VCR aficionado, and the 8-track tape player enthusiast. Therefore, I find it more than a little amusing that Time Warner believes that any 'informed consumer' would actually still want to be associated with the AOL brand -- by willingly being labelled as an AOL email account user.

Did anyone at Time Warner really think-through this 'strategy shift' idea with an open mind? My advice: let this brand die of 'natural causes', and then just move on.

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