Can you hear that crackling dial-up modem noise kicking around in the back of your head? If you grew up in the '90s, and you had a computer, you probably had its familiar, modulated tones in your head the moment I mentioned AOL Just pop your telephone line into your 56k modem, and voila! Internet, AOL style. Of course, in the 20-plus years since they adopted the name, a lot's changed. But one thing that's stayed the same, as it turns out, is keeping the company's profit margins afloat — 2.3 million people pay $20 each month for AOL subscriptions, according to Vox.
Which amounts to $20 per month for... An aol.com email address? A nifty piece of nostalgia to impress your hipster friends? The comfort of familiarity against the backdrop of a changing, frightening world?
Whatever the reason, it's a surprising figure — that means well over half of one percent of the American public (0.718 percent, to be more precise) still pays AOL for their internet services. It may be a minuscule number in the grand scheme of things, but its still far greater, I suspect, than most people would have guessed. Moreover, as Vox's Matthew Yglesias explains, it's a pretty damn important figure for AOL's company as a whole.
Now primarily known as a content company (they acquired The Huffington Post back in 2011), they're actually only staying in the black thanks to those 2.3 million subscribers. If tomorrow, every subscriber woke up, thought "whoa, why am I still paying for AOL," and cancelled, the company as a whole would be losing money rather than gaining it. It's an part of their business that everyone sort of thinks of as a relic of popular culture's past, and yet all along, it's been providing them an essential base of income.
Of course, it's not as though there's never a reason to sign up with them. Long after the humble 56k dial-up modem outlived its usefulness to the broader public, some people living in rural parts of the country, without high-speed internet availability, continue to turn to their phone line as a way to connect. And that makes sense — however strange it may seem in this day and age, getting online even at a snail's pace is a practical necessity. Any internet at all is better than no internet.
Doesn't that sound take you back? As Re/code notes, the company's gotten some positive press for its strong second-quarter revenue report, but it always pays to dig a little deeper into the numbers. If AOL's profitability could truly swing so drastically if their subscriber base were gutted, then it sort of seems like a matter of if, not when, and something they should be preparing for. After all, in some (incredibly lucky) parts of the United States, we're already witnessing mega-speed Google Fiber connections in action. How much longer could it really be until this part of AOL's business gets left in the dust? Like everyone kind of wrongly assumed it had already?