Companies will soon have to buy the electronic equivalent of a postage stamp if they want to be certain that their e-mail will be delivered to many of their customers.
America Online and Yahoo, two of the world’s largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from a quarter of a cent to 1 cent each to have them delivered. The Internet companies say this will help them identify legitimate mail and cut down on junk e-mail, identity-theft scams and other scourges of users of their services.
AOL and Yahoo will still accept e-mail from senders who have not paid, but the paid messages will be given special treatment. On AOL, for example, they will go straight to users’ main mailboxes and will not have to pass the gauntlet of spam filters that could divert them to a special bulk e-mail box or strip them of images and Web links.