Why You Should Pay for Your Email

By | October 20, 2008


Screenshot from Search Engine Journal.

(update Dec 2011: Aliencamel is now more, unfortunately, and Fastmail has been sold to Opera.)

Using free email accounts like Gmail is commonplace, but not without risk. As Loren Baker, an editor at SearchEngine Journal, found to his cost, when Google disabled his account without warning. (At the time of writing there’s no explanation why his account was suspended, nor whether it had been resolved.)

The comments are supportive, but also point out the dangers of relying on a free service for business. This point, in particular, struck home; when it’s “free”, we’re not really the customers, except insofaras we’re the recipient of ads:

[such services] see the money coming from the investors rather than the users. Without monetary payment they are not even “customers”.

So what are the alternatives? Well, hosted email makes a lot of sense. If you’ve got your own domain, better to use that. But there’s also paid email services which, until Gmail came along, were where the smart users usually went.

So I asked a couple of them, AlienCamel and Fastmail, to give me five reasons why paid email services are better than free. Here’s what they had to say:

Here are Sydney Low’s of AlienCamel:

  1. No ads, no robots crawling through personal stuff
  2. Email infrastructure is expensive, you get what you pay for
  3. We backup your emails in US and in Europe
  4. Our spam blocking technology – pending email advisory – is patented and unique
  5. We’re limiting our growth to 2500 accounts – so it’ll always be fast and good

As a follow-up I asked him to elaborate on the last point: the logical thing would be that a larger provider would provide better support. His response:

Syd: scaling email backend is not linear – to go from about 3000 accounts and have the features and backup/redundancy, we would have to build a platform that would go to 10-20,000 accounts as a fixed cost business, we would need to not only spend $ on the infrastructure, we would have to spend $$$ on marketing to get the customers to pay for that infrastructure so, the business grows in complexity, cost, and we lose the closeness to the customer.

Jeremy: so a ’boutique’ email service is probably a better bet, in your view, than a mega one?

Syd: I believe so.

Here’s what Jeremy Howard of Fastmail had to say (abbreviated for space and fairness). Fastmail has been in the business a while, and is the provider of choice for those groups like Falun Gong who fear hacking by nefarious agents of the enemy (Chinese government, cough): 

  1. Support. FastMail has help for for pre-sales/configuration help and ongoing help
  2. Specialization. Free accounts are all about maximising ad revenue, not maximising your productivity
  3. Archival and compliance: FastMail provides 2 levels of archival – journalling of all of a business’s sent/received mail to a separate (searchable) archive mailbox, and on-line per-folder backups which can be used to restore a complete folder on demand. Also: searchable, complete, unmodifiable journal of all sent and received email for compliance.
  4. Supervision and control of staff’s use of business email, for security, policy-enforcement, and training purposes.
  5. Reliability.  Every email on FastMail’s systems has five levels of redundancy – Redundent HDD storage (i.e. RAID) on both a primary and real-time replica system, plus a complete on-line backup (accessible at a per-folder level).

It’s interesting stuff. It also highlights how we are perhaps being a bit too cavalier with the most important part of our lives—email has crossed the line between private and business, so many of us use our email accounts for both (Palin, cough.) Given that, we need to think hard about how we use that email, and whether free email is a false economy.

8 thoughts on “Why You Should Pay for Your Email

  1. Affiliate Program Chaser

    No matter if it’s email, hosting or any other service, if you are serious about your business, you definitely should use paid services before the free ones. Period.

  2. Lafayette Howell

    I am actually researching this now, the value of charging “up-front” for a mobile application that we are developing. What’s interesting is that going through the exercise on “why should” or “would someone pay’ for our service helps make your biz case stronger, easier to understand, more believable and simple for customers to buy in.

    If a provider is giving away something for free, they can stop at anytime also sans MSN, Yahoo, GMail.

    There is minimal risk for the service provider or developer going the free route. They simply go away. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have built entire business models around “free” and could now charge, because the whole advertising model is getting kinda old and not very lucrative in real dollars for the traffic needed and the scant conversions.

    Paying though has to be more about features and “value”. In relation to your post, average users don’t really care about the features you mentioned above–especially a new college grad, or grandparent using to exchange photos. Your piece triggered some valuable thought however, so thanks.

  3. Den

    It’s always better to have a paid service. Many people have blogs and they don’t understand the benefits from paid hosting + own domain name (brand), including email service and forwarding.

  4. Kathy

    I don’t like how Google scan my email content for advertiser.
    I’ll look at Fastmail, hopefully they will suit my need.

  5. Charlie

    All of the above is why I chose CrazyMails.com. They are a Custom Email business with hundreds of domain names to choose from. Not really for professional use, but for that I use my company email account. But I was tired of having a free mail address for my private email. I love offroading and got myself a jeep-driver.com email address. Going through the hassle of buying a domain name and setting everything up isnt my thing. I now pay something like 1Dollar per month which is fair enough!

  6. Andrea

    Who out there has paid for email, and what lead to your decision to purchase instead of using a free service?

    Working on a Windows desktop email app now called Mailbird, which is not an easy project when other mega corporations offer it for free. We’d like to be able to improve online correspondence from multiple accounts ranging from personal to business. What if email and the team behind it is focused on users, offers specific functionality, value, and choice instead of a blanket general product?

  7. John Chatham

    I am SO SICK of having the gmail “bot” tell me that I have entered a wrong email address or password when I am in the most perfect hunt and peck mode when entering these areas. Sometimes I am on an extremely expensive time line I just cannot afford the suffering of fools….

    I will buy a pay-for email as soon as I can find a good one.


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