I’ve mentioned before that in the 1980s I was a customer of MCI Mail, one of the commercial email pioneers. (Actually, I was two customers of MCI Mail, with an account for myself and another for a pseudonym.) And at half a buck for each message, plus $35 a year for a mailbox, spamming was too expensive to undertake.
I don’t know if Warren Meyer was ever on MCI Mail, but he’s been pointing out the same sort of thing for many years:
Long ago I proposed that (and I am not sure how to do this technically) emails should cost $0.001, or a tenth of a cent, to send. For you and I, say if we sent 200 emails a day (an email copied to 5 people would be 5 emails for this purpose) it would cost us 20 cents a day or about $75 a year, not much more than we pay for security software and updates. But if you could make it work, spam would be reduced drastically. No way there is any profit in sending an email for $.001 for an expected return of $.0002.
Now Meyer runs a business, so you may safely assume he sends a lot more email than I do; in fact, my Sent Items folder contains 9,000 items — but it goes back to 1997. By this time, I’d left MCI, else I’d have been out several thousand dollars before they folded the system in 2003.
The key, of course, is “if you could make it work”:
I have no idea in the current structure of the Internet how one would even do this. The charge would have to come from the receiving end, somehow refusing to deliver it if it does not get payment information.
I’d guess that the receiving end would have to subscribe to some sort of service to intercept incoming mail, and presumably there’d be some sort of feature with which you could whitelist friends and (some) relatives. So this scheme would likely not put any money in your pocket — but the idea of putting spammers out of business remains high on my list of desiderata.