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About.com Scraps Free E-mail; Webhosting

By Ryan Naraine

Forced to deal with an extended ad market recession that has hurt revenues, New York-based niche topic portal About.com has joined the list of Internet companies scrapping freebie offerings to Web users.

The Primedia-owned company said it would no longer offer free e-mail and free Web page hosting on its network. Instead, subscribers must pony up $29.95 a year to use About WebMail Pro, a premium service to be launched on December 15.

"E-mail is essentially a portal feature and we're not a portal," About.com general manager Mark Josephson told atNewYork. "Our users can keep their e-mail addresses but it's going to a paid service, like the personal Web page hosting service."

The premium WebMail service would include enhancements like 25 MB of e-mail storage, POP3 mail account to allow access through mail clients including Microsoft Outlook, Netscape Mail and Eudora.

As of December 17, Josephson said the free About SiteBuilder service, which allowed Internet users to build and maintain personal Web sites, would also be scrapped and users are being directed to the ZDNet's Sitebuilder platform, which is a premium offering.

"ZDNet uses the same Trellix technology that powered About SiteBuilder, and we've created a tool that will allow you to easily move your entire account, with all web sites intact, from About to ZDNet," the company said in an e-mail to Web page owners.

Users also have the option to convert to Freeservers.com, another paid Web hosting firm.

The About.com migration to paid services comes on the heels of a restructuring at the network of approximately 450 topic-specific Web sites.

In September, the company shaved its workforce and unveiled plans for a big jump into the e-commerce space.

About.com is under pressure from Primedia to stem the flow of losses, especially after the publishing giant was forced to implement deep staff cuts and a freeze on salaries and hiring.

With its unprofitable Internet subsidiaries (including About.com) performing poorly, Primedia reported net losses of $293 million ($1.29 per share) in the most recent quarter, more than 400 percent wider than the $56.3 million in losses in the same year-ago period.