IQ News: New Lease on Life For AOL’s CompuServe

Hoping to revive its dwindling share of the proprietary online service market, Columbus, Ohio-based CompuServe today will launch the new version of its service, called CompuServe 2000. The global launch is the most significant upgrade of the service since CompuServe was acquired by Dulles, Va.-based online powerhouse America Online Inc. last February.
“We see this launch as a revolutionary change of the service, not an evolutionary one,” said CompuServe COO Audrey Weil.
The upgrade from the service’s current 4.0 version will include a new pricing plan of $9.95 per month for 20 hours of usage or $19.95 per month for unlimited use, plus a faster, revamped network.
Targeted at a more affluent, adult consumer that also spends less time online than members of its sibling, AOL, Weil said that CompuServe also hopes to continue building membership through its vertical markets, such as airline pilots and physicians, as well as make getting online for newbies easier and faster.
Still, company officials stressed that the new, streamlined interface was aimed at pleasing both newcomers and tech-oriented long-time CompuServe users.
“Packaging is critical,” said Bob Kington, vice president of programming. “But we were very careful about not dumbing down the service.” Kington stressed that CompuServe will continue to be “very deep” but making it simple, intuitive and functional was paramount for the new launch.
Promotion for CompuServe 2000 will include radio, print and national cable TV buys, plus a wide distribution disc mailing similar to AOL disc mailers.
CompuServe, once the leading online service, saw its membership decline markedly from its peak of over 3 million before it was purchased by AOL. Right now, the service has 2 million users. Current users can upgrade to the new 2000 product, but Kington said those who prefer to use earlier versions will be able to do so. “We don’t want people to change if they don’t want to.”
Even though the new service has similarities to AOL–AOL’s “Buddy List,” for example, has been recast as a “Contact List” on CompuServe–company officials are adamant about targeting CompuServe toward a different market. “AOL is like USA Today and CompuServe strives to be like The New York Times,” Weil said.