Postmaster will shutter its free webmail service from the middle of next month because it has been unable to win enough advertising revenue.
The service, which launched in 1996 and was Europe's first free webmail offering, used to be advertised as "free for life" by former owner Bibliotech. From August 14 users will have to pay £14.99 per year to maintain their accounts.
Tim Conroy, MD of Spider Networks, which now operates the service, said the decision had to be made on purely economic grounds. He said: "Advertising revenues have plummeted. One or two advertisers promised the world and didn't deliver."
The firm is pitching its new paid-for Postmaster as faster and more reliable.
Spider Networks expects to lose many of Postmaster's tens of thousands of users of the free services before the 60 day notice period is up. Conroy said his technical team are examining if it's feasible to offer an IMAP server to ease migration of email archives to new providers.
Angry punters have attacked the decision in Postmaster's customer forums.
"I would love to be able to continue to support people for free...if I can persuade some customers to stay and pay it makes more sense for me to use the infrastructure for different things," Conroy said. Spider Networks is pushing into education network provision.
Offering ad-supported webmail is now a game for the likes of Google and Yahoo!, he added.®