A share 'giveaway' is the latest marketing ploy to get users to sign up to free ISP services.
Driven by the success of Freeserve, which announced its intention to float this week, (see Newswire 7 June), Themutual.net hopes to woo customers with the attraction of shares in the business.
"It's a good gimmick and one that might prove successful," said David Pringle, senior analyst at the Yankee Group Europe.
Themutual.net will give away 50 per cent of the company by issuing 2.1 billion units, each convertible to a share if the ISP is profitable and then sold or floated on the stock market, where their equity could start earning.
There is, however, no timescale or guarantee for when subscribers might make any money, as it is fully dependant on the uptake and the revenue generated from telephone calls and advertising, explained Martin Jones, spokesperson for Themutual.net. Not to mention whether the company ever floats.
As the free ISP market is swamped with very similar offerings, Jones believes a combination of impelling content and the chance be part of a cooperative in a growing business will attract users. The company has a number of partnerships with content providers lined up but would not reveal them at this stage.
The ISP behind the service is Telinco which also provides the Sun newspaper's access service currantbun.com.
Potential shareholders are being urged to pre-register for their free allocation by submitting their email address at the company's site on www.themutual.co.uk.
This would be an excellent way to build up a valuable database of email addresses that the company could spam or sell off to a third party, but the company insists it will not be doing anything underhand.
"Spamming is not cool," said Jones, "And we will not be selling off email addresses or doing anything else to alienate our subscribers."
Like many Web businesses however, Themutual.net could to track user habits and build a profile to enable its advertisers to target their offerings, which some users may find intrusive.
When the service goes live in mid July the first 10,000 subscribers will be allocated 10,000 units each. The next 500,000 will be allocated 1,000 units and the following one million customers will get 500 units and so on until all the 2.1 billion units are snapped up.
Pringle at Yankee Group warns however that the honeymoon period will soon be over for the current crop of ISPs.
"The longer term danger for all ISPs is broadband and high speed access through mobile phones and digital TV. There will always be a market for today's ISPs but they won't have a significant portion of it," he said.
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