Doublespeak of the Week: AOL “Highlights” Declines in Revenue

Nicholas Carlson wants you to know the full extent to which doublespeak is used by AOL. To that end, he’s reprinted a chart that AOL drew up for their recent earnings call. The chart is titled, in big, bold letters, “AOL Highlights”. This gets funnier, I promise.

The total number of subscribers was down, total revenue was down, and of course, total profit was down. But that didn’t stop AOL from trying to make things look good, at least to the average layperson. It’s hard to absorb what lengths AOL went to to obscure the facts without seeing the chart, so here it is:

AOL earnings call figures, Nov. 2009

To anyone who saw the chart without hearing the earnings call, it might look like AOL had a banner year: there are no negative numbers, and growth appears to be up in all categories.

But, wait.

2009’s figures, which are lower, are on the left, while 2008’s much higher figures are on the right. If you read charts the way most people do (from left to right) without looking at the dates, you will certainly think subscription, advertising, and all other forms of revenue are up – especially since they’re listed under the “Growth” column.

But the “Growth” column figures are purely negative. They’re not expressed as such (AOL used no minus signs). By the time I was done reading this chart, I was impressed, but probably not in the way AOL would want me to be: it’s the most unintentionally amusing thing AOL has released in a long time (but AIM 6.9 comes really close).

To break it down…

AOL is continuing to suck. To put the missing negative values back into focus, year over year:

  • Subscription revenue dropped 29%
  • Total ad revenue dropped 18%
  • “Other” revenue dropped 14%
  • Total of all revenue dropped 23%
  • Operating income dropped 40% (ouch!)
  • AOL made only half a billion. Maybe less.

Getting all that out in the open makes me feel so much better.

6 thoughts on “Doublespeak of the Week: AOL “Highlights” Declines in Revenue

  1. Stupid Accounting Tricks
    In most bookkeeping systems, () around a number means it’s negative. So they even did show that — albeit in a way that’s opaque to anyone who’s not a CPA.


  2. Re: AOL is now Aol.
    Thanks for that. AOL is in fact Aolol. now. Their rebranding strategy is in effect as of today. I even made a picture to commemorate this exciting time. It makes me excited, too, since I figure there’s about a year left before Aolol. dips below one million paying subscribers – and when that finally happens, my so-called “workload” should lighten considerably. πŸ™‚
    Check out some of my recent email for an example of what I can’t wait to see stop:

    (from PER @ my mom chose to accept an aol update and the printer connection is messed up. i’ve read a little where people have the same problem. you are instructed to uninstall then reinstall. i’m not really sure exactly what you should do but people could not re-establish their printer connections. we have had aol from the star through a buddy relationship with verizon.
    what’s your best advice to us? our rates have never increased except for when we got broadband.

    And this (from Phil

    You are extremely right about the Nightmare of AOL (editor’s note – hell yeah, I’m extremely right!). They should be shut down. Any ideas about how I can make their auto-dialer go away? It pops up on the screen about 3 times a minute, interrupting my typing and browsing on Chrome. I have stripped it of all connecting numbers (I have a non-aol high speed Internet connection through Comcast) and checked OFF every option the dialer provides, but it just will not stop intruding on everything I do. Could it be in the toolbar?
    anyway, thanks for your efforts.

    I might eventually do something with Phil’s email, like write a post that I wouldn’t have written otherwise in answer to it, but in general I just don’t answer email from existing AOL users who don’t plan on leaving AOL.
    If not for the fact that I still get more email from people who are leaving (or who have already left) AOL than I do from people who are sticking with it, I would not even choose to run this blog or receive such email anymore. Which brings me back to my original point… πŸ™‚


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