The beginning of the end for free IM?

CNet is reporting that AOL is creating an additional service that will cost $1.95/month for non-subscribers in order to get skins for the AIM client.

It is unknown if AOL will ever move to a fee requirement for their popular instant messaging client, but since their acquisition of ICQ a few years back, it has been a consistent (although as-yet-unrealized) rumor.

This is a bit of a break from the strategy of rival Microsoft, that is grouping more of its programs together under a single plan in order to woo subscribers to pay larger monthly fees.

Until now, most of AOL's push has been in that direction as well, but it might be a sign that the company believes they are more likely to convert people by selling them a series of smaller services and then up-selling to the bundle (much as Verizon does with their "Big Deal" promotion).