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America Online Inc., the largest online service, Thursday reported a profit of $15.1 million for the first three months of the year, beating Wall Street expectations.

But the company's stock fell nearly 10 percent after executives said they expect slower growth in the current quarter. They said the slowdown is partly seasonal, with people spending time outside rather than with their computers this time of year, and partly a decision by them to put more money into shoring up the AOL network rather than marketing.AOL's stock was down $6.75 to $63.26 in midday trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

Separately, AOL announced a new price option to start in July and joint venture with some leading Japanese publishers to launch an online service in Japan by the end of the year.

"We really are focused on building for the long term," Steve Case, AOL's chief executive, said in a conference call with reporters.

He said the new price option, 20 hours of monthly online access for $20, won't have a major effect on revenue.

The profit for the company's fiscal third quarter amounted to 14 cents per share, just ahead of a consensus forecast of 13 cents from a survey of analysts by Zacks Investment Service Inc. AOL had special charges amounting to $2.7 million for acquisitions and goodwill.

A year ago, the company earned $3.3 million, or 5 cents per share, in the same period. AOL had a special acquisition-related charge of $7.6 million at that time.

Revenue was $312.3 million, up from $109.1 million a year ago. AOL had revenue of $249.1 million in the last three months of 1995.

The company signed up 905,000 new subscribers in the latest three months, compared with 700,000 a year ago and 877,000 in the last three months of 1995.

AOL had 5.5 million subscribers at the end of March and should pass 6 million this week or next. It expects 6.3 million by the end of June, said Len Lender, the company's chief financial officer.

"As a result of managing the business during this period and slowing our spending during the June quarter after six months of explosive growth, we expect to see somewhat slower growth," Lender said.