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Diet of spam may kill our taste for e-mail

November 5, 2001 

Spam sucks more resources than just the time needed to clear it out of the e-mail in-box – personal and professional sacrifices that are likely to grow even more burdensome.

E-mail has proven a highly effective way to communicate with consumers, and there are signs that anthrax fears have made the snail-mail alternative less attractive. But the online influx of sales pitches about everything from pastry to pornography promises to become even more cumbersome and expensive to manage. E-mail transmissions will grow by 45 percent through 2002, research firm Gartner estimates.

A good portion of those messages will be unsolicited pitches that contribute to the roughly one hour a day that Gartner says the average worker spends managing e-mail on the company’s dime. Spam also wreaks havoc for computer users at home: as download times grow longer, so do phone bills for those whose ISPs charge by the minute.

There’s a price to pay even for “unlimited use” consumers: ISPs must develop tools and services to block spam. Between $2 and $3 of a consumer’s monthly Internet bill helped pay for spam-blocking tools, according to one 1998 report released by a technology task force set up by Washington legislators.

And that cost is growing every year, said Margie Arbon, manager of market and business development for the spam-fighting Mail Abuse Prevention System.

“Spam amounts to sending someone a message with postage due or making a collect telemarketing call,” Arbon said. “Marketers are shifting the cost of distribution to the recipient and to everyone in the middle (the ISP), and we’re determined to stop that.”

Arbon says many problems would be solved if more marketers adopted permission marketing strategies – essentially agreeing to send information only to consumers who request it. Entire companies like Chicago-based YesMail are based on that marketing philosophy, but the industry as a whole is still struggling with the concept, said Ian Oxman, a member of task force appointed to study the issue by the Direct Marketing Association.

“A lot of (marketers) get it, but a lot don’t,” Oxman said. “They still want to apply the same rules they use for bulk mail to e-mail. The name of the game to them is numbers. They don’t have to worry about the cost of postage, and so they send their messages to as many millions of addresses as they can.”

The ill-focused, scattershot approach decreases the effectiveness of e-mail marketing for everyone, Oxman said.

“If Disney plays by the rules, but its e-mail gets sandwiched in an in-box between the $69 time-share no one asked to read about and the porn, it’s going to get tossed out,” he said.

by By Christine Tatum. Copyright © 2001, The Chicago Tribune

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