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Do Not E-mail plan won't work

In response to the Sept. 10 Perspectives column by William Blundon, "The next threat to start-ups":

William Blundon argues that Do Not Call/E-mail lists "raise the cost of doing business as marketing is forced to move to more expensive channels to acquire new customers." He also claims environmental costs (more direct mail) and, of course, loss of telemarketing jobs. He also throws in a number of unrelated issues, which can be summarized as "starting a company is hard." Been there, done that; but they have nothing to do with his core argument.

First of all, his premise is faulty. He makes his argument using the assumption that these lists are going to force companies to change their existing behavior. But most legitimate companies do not make unsolicited phone calls, and no legitimate company has ever made unsolicited e-mail the basis of its marketing. New companies have largely realized (or very quickly learn) that the benefits of unsolicited e-mail are far outweighed by the damage it does to your company name. Blundon has created a problem that doesn't exist. Do Not Mail lists don't take away marketing opportunities, they restrict opportunities that are not currently used, and which should not be used in the future.

The thing that Blundon, and many folks on Capitol Hill, just don't get is that unsolicited e-mail does not scale. Some people argue that nobody minds getting news about legitimate products, it's the illegitimate stuff they don't want. That sounds nice in theory, but in practice it doesn't work. There are hundreds of thousands of companies who would just love to get your ear. If Congress legitimizes bulk e-mail, they'll be happy to give it a try. If you have to tell all those companies individually that you don't want their e-mail, you'll be spending your entire day, every day, clicking on "unsubscribe" links. And, of course, the illegitimate spam will keep coming as well.

That said, Blundon is correct about one thing. Do Not E-mail lists are the wrong answer. E-mail is not like the phone system. In the phone system everyone knows what the numbers are; they just don't know who owns them. A list of people who don't want to be called is not intrinsically valuable. But a list of e-mail addresses that don't want spam contains very valuable information. It tells the spammer which addresses are valid. (And no, using checksums or a validation system doesn't help--spammers can still use them to clean their lists or to throw a series of automatically generated e-mail addresses against it.) The illegitimate spammers don't care if you don't want to receive their e-mail--after all, virtually nobody wants to now, and the spammers keep sending it. A Do Not E-mail list isn't going to change that at all.

So, does a Do Not E-mail list hurt a start-up's chance of success? Nonsense. At worst, it keeps them from wasting time and effort on something they shouldn't have been doing in the first place. But it's no more a restriction of their free speech and marketing opportunityies than telling them they can't barge into my house and lecture me for 20 minutes. Is a Do Not E-mail list a good solution to the spam problem? No, it's not likely to change anything at all.

Kee Hinckley
Winchester, Mass.