E-mail Service Providers Band Together

Concerned that the war on spam has left some of their customers suffering collateral damage, e-mail marketers banded together on Tuesday to form a coalition to fight for their interests.

Under the aegis of the National Advertising Initiative (NAI), 19 of the top permission e-mail providers have formed the E-mail Service Provider Coalition. The group will bring a unified voice to issues facing e-mail marketers, such as legitimate e-mail marketing messages getting caught up in leading Internet service providers’ spam filters and state legislatures pushing anti-spam measures that impede e-mail marketing.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen this far, spam has been a bipolar debate,” said Trevor Hughes, the NAI’s executive director. “You’re either a spammer or not. It’s been dysfunctional because it hasn’t had a full understanding of the market.”

Together, the e-mail service providers deliver e-mail messages on behalf of 250,000 customers. Most of the biggest names in the industry are represented, including DoubleClick, Topica and Yesmail. Hughes will serve as executive director of the coalition. The steering committee will include reprsentatives from DoubleClick, Digital Impact, iMakeNews and Experian.

Hughes said the coalition would pursue a legislative agenda for the permission-based e-mail marketing industry, encouraging solutions to the problem of spam that do not hinder the e-mail marketing industry. It will push the group’s viewpoint when state governments consider legislation to fight spam, he said, such as the Missouri state legislature’s recent attempt to mimic its “do not call” list in the e-mail space.

“We hope to educate public policy members on this industry so they understand its importance,” he said.

The coalition will represent their collective viewpoint on a variety of other fronts. Hughes said the coalition would focus on blacklists that unfairly net e-mail marketers; ISPs whose anti-spam measures keep their members from receiving marketing messages they requested; and new e-mail programs like Outlook 11 that might also adversely affect the industry.

“This is a group committed to coming up with solutions,” he said.

Hans Peter Brondmo, a fellow at online direct marketing firm Digital Impact, said the formation of the coalition was an important first step in bringing the e-mail marketing community together around a set of agreed-upon business practices.

“We believe what we need to do is stand up and say that’s there’s a set of rules and regulations that everyone needs to follow,” he said.

Hughes said the coalition could eventually become a vehicle for setting industry standards, but it was still early in the process.

“Clearly one of the solutions being considered is self-regulatory standards,” he said.

The industry’s coalescence comes as spam has risen from an annoyance to a plague. According to Brightmail, a maker of spam-fighting software, its Probe Network peaked in December 2002, capturing more than 5.9 million spam attacks. Jupiter Research, which is owned by the parent company of this Web site, estimates that the average e-mail user will be subjected to 3,900 pieces of spam a day by 2006.

The spam deluge has been a blemish on an otherwise bright area for the interactive marketing industry. E-mail marketing held up strongly during the pronounced online advertising downturn, growing into at $1.4 billion industry in 2002, according to Jupiter Research. By 2007, e-mail marketing is forecast to take in $8.3 in revenues, as more companies see the value of e-mail for customer retention.

With customers increasingly outraged over wasting time deleting message after message for discount mortgages and pornography, the use of spam filters has exploded, while Internet service providers have looked to protect their users. Both AOL and MSN, when rolling out competing new Internet services packages in the fall, trumpeted their spam-fighting capabilities.

However, according to many e-mail marketers, many of these anti-spam measures have unfairly hurt legitimate marketers, either by unfairly identifying their messages as spam or by shunting their marketing messages off to a “junk mail” folder.

“The efficacy of the medium, and even the viability of the medium, is threatened by spam,” Brondmo said.

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