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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Why Does the Junk Mail Industry Refuse to Reveal Name and Personal Data Sales Revenue?

The Direct Marketing Assn. (DMA) has just issued its study, “U.S. Direct Marketing Today: Economic Impact 2005,” with figures on most revenue centers in junk mail. Except, that is…the money that is made from the sale of your name and personal data.

Statistics headlined in Direct, an industry publication, trumpets “DM Sales to Hit $1.85 Trillion.” It does not say how many consumer names, addresses, and private information it will take to achieve this goal. I can. Millions. In my best estimate, the junk mail list industry garnered approximately $4 billion off your namesake and personal data in 2004. They do this annually and have, for several years.

Some other figures in the study include 10.6 million jobs in junk mail. There is no breakdown of list business employment, but I can personally attest to the fact that at the annual conventions, the list people appeared to dominate the gathering. Schmoosing, brown-nosing, trying to prevent their clients from talking to other junk mailers. There’s an old saying about list brokers: they are called prostitutes because they’ll do anything to make the sale.

Here’s another fact that is both surprising and bewildering at the same time. Spending on telemarketing, at $47 billion, topped the list of expenditures by medium. This, when the National Do Not Call Registry has grown to over 100 million telephone numbers, with 675,000 complaints filed in 2004. I’m guessing that with this budget, there will be a lot more complaints in 2005.

But why is the junk mail industry so silent, actually downright secretive, about what is made from the sale of mailing lists? It’s an esoteric thing and for years they have kept it that way. That is, until now, with a maverick, former list broker blowing the whistle. That’s me, of course. The list folk are running scared, terrified that they will eventually have to give up some of the spoils. And this applies not just to junk mailers but also to non-junk mail companies that are capturing your name and private information.

Most companies pride themselves on their revenue and earnings. However, most of these are public corporations, and the list business is almost 100% privately held. They have been getting away with it…until now.

Believe me, I tried by surfing every site that might have this data. When searching for “list sales revenue,” the DMA has 159 sites; Direct Magazine, 538; and DM News, only 5; the latter two being industry publications. When “Googling” “mailing list sales revenue stats,” there were 4.1 million hits. As with the others, nothing. Zilch. I consider that anything past the fifth page will probably not produce anything very relevant.

In case you aren’t familiar with the math of mailing lists, let me enlighten you to a profit center that puts all other profit centers to shame. I am speaking of junk mailers here—catalogs, solo mailings, etc.—not data brokers, who have a completely different cost/profit ratio. The junk mailers realize around 60% in profit on every dollar made from the sale of your name and personal data.

How do they do it? Names are a by-product of the merchandise or services you purchase. It’s a, “Duh, look what we found, so what can we do with it?” mentality. Once the potential, along with this neat profit margin was discovered—over fifty years ago—well, you know the rest of the story. That annual $4 billion thing.

The making of all this money doesn’t bother me; that’s the American way. What does worry me is the fact that you, the name holder, do not share in these profits. Am I crazy, or does it really make sense that the person with the name, the address and the private information should benefit from its sale? As far as I am concerned—and I bet the majority of you as well—it’s a slam dunk.

So what do we do? Again, I have the answer. Pass federal legislation that will give you and other consumers control over your names and personal data and pay you for its use. My plan would put $607 per month in the pocket of each age 65 retiree and you would be virtually free of identity theft.

But I cannot do it alone. Please join my grass-roots effort to put this legislation before Congressional leaders. Talk to your friends and family. Write “letters to the editor.” Contact your Congress person. Together we can make this happen.


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