Publishers’ growing urgency to get their marketing messages in front of audiences in a more economical and immediate way has caused e-mail lists to become hot commodities on the rental market. But not every list is created equal. In order for publishers to generate a substantial revenue stream, the lists in question must be well maintained and competitively priced.

Canon Communications has approximately 14 magazines and tradeshows, as well as 100 e-newsletters. In addition to its individual lists, the company also has an internal masterfile with about 730,000 e-mail addresses collected over the past six years. According to audience development director Leonard Roberto, the key to a good e-list for Canon is the open rates for its e-newsletters. “We don’t send all of our products to every address we have,” he says. “We mine the database for just those people who have opened and clicked through that particular product. So instead of sending a product to 20,000, we end up only e-mailing those 10,000 that have opened and clicked. We get a far better result that way.”

Rates on the Rise

Roberto says open rates have neared 35 percent and clickthrough rates have been in the high single digits percentwise. Canon has also seen success with getting its customers to opt-in to receive e-mails. “It’s really all about treating the e-newsletters just like the print publications,” he says. “When we’re on the phone with a customer for a print renewal, we’ll just add a quick line for our telemarketers to say: ‘We have a new newsletter that you might be interested in, would you like to receive it?’ It’s a great time to do this because you have a captive audience.”

Roberto says it’s important to have an established bounce rule—a set number of times that an e-mail is sent to an address that bounces it back before that address is removed from the list. But having a bounce rule that’s too low may cause a problem. “For our daily e-newsletter lists, we recently increased our bounce rule to 10,” he says. “We took into account the fact that the recipients might be away or might be having a problem with their accounts. Raising it prevents us from taking those addresses off in error.”

Canon has also seen success with aggregating its products into a masterfile with appended demographics such as company size, number of employees and recency. “I would shy away from lists that weren’t updated in the past year,” he says. “I would also want the ability to select by job title and function. If these options weren’t available, I would move on.”


The High Cost of Renting E-mail Lists
by Jane Zarem

While most companies are prepared to pay a pretty penny to rent e-mail names, others find that fact quite surprising. According to Jen O’Brien, senior account executive at Statlistics, some clients expect e-mail rental lists to cost less, because the cost of deployment—typically $100-$120 per thousand—is so much cheaper than for postal mail. “They’re often surprised to learn that, in some cases, the price can be double that of a postal list,” she says, “although all prices are negotiable at this point due to the economy.” She also suggests negotiating multi-channel pricing to interest clients in at least trying e-mail.

In the past few months, however, the differential for renting a b-to-b e-mail list has dropped to a mere 10-15 percent premium over the cost of renting a comparable direct mail list, according to Jay Schwedelson, corporate VP at Worldata. “On the consumer side, the cost of an e-mail list can be even less than a comparable direct mail list,” he says. “I expect prices to come down even more in the next 12 months.”

E-mail rental lists are more expensive than postal lists primarily because they have fewer names, they’re harder to keep up to date, and the universe shrinks very quickly. A list with 10,000 postal names, for example, might include as few as 3,000 e-mail addresses, which are further whittled down by bounces and undeliverables. Otherwise, list brokers handle e-mail lists much like postal lists, in that the list owner must approve the order, gets to see a sample of the creative, and reserves the right to deny renting the names for the renter’s particular purpose. And like postal lists, the best, highest quality, top-performing e-mail lists have good hygiene, the selects are controlled and targeted, and use is limited so people don’t receive too many offers too frequently.

Be prepared, however, for low response rates. “If we’re testing a rented e-list, we usually take the minimum 5,000 names,” according Kelsey Voss, senior director, audience marketing, Ziff Davis Enterprise, who says that her response rates average only around 2 percent when using rented names. “And with a rented e-list, you must really target properly and be very careful with your selects. You need to make sure you don’t buy, say, 50,000 names and then get a 1 percent conversion rate. That would be the same as using direct mail.”