Who pays for spam?


A couple weeks ago, I published a blog post about monetizing the complaint stream. The premise was that ESPs could offer lower base rates for sending if the customer agreed to pay per complaint. The idea came to me while talking with a deliverability expert at a major ESP. One of their potential customer wanted the ESP to allow them to mail purchased lists. The customer even offered to indemnify the ESP and assume all legal risk for mailing purchased lists.
While on the surface this may seem like a generous offer, there aren’t many legal liabilities associated with sending email. Follow a few basic rules that most of us learn in Kindergarten (say your name, stop poking when asked, don’t lie) and there’s no chance you’ll be legally liable for your actions.
Legal liability is not really the concern for most ESPs. The bigger issues for ESPs including overall sending reputation and cost associated with resolving a block. The idea behind monetizing the complaint stream was making the customer bear some of the risk for bad sends. ESP customers do a lot of bad things, up to and including spamming, without having any financial consequences for the behavior. By sharing  in the non-legal consequences of spamming, the customer may feel some of the effect of their bad decisions.
Right now, ESPs really protect customers from consequences. The ESP pays for the compliance team. The ESP handles negotiations with ISPs and filtering companies. The cost of this is partially built into the sending pricing, but if there is a big problem, the ESP ends up shouldering the bulk of the resolution costs. In some cases, the ESP even loses revenue as they disconnect the sender.
ESPs hide the cost of bad decisions from customers and do not incentivize customers to make good decisions. Maybe if they started making customers shoulder some of the financial liability for spamming there’d be less spamming.

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  • While customers may not carry the full weight of financial liability for spamming, they certainly loose potential conversion dollars if their mail becomes blocked or land on a Blacklist for doing so. It’s in the customer’s best interest not to spam to increase the chance of the marketing email to have positive ROI, but I agree, that they do not carry the burden of cleaning up a mess if they do spam.

  • “ESP pays for the compliance team. The ESP handles negotiations with ISPs and filtering companies.”
    Not necessarily. We are now bulking transactional e-mails in one ISP. our own fault notwithstanding, had the ESP provided data in a clear and timely manner, we could have acted sooner. Do you think the ESP would even as much lend a hand, much less admit their (partial) responsibility? hell no. maybe if we were a 1m$ account. for the joe average sender and even small-medium mass sender, the compliance team is beyond reach.
    case in point – when approaching another ESP, even their sales person (and sales is known for promising the moon) was extremely cautious about mentioning their compliance team could help.
    and that’s when we don’t even do co-reg, much less unfiltered purchased lists…

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