In Praise of Spam (at the New York Times)

The New York Times published this odd paean to spam this morning that extols the marketing and production virtuosity of companies that replicated the Iraqi most wanted cards produced by the Pentagon to find missing officials.The article does make several references to spam, but focuses more on the operations that allowed several individuals through chains of other people to distribute billions of emails, from which a sizable sales volume arose. Not every spam campaign has these results (several thousand dollars per million messages emailed), but one of the "marketers" in the article notes how when she sends out a million printer ink emails, she grosses over $500, and needs only $200 per million to make it worthwhile. Although interviewees in the article protest about how only a few bad players were sending spam and they dealt with them, there's a big problem: there are no cheap lists of millions of people who have opted-in to receive marketing messages. They just don't exist. All legitimate opt-in mailing lists control how and to whom they're distributed and charge a pretty penny because of how they manage the process. You can't buy millions of names for a few dollars and actually believe that people asked to receive unsolicited mail from any party who has the list. This article is unfortunate, as it will spur interest in spam without consequences, given the returns on this particular project. The Times has done wonderful articles about spam in the past, most recently tracking Earthlink's efforts to successfully nail the Buffalo spammer, and this one just seems out of step by not delving into the seamier side more closely.