I had another thought today about Gretchen Scheiman's recent MediaPost article. (You can read my thoughts from yesterday here.)
In Mickey Chandler's follow-up post, Gretchen commented and was careful to clarify that her position of "my inbox is open, come and get it" doesn't apply to every marketer in the world. She writes that "the email was addressed very specifically to companies a customer has done business with." Implying that she wants a world where every company she's ever done business with to be able to email her, sans permission.
How many companies have you done business with? I've done business with hundreds of companies over the past few years. How many times do they get to email me? Every day? Every week? How long until I wear out my fingers from clicking on all of those "unsubscribe" buttons? How long until I say "to heck with this" and walk away from email all together, because my inbox is swamped? (Not very long.)
Way back in 2001 (it's amazing how bad ideas can resurface years later), the DMA proposed something similar. Patricia Faley of the Direct Marketing Association explained back then: "We call it the 'one bite at the apple' rule," she says. "Give me one chance to show you what I have to offer you, and if you don't like it, then I won't contact you again."
Back then, smart anti-spammers laughed at this poorly considered position. "That's way too many apples," they were quick to point out. There are so many businesses in the USA (approximately 29 million today, depending on whom you ask). How many of them get to email me? How often? How can that even scale, to allow that much mail into my inbox? If I split that up so it takes two years for every company to email me, that breaks down to about 40,000 emails in my inbox each and every day. And which marketer is going to want to go last? Nobody will want to wait until their turn, will they?
That's the worst-case scenario. It's certainly not as bad as what Gretchen proposes. The problem, though, is that in either scenario, "my inbox is open, come and get it" breaks email. And, it doesn't even work well for marketers. As Laura Atkins pointed out, the more people there are doing the same thing, the harder it is for anyone to stand out. Fill everybody's mailbox full of email, and no marketer gets the chance to stand out.
That's a big part of why email works the way it does. If it doesn't work that way, the ability for end users to use their email inbox will collapse. The ability for marketers to market via email will collapse. It will, in short, destroy the email ecosystem, wrecking it as a viable marketing platform for commercial enterprise, and wrecking it as a viable one-to-one messaging platform.
That is why permission is necessary -- that's why the only people that can get into the inbox are the ones that get invited there. Without that, the inbox dies, becomes useful for no one, marketer or consumer.
It's amazing to me that some people are so blind to that outcome. A savvy marketer ought to already know that it's not all that smart to burn up the medium in a way that arrests your future ability to make money from it? A savvy marketer ought to run their brilliant new idea by somebody who actually runs a mail server and make sure their plan to unleash unwanted mail upon the masses won't actually irrevocably damage email as we know it today.