Do-not-mail just one challenge in circ marketing

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It's a challenging time to be working in magazine circulation. There are a number of issues that are making it harder to increase profitability year over year: rising postal and paper costs, do-not-mail legislation on the state level, difficulty in recruiting bright young people into our discipline and, last but not least, the proliferation of information that is freely available on television and the Internet.

The recent wave of do-not-mail legislation has the potential to be a huge problem. The magazine industry has done a pretty good job of targeting our mail so that we are not flooding consumers' mailboxes with offers that they do not find interesting or appropriate. We will suffer because those in the catalog and financial services industries have not done as good a job sending multiple catalogs or credit card offers to people, to the point where consumers are rebelling.

The direct mail industry has done a terrible job of articulating our position to the general public. The fact is that many people like to shop through the mail. No one would consider outlawing end-cap displays in a store, yet they serve the same purpose as direct mail: to interrupt a shopper's routine and draw attention to a product that one normally might not be looking to buy. Receiving offers through the mail does not cost a consumer a penny. In fact, one could argue that postal rates would be much, much higher if commercial mail did not help pay much of the cost of the postal system.

If the people of the United States decide that there should be some sort of opt-out from receiving postal mail, it is imperative that this be instituted on a national level, not on a state-by-state basis. Differing laws in each state will make it very difficult for mailers to comply with the rules. We are already seeing this with the multiple organizations that have set up do-not-mail registries on their own. Either the national government or the DMA must be the centralized gathering point for opt-out names to make the system workable.

No one wants to send mail to people who are not going to respond. It wastes a lot of money and natural resources. But let's allow the free market to guide us to a good solution for more targeted marketing instead of legislating solutions that may not work.

David Ball is VP of consumer marketing at Meredith Corporation. You may reach him at david.ball@meredith.com.

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