Editorial: How Many More Registries Can We Take?

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Let's climb into our trusty time machine to visit the future and see how far direct marketing has come in - let's say - five years from now.

DATELINE: July 21, 2008 - The direct marketing community has had a difficult five years as roadblock after roadblock has nearly ground the industry to a halt. At its peak in 2003, consumer direct marketing was a $1.2 trillion industry, but then came the three D's: DNC, DNS and DNM.

Looking back, many now mark the implementation of the national do-not-call registry as the beginning of the end. It was five years ago this month that the Federal Trade Commission opened the registry and millions of Americans wanting to eat dinner in peace jammed the Internet and telephone lines to say "No" to unwanted calls.

Based on that success, Congress next passed the too-restrictive do-not-spam registry a few months later, which effectively put an end to e-mail marketing. Meanwhile, the spammers who were flooding everyone's inboxes in the first place simply moved offshore and continued to peddle their porn, Viagra and cheap mortgage messages to the masses. After that, Microsoft founder Bill Gates devoted his vast fortune to finding an answer but nearly went broke in the process. Now, experts hope that a solution still might turn up any year now.

However, 2005 proved most disastrous to the overall DM industry as an overzealous Congress then passed the do-not-mail registry in reaction to the growing outcry from consumers who were knee-deep in mailers and catalogs because the other marketing channels had been shut down. ...

Think this sounds far-fetched? OK, it's doubtful that Bill Gates could ever spend all of his money, even if he tried. But who would have guessed five years ago that we'd now have a national no-call registry? Some say that the no-call list will put 2 million telemarketers out of work. Of those who rely on telemarketing, some say they'll turn to other marketing channels - primarily e-mail and postal mail - to spread their messages. The U.S. Postal Service would love to see an uptick in mail volume, especially First Class. With rates set to hold steady for three years, there's no better time to get started.

Is a do-not-mail registry (besides the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service) even in the realm of possibility? Ask members of the Center for a New American Dream or Earth Decade Committee, which got a bill introduced in Massachusetts this month (see story, page 2). Didn't a bunch of states pass do-not-call lists before a national one came about?

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