EDITORIAL: What a Difference a Year Makes

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What started as a year of plenty certainly ended in a season of woe. Dot-coms could do no wrong as the stock market continued its upward climb in January and February. Now, as we enter 2001, there's woe everywhere.

Woe for the 100-plus dot-coms that went bust in the past year. Woe for troubled ad networks DoubleClick, 24/7 and Engage, each of which has laid off 100 to 200 employees in the past several weeks. Woe for the legitimate marketers that got ensnarled in lawsuits with those bullies at the anti-spam group Mail Abuse Prevention System, keeper of the Realtime Blackhole List. Woe for any company that has to send mail next year because of dramatically higher postage costs. Woe for the U.S. Postal Service, which came off a year of making $363 million for fiscal year 1999 and ended $199 million in the hole for 2000 (that's with a rate increase that went into effect at the start of the year). Even worse, the agency now says it will be $1.2 billion in the red for 2001.

However, the year also brought some good. There was a return to traditional brands, and direct marketers were finally acknowledged as doing something right. That's partly why your mailbox was stuffed with so many catalogs and other mailings from pure-play e-tailers this holiday season. According to a study released last week by King, Brown & Partners, 55 percent of 1,178 people questioned said they are "much more likely" or "somewhat more likely" to make a purchase from a site if they have a paper catalog. Catalogers, however, were not the answer for every e-tailer as the stock market decided otherwise. For instance, Garden.com -- which debuted its catalog during last year's holiday season -- completed its sale of inventory last week before closing shop for good.

Net marketers also were busy changing their names in the latter part of the year, taking on more traditional-sounding ones, as they spread their wings into other facets of direct marketing. Even Monster.com, known for spending gobs of money on Super Bowl ads, got into the bargain basement of infomercials this month.

Here's to a more prosperous 2001

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