Return Path Buys NetCreations

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Return Path acquired e-mail list broker NetCreations yesterday from its parent company, Italian directory firm Seat Pagine Gialle. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Return Path gains a leading provider of opt-in e-mail lists, with 30 million addresses. The combined company now boasts 1,500 clients and 600 channel partners. NetCreations requires double opt in before adding an e-mail address to its lists.

NetCreations' PostMasterDirect list rental business will complement Return Path's e-mail deliverability services, which help marketers gauge how much of their e-mail is getting through spam filters. Return Path also offers an e-mail change of address service.

For now, Return Path plans to keep NetCreations as a separate unit. Michael Mayor will stay as its president and join Return Path's board of directors. Both firms are based in New York.

Despite the rising problem of spam and marketer skittishness over the CAN-SPAM Act, Mayor said using e-mail for customer acquisition is alive and well.

"Spam and all of the compliance issues really separated the poseurs from the players," he said. "Acquisition has always been a difficult thing to do. The people that are good at it are good at it, and they're few and far between."

Last year, the specter of California's tough anti-spam bill threatened to make e-mail list rentals illegal in the nation's largest state. The federal anti-spam law overrode California's legislation.

Return Path CEO Matt Blumberg said NetCreations was attractive for its leadership role in pushing for high standards for e-mail marketing.

"We've always felt very strongly that they have a reputation for quality and for privacy that was something to emulate," he said.

List building is one area of collaboration. Blumberg estimated that NetCreations adds 25,000 opt-in registrations a day and Return Path records 20,000 e-mail change of address requests. He said the company could increase its databases by offering the other service at registration. Return Path also plans to offer its deliverability services to NetCreations' roster of marketers and vice versa.

"We think the two companies together are going to make a lot of sense for the industry," he said.

In addition to list rental, NetCreations launched a market research unit last fall, Survey Direct, which polls customers for 80 companies. Mayor said he expects the unit to gain more business as a result of the national no-call registry forbidding many types of telephone surveying.

Though terms of the deal were not disclosed, Return Path said it was at a steep discount to the $111 million Seat Pagine Gialle paid in February 2001 for NetCreations, after an earlier bid from DoubleClick fell through. Earlier this year, Seat indicated it would exit the e-mail business by selling Consodata Group, NetCreations' European counterpart, to Acxiom Corp.

"To their credit, they gave us the option to look at alternatives," Mayor said.

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