A Correction for the Washington Post

The following was sent to Washington Post writer Don Oldenberg last week in response to a column published March 8. We hope to print his response next week.

Mr. Oldenberg,

You made several factual errors in your recent column about the direct mail industry that mentioned DM News. You wrote, “Speaking of the Do Not Call Registry, direct-mail solicitations have shot up since it went into effect, so Private Citizen is promoting ‘Cut Junk Mail Month,’ a nationwide consumer protest in April to fight unsolicited commercial mail. … Last year, the 97 billion pieces of junk mail that clogged mailboxes was up 22 percent from 2002, according to a January report from the direct-marketing trade journal DMNews.com. Surveys find that 78 to 85 percent of Americans say they get too much junk mail. …”

First, DM News would never use the term “junk mail.” Direct mail is the lifeblood of a $1.7 trillion industry. Yes, that’s trillion. Junk mail is a term that newspapers like yours made up 60 years ago to disparage direct mail since both compete for advertising dollars. Also, DM News is not just a Web site but a weekly newspaper marking its 25th anniversary this year. Your most egregious error, however, is that you extrapolated a small study about telecommunications mail volume increasing 22 percent into all direct mail. If you had read the rest of the story, you would have seen that it was talking about telecoms, cable and satellite TV services. That is a tiny, tiny, tiny part of the overall mail universe.

Please look at the numbers from the U.S. Postal Service because you’re also not correct regarding the amount of direct mail that was sent last year or the percentage increase. For fiscal year 2003, the volume of Standard Mail (which is how almost all ad mail is sent) increased 3.6 percent, not 22 percent. Also, only 90 billion Standard Mail pieces were sent, not the 97 billion figure you took from Private Citizen founder Robert Bulmash’s Web site. However, the USPS’ fiscal year ended the day before the no-call list took effect, so none of that is relevant. During the Oct. 1-Dec. 31 postal accounting period, which would be the timeframe you were looking for, Standard Mail volume increased 0.2 percent. So much for your and Mr. Bulmash’s theory about more mail.

You also mention surveys citing 78 percent to 85 percent of Americans say they get too much junk mail, yet you don’t name where the information came from. How about including a recent one in DM News from an International Communications Research survey saying 66 percent of consumers prefer to receive new product announcements, documents, letters and confidential communications such as bank statements and financial reports by mail.

I’m sorry you used Private Citizen as your primary source for your column. Mr. Bulmash runs a business that profits by attacking telemarketing and direct mail, and he charges people money to gain access to information that is available for free elsewhere. I would like nothing better than to tell you that the direct mail industry is going gangbusters, but it’s struggling just like the rest of the economy. Still, what you and Mr. Bulmash so easily call junk is something others find highly valuable. Please remember that in the future and run a correction as soon as possible.

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