Lists Live on After Company Is Gone

Even when a publication or catalog has gone out of business, its lists still can have value to other direct marketers — at least in the short run, say list professionals.

“Essentially, a list has a fair amount of viability, and you can actually realize a very high percentage of the original list rental within the first year that it's no longer publishing,” said Deb Goldstein, president of IDG List Services, Framingham, MA.

Goldstein's firm manages the Industry Standard list, which ceased publication in August 2001. The lists were pulled off the market in September 2001 but in December the postal and e-mail lists of qualified subscribers, the e-mail newsletter subscribers and the postal and e-mail lists of event attendees were made available once again.

AOL Time Warner's Time Inc. division bought the paid subscriber list, which is not currently available for rental.

Though use is tapering off now that the file has been defunct for more than a year, it is still cleaned and maintained for those who use it.

With the e-mail files, as people unsubscribe or names bounce back as undeliverable they are removed immediately, Goldstein said. The postal file gets cleaned every six months.

After the first year, use drops about 50 percent, she said.

For a file like Industry Standard, Goldstein said, its viability is probably better than a general-interest publication because it is a niche audience of qualified subscribers.

The most recent announcement of a mailer packing it in came Sept. 18 when Rosie O'Donnell and Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing said Rosie magazine would cease publication with its December issue.

Though it is unclear what G+J will do about Rosie's subscriber list, there is evidence that it most likely would stick around for a while.

“When a huge parent corporation owns a list, they will usually just use it for something else,” said Fran Golub, senior vice president of list management at Walter Karl, Pearl River, NY, a division of Donnelley Marketing.

Another list professional said that subscribers are generally good longer than buyers because the buyers are fickle.

“If somebody subscribed to a knitting magazine a year ago, there's a good chance they're still interested in knitting a year later, whereas if somebody bought a cat calendar, who knows if a year from now they want another cat calendar,” said Linda Huntoon, executive vice president at Direct Media Inc., Greenwich, CT.

Golub thinks catalog buyer files have more staying power than subscriber files. Even so, both agreed that a list could stay strong for about a year.

“If after a year you haven't converted the people on the file into customers, you probably won't,” Huntoon said.

And, aside from renting the list, mailers often can buy the file for non-exclusive unlimited use.

“When a list is sold for non-exclusive unlimited use, it usually gets 2-3 times the base list rental rate,” Golub said. “It's a great deal for a heavy mailer of that file.”

Files are rarely sold for exclusive use unless the whole brand is purchased.

Testing a list that no longer mails can happen, too. An out-of-category test is unlikely, but one common test would be a competitive mailer that was not permitted to use the file while it was still mailing, Golub said.

Of course, the older the file gets, the price is dropped accordingly so that mailers will keep using it.

Mailers will use a file as long as it remains feasible.

“Productive lists are really scarce,” Huntoon said. “If something was working, you aren't going to walk away from it as long as you know it's being maintained.”

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