"That's not worth the paper it's written on!" I don't remember when or why I first heard those words, but surely I was well under ten years old, and it was probably my father talking about some international treaty he didn't like, or perhaps even the dollar bill that his gold-standard-loving heart just plain hated. In any case, the point of the phrase -- which I still occasionally hear today -- is that paper isn't worth much money. But bits transmitted across the Internet are worth even less, which makes me wonder: why am I still getting so much paper in the postal mail? For that matter, why am I still receiving any postal mail at all?As a geeky sort of guy, I've put my trust in electronic banking and billing to the maximum extent I can manage. With the exception of electronic tax return filing -- a process I just don't trust -- I get most of my financial work done electronically, and even receive requested catalogues and such via e-mail and the Web. But I still get a ton of marketing mail delivered in the red, white and blue truck every day.
Well, I've reached a terrible conclusion: the promise of electronic mass marketing has gone bust. Why? Spam! I know, I know, "spam" seems like the one-word answer to everything that's wrong with e-mail. But in this case there isn't any question that spam has ruined the reputation of e-mail marketing of all stripes, no matter how legitimate the company or the marketing campaign might be.
In fact, those of you who are Internet history buffs might recall that the word "spam" was originally coined to describe legitimate e-mail marketers who early on wore out their welcome in the Internet community by trying too hard. They over-promised benefits to their advertising customers, which made them over-deliver e-mail messages, and that in turn delivered underperformance of the marketing campaigns, not to mention a black eye for the entire effort.
Recovery from that black eye was never going to be easy for e-mail marketers, and the spammers have made it impossible. The result is that mass marketers have gone back to postal mail in perhaps the biggest run of campaigns in the history of that advertising paradigm. And paper is no longer so cheap. In fact it's quite expensive. That's because today's hyper-volume mass mail marketers are causing the world's paper mills to run overtime, destroying everything from rainforests in South America to evergreen forests in Alaska.
That's terrible, and terribly expensive! The bits required for electronic e-mail campaigns are very cheap indeed, and should be, and could be, a much more environmentally responsible alternative. What a shame. Damn you, spammers!