Direct mail spending will decline 39 percent during the next five years from $49.7 billion in 2008 to $29.8 billion in 2013, according to a study released earlier this week by Borrell Associates, a media research and consulting firm.  Research reports usually contain fairly measured language, but this one has several dramatic statements.  For example, the report describes direct mail as "the largest and least-read of all print media" and goes on to say, "Direct mail has begun spiraling into what we believe is a precipitous decline from which it will never fully recover."

Borrell Associates contends that marketers (especially smaller, local businesses) are increasingly using e-mail instead of direct mail for many purposes.  The study states that advertisers spent $12.1 billion on e-mail marketing in 2008, and it predicts that e-mail spending will grow to $15.7 billion over the next five years.  Borrell also contends that most of the growth in e-mail marketing will be local.  The study states, "We're expecting local e-mail advertising to grow from $848 million in 2008, to $2 billion in 2013, as more small businesses abandon direct mail couponing and promotional offers and turn to a more measurable and less costly medium, e-mail."

Other recent research points in the same general direction.  Earlier this year, Winterberry Group released a study estimating that direct mail spending declined by 3 percent in 2008.  The Winterberry report predicted that direct mail spending would fall by another 8 to 9 percent in 2009.  More significantly, Winterberry Group believes that the changes now affecting direct mail are systemic, and not cyclical, in nature.  In other words, things won't go back to "normal" when the current recession ends.  Winterberry Group contends that direct mail is changing from a "mass" to a highly "targeted" communications medium that will create the greatest value for marketers when it is used as one component of sophisticated, data-driven, multichannel marketing programs.

The conclusions and predictions contained in these research reports may or may not turn out to the completely accurate.  But it is undeniable that the marketing landscape is changing, and those changes will have major repercussions for the printing industry.