By Frank J. Romano October 13, 2003 -- Lower mailing rates are good? Right? Not according to newspapers. Spam is bad? Right? Not according to direct mailers. Gosh, I thought I knew the answers to these questions. Newspapers and mailers are on a collision course. Twenty-five percent of a newspaper's revenue includes those preprinted advertising circulars. The competitor to those inserts is direct mail, which could be delivered to every home by the postal service. Newspapers are concerned about possible changes to the United States Postal Service that they believe could threaten this large revenue source. The presidential-appointed commission which reviewed the postal service has recommended changes that would give the service greater flexibility to negotiate rate agreements with individual customers. Advo, the biggest direct mail competitor to American newspapers, wants such a Negotiated Service Agreement (NSA), and newspaper trade groups worry that if it succeeds, it will let Advo offer better rates to users of newspaper preprints. To newspapers, postal service NSAs favor mailers and encourage the use of direct-mail advertising—a threat to the newspaper insert business. In March, the postal service struck its first NSA with Capital One, giving the credit card mailer a volume discount for first-class mail. Capital One is in the top three of large mailers. The subcommittee also recommended expanding the service's ability to raise rates within certain boundaries, a change that could be good or bad for small newspapers that rely on the postal system for delivery within their home county. Since the postal service started charging for in-county mail delivery, newspapers have faced steep increases in some cases. The Direct Marketing Association is a powerful organization of 5,000 members—sort of an NRA for bulletins—that fights for the right to communicate marketing materials by phone, fax, postal mail, and e-mail/spam. They're fighting Senator Schumer's anti-spam bill, which proposes a Do-Not-Mail list (along the same lines as the recent Do-Not-Call list for telemarketing). E-mail, DMA says, is fair when used in moderation and with responsibility. Spam is e-mail that misrepresents an offer or the originator, or in some way attempts to confuse or defraud recipients. “Unwanted commercial mail” is too broad a definition, and legitimate marketers, using e-mail properly, can make an attractive offer to a lot of people who didn't know they wanted something. DMA says any company should be allowed to send you exactly one unsolicited e-mail and provide a way for you to opt-out. They did a survey that found that one-third of the those who have e-mail said they had made a purchase in the last year as a result of receiving e-mail (someone must be buying those pills). And 12% of those folks made a purchase from a company they never heard of. But, as David Pogue calculated in a New York Times article, there are 24 million small businesses in the United States. If only 1 percent of them send you only one e-mail message each year, you will be deleting and opting out of 662 a day. Sorry DMA—spam is not a good thing.