David Fowler_Digital Insights

As it becomes increasingly harder to get email delivered in today’s complex and over-saturated email ecosystem, is it time for a pay-to-play email “stamp” to ensure delivery?

One moment, didn’t we already try this: Goodmail? We did and it didn’t work. Goodmail was founded in 2003 and shuttered in 2011, but perhaps it was just ahead of its time.

It is no secret that today’s ISP is tomorrow’s telecom provider, which was yesterday’s ISP so what goes around comes around (again). With the recent acquisition of Yahoo! and AOL by Verizon are we nearing the moment that a true “pay to deliver” solution could be in the works? (And should one arrive, my bet is that it will be buried in your telecom monthly service fees, for which a degree in applied calculus would be most helpful.)

Now for full disclosure, I don’t possess any insight or information that would lead me to believe that a pay to email (token, stamp, tax, call it whatever) is on the horizon. But: isn’t it time we considered a possible legitimate solution in this area to ensure delivery continuity?

This graphic shows a quote from the author, asking whether it is time to consider pay-to-play email options.

In 2003, before CAN-SPAM, many of us (okay, me) were still naïve, hoping for an email utopia landscape where we could all get along. Fast forward to 2016: that vision has become impossibly crowded, with many non-traditional email providers all clamoring for our three-second attention span, hoping madly to convert us all to leads who buy products and services (that we had NO intent on purchasing) and produce return on that marketer’s investment.

How the distribution of email is like the distribution of digital music

Consider this.

If we look at another model that got a rough Internet start – music – we see that there was an initial period when people really thought music could, and should, be free.

In June 1999, two young amateur developers, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, launched Napster, an online platform that let users share and swap music. Within nine months, Napster had 20 million users downloading giant music files. (This was in the days of dial-up, mind you, and the service got to about 70 million users at its peak.) It also had no revenue, and the joke was that they were going to make it up in volume. And the music industry, including musicians, hated Napster, and got it shut down (for piracy) in 2001. It took Apple a number of years to launch iTunes and get broad acceptance for the service, and work out how to sell songs and albums. Napster changed the culture. (For more on how, read the New York Times,’”Grappling with the ‘Culture of Free’ in Napster’s Aftermath.”)

Email has been around a lot longer than downloadable/streamable music, and no one has ever had to pay to send or receive email (meaning the distribution service, not the services your email service provider charges you for), so “free” feels like the right price. But is it?

Today, we pay extra for non-advertised music streaming services, why couldn’t a similar approach work for our electronic messaging user experience? The argument that the inbox is personal is over in my opinion. Its increasingly harder to determine which entity actually controls the “distribution” of data into your inbox on onto your mobile device.

What would or could the options be?

Carrier to carrier integration

The web was built on a simple principle, which to this day is still a foundation of connectivity, the “Internap.” (NB: “Internap” is also the same of a publicly traded Internet infrastructure provider. I’m just talking about generic infrastructure in general here.)

Within this infrastructure, web companies and telecom providers “hand off” fiber to each other with specific agreements that govern the appropriate management of those connections. Should a customer not abide by the terms of service, they are shut off or otherwise experience some form of business operational pain.

In the email channel, these pains tend to be things like blacklisting, spam traps, complaints and other things that have a direct influence on a sender’s ability to get mail delivered.

What if we introduced a similar system where the “sending entity” (you the marketer) could engage with a business relationship based on “attainable factors” to ensure ongoing delivery performance. Every receiver of mail (the ISPs and the corporate receiving servers) has a tremendous amount of data and digital insights to what “their” clients (the people who get their email via those receivers) are doing with “your” mail (the marketing emails you send), so in reality that shouldn’t be too hard to develop.

The problem here is that we would need to have an open conversation with those providers –and up until this point that has not been an option. But it’s not impossible.

I believe that you could develop a robust solution that would allow you, the marketing email sender, to connect – and also suffer the consequences (e.g., impaired delivery) should you cause a breach in terms of services to occur.

Customer pay-to-play email

Just as the airlines charge us fees for everything from checked bags to extra legroom (and often now even for assigned seats), we have culturally become aware of possible add-ons to make our user experience more manageable.

Therefore, if we see value in a solution we are more likely to fork over the $$ to ensure a seamless experience. If this could be accomplished in the messaging channel then I believe that the possibility of a seamless, advertising-free user experience is only a few “add-on fees away.”

Is it worth $5 a month (or something similar)? Or does this sound like the $19.95 dial-up is on the way back for us consumers?

Classes of service are all around us. You can sit in the font of the plane or in the back. It all depends on what you paid for your ticket and if you have tenure. You can get Pandora for free (with ads) or pay $5 a month to get it ad-free, to hark back to our example model of music.

In the email world, this would be similar to whitelisting, safe sender list inclusion and sender reputation.

In the words of Jerry McGuire: help me help you

Email best practices are in play and have been adopted for many years by marketers practicing permission-based marketing. No one is asking for a free or direct pass into the inbox.

Isn’t it time now to have an open conversation on how we can develop and enhance the digital channel – and ensure that we lay the foundation for future enhancements of messaging, whatever form they come in?

Remember the telco industry has been around for a lot longer than the internet. The principles of monetizing capital investment for business continuity is an established principle that is not going to change … and it does get adopted by emerging industries as they evolve.

If we see more ISPs moving into the telecom realm you can guarantee that the ISPs will adopt the telecom model, in which the subscriber is going to pick up the tab for any and all service-related issues and fees.

Extended warranties, service fees, additional coverage, pay to repair, are all business options we are familiar with and now mainstream Let’s consider and introduce an email delivery solution that allows senders and receives to coexist while at the same time providing a secure and verifiable way to protect the sanctity of the email channel and web itself. The rewards will be greater than the costs, in the long run.

After all, that’s why the phone rings 100% of the time when you dial ten digits; it’s been that way for over 150 years. Email is relatively new and still evolving; we have the opportunity to establish protocols to make it more stable and dependable … just like the phone service.