Are List Exchanges Making a Return?

As co-ops and conventional list rentals figure out how to co-exist in a changing market, some think that list exchanges are poised to make a comeback.

List exchanges are a real opportunity for the list firms to win back relevance, says Jim Harkins, principal at catalog consultancy JJH Direct. “Historically, the best exchange opportunities — and some of the best responding lists — came from entrepreneurially run, family-held catalog businesses,” Harkins says.

But during the past three years, “those businesses, unfettered by shareholders wanting to see quarterly earnings increases, and unburdened by debt, have pulled back tremendously,” he says. “They were better positioned to cut costs, cut staff and cut marginal activities — like prospecting — to eliminate risk.”

Harkins found that many exchange requests with family-run businesses were turned down over the past few years, not because of any paranoia, but simply because the family-run businesses had no plans that would allow them to use the names they would receive in the exchange.

“Those businesses have traditionally depended on exchanges for prospecting circulation, and if they ramp up prospecting as a result of a better business climate, they will be back out there beating the bushes for exchange opportunities,” Harkins says. “I think the result will be that exchanges will become a bigger share of the overall prospecting pool.”

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