The art of the deal

Oct 01, 1998 9:30 PM  By

Over the years, catalogers shopping for mailing lists have learned that list data cards are just guidelines, and that increasingly, flexible pricing is considered the norm. Today, the wheeling and dealing includes everything from negotiating traditional net-name arrangements to putting caps on select prices or offering special incentives to first-time list users. “Each list owner has a certain policy on how it negotiates,” says Diane Scavuzzo, sales executive for Hackensack, NJ, list firm Mokrynski & Associates.

Volume discounts on lists are common; among the participants in Catalog Age’s 1998 Benchmark Report on Lists and Databases (see July issue), 43.4% offer volume discounts on their rental files. Large catalog mailers such as San Francisco-based upscale gadgets cataloger The Sharper Image count on getting these price breaks. “We negotiate every list with a quantity of 50,000 or more names,” says Sandy Sheppard, director of marketing.

While fellow upscale gadgets mailer Hammacher Schlemmer also seeks volume discounts, how well the list has worked for others also plays into its negotiations, says circulation manager Dan Fagan. If responses are lower than the industry norm, he would expect a discount.

The Chicago-based mailer also negotiates for bargains on selects. “If we know that only a certain group of selects will work for us and the selects charges are too much to make the list work financially, we’ll request a cap, no matter which ones or how many we choose,” Fagan says.

If you’re trying a list for the first time, particularly if the audience is peripheral to your traditional buy, some list owners will work with you on limiting your risk by offering incentives, such as $25 off your first test or the first 5,000 names free. “Older mailers tend to stick to the same lists over and over,” Sheppard says. “List managers are being pressed to get people to test, and this a way to do it.”

But most experts say beware of testing a list merely because the broker seems to be offering a good deal. “If the list is in a category that I normally rent from, then the incentive may be of interest,” Sheppard says. But if the list in question is off the mark, a test offer won’t persuade her to rent a file. After all, what looks to be a bargain in the short term doesn’t always pay off in the long run.