E-mail Executives Back AOL-Goodmail Deal

Feb 09, 2006 2:30 AM  By

After an initial outcry over AOL’s announcement that it was implementing Goodmail’s CertifiedEmail program (“AOL-Goodmail Deal Called Money Grab”), some prominent e-mail marketing executives have come out in favor of the deal.

AOL announced on Jan. 30 that it was implementing Goodmail’s certified e-mail service. Under the plan, AOL will charge senders a fraction of a cent per e-mail to guarantee that their messages are delivered with graphics and links intact.

AOL has since backed off an announcement that it would phase out its enhanced whitelist, a list of senders whose e-mails are deemed safe because they meet certain unpublished criteria, such as low spam complaint rates.

E-mail certified by Goodmail will carry a stamp verifying it is safe. Yahoo! is also implementing Goodmail’s system.

Among those supporting AOL’s implementation of Goodmail’s antispam scheme is Dave Lewis, vice president, market development for e-mail infrastructure provider StrongMail Systems. Charging marketers a fee will help bring about the fiscal discipline and list hygiene online that marketers implement offline, Lewis says.

“I’ve seen senders do things in e-mail that they’d never dream of doing in the offline world,” says Lewis. “Cost is an amazingly disciplining factor that is absent today in the e-mail medium. If you’re sending e-mail to AOL and haven’t exercised good list hygiene, you’re going to pay. That’s going to wake a lot of senders up to applying list hygiene principles they ought to be applying anyway.”

Currently AOL blocks graphics and links on most bulk e-mail unless the sender is on AOL’s whitelist. Under the Goodmail arrangement, however, AOL will allow senders who have gone through an accreditation process to display images and hyperlinks by default for a fraction of a cent per message.

Goodmail’s CEO Richard Gingras pegged the price at about $2.50/M but said the price could go up or down depending on the market. Matthew Blumberg, president of e-mail services provider Return Path, which also runs Bonded Sender, a Goodmail competitor, denounced the deal as a “delivery tax” on e-mailers who already implement industry best practices.

Eric Thomas, founder/CEO of e-mail services provider L-Soft, put out a statement comparing AOL to “the IT industry’s version of ‘Goodfellas,’ selling senders protection against a destiny of junk folders for a fraction of a cent per message.”

But Al DiGuido, president/CEO of e-mail services provider Epsilon Interactive, says that AOL isn’t forcing anyone to use Goodmail, and if the return on investment is there, marketers will pony up more cash.

“They’re not putting a gun to anyone’s head,” DiGuido says. “As we go forward, there are going to be messages, such as financial statements, that marketers are going to want to make sure are certified and that they get into an inbox. Goodmail is one of the providers of that service.”

He adds that even with the additional charge, e-mail is a steal compared with postal direct mail.

“Every six months, the Postal Service is adding another 2 cents to postal rates. And here this whole medium now is $3/M-$4/M. These fees won’t change the business dynamic,” says DiGuido, who believes that e-mail is currently too inexpensive.

Ben Isaacson, privacy and compliance leader for e-mail services provider CheetahMail, says that more e-mail accreditation and reputation vendors are likely to enter the marketplace: “There are going to be a multitude of these accreditation and reputation systems out there. They’re just going to have different models for different ISPs.”

Meanwhile, he continues, Goodmail offers at least one service previously unavailable to e-mailers: delivery verification. “That’s something we’ve never been able to get from the ISPs,” Isaacson says. “When we send a message to an ISP, we account that it was sent, we account that it did not bounce, but we cannot account for receipt by the ISP.”

Chip House, vice president of privacy and deliverability for e-mail services provider ExactTarget, says that after initial skepticism, he came to view the AOL-Goodmail deal as “a chance to provide new benefits to the sender and receiver that haven’t existed before.”

He warns, however, that “as of yet, this is unproven. We haven’t seen the ROI bump that people are hoping will exist there.”

He also says it is up to AOL to promote the Goodmail stamp to subscribers so that they recognize it as identifying a sender verified to be trustworthy.