Dear ETR: "No rented list can pass the permission test."

“I believe ETR’s response to the question about e-mail list brokers was misguided. Yes, one may rent an e-mail list. It is, however, to the best of my knowledge, a federal crime to use such a list. Thus, it is money down the drain. No rented list can pass the permission test.”


Livermore, CA

Dear Orv,

Taking control of an e-mail list and sending messages through it is called spam. Yes, that is a federal crime… and we would never advise anyone to do that.

What has been and remains best e-mail practice is e-mail list rental. This is when you make a deal with the owner of an e-mail list for a specific number of mailings (one or more). The list owner will send out your sales message to his list on your behalf. In exchange, he’ll get a percentage of the profits from sales of your product to his subscribers, or he’ll get a chance to advertise to your e-mail list.

If a list owner has his list on the “market,” you can go through a list broker to get to the list manager. Or you can directly approach the list manager. Either way, the list owner sends the e-mail to his list. You don’t get direct access to it. If we were to rent the USA Today e-mail list, for example, USA Today would not send us a list of their e-mail addresses. We would send them our sales message, and they would send it to their subscribers through their server.

– MaryEllen Tribby, ETR’s CEO and Publisher

[Ed. Note: Send your questions to Include your full name, your hometown and state, and the ETR team may answer you in an upcoming issue.]
  • This is an excellent point. Buying a list, or using one of the “free” lists that various companies use as a bonus for some other product, is probably a federal offense. Having somebody send your ad to their list is no different from placing an ad in the NY Times, or on