List brokers are singing the blues. Competition is vicious; rental volume, blamed variously on the weak economy, jittery clients and postal increases is down; prices—which do seem to obey certain inviolate economic laws are down; ultimately commissions—the lifeblood of list brokers and managers—are down.
All in all, it's truly a downer. In years of being in direct marketing, I have never seen so many emails from list mavens desperately hawking lists, offering to make free recommendations, or to put lists "on sale" to get my order.
As striking as the situation appears to be, the pain is not felt evenly across the list rental market. Specialty subsets within the larger list industry are faring better or worse than their peers. Here's a quick view of what's what, according to information just released by Worldata, one of the largest list brokerages in the world.
Attendees/Members, Public Sector and Donor files are the only categories of lists that have increased in price since 2006. They have seen increases of $16/M ($16 per thousand records), $12/M and $2/M respectively.
Donor files remain the lowest priced list category, with an average rental price of $85/M.
Permission-based email lists have gone from $290/M in 2005 up to a high of $299/M in 2008, dropping slowly to their current average rate of $269/M. Even with the drop in price, this category of list remains the most expensive domestic category.
Permission-based consumer email lists fell 49% in cost over the past 5 years. Why? The market is oversaturated. Too much supply; too little demand.
Permission-based international email lists have remained stable, with a continued average price of a whopping $407/M.
Permission-based Business-to-Consumer email category saw the largest price decrease year over year, plummeting 20.54% since 2006 to today's $89/M.
The highest percentage increase was in the Attendees/Members list category which saw a very modest 1.54% increase in price year over year.
So what does this mean to a list broker? Simply put, it means pain. Intense economic pain. List brokers are desperately looking for ways to differentiate their lists from the pack, even as margins get tighter, the rental market shrinks, and competition gets increasingly fierce. Times are bleak.
What does this mean to you, a list user? It means you may have just gotten lucky. Most list brokers are hungry. They are willing to reduce costs, accept lower minimum rentals, multiple use for a one-time use fee, or strike other deals with you to get the sale.
But those deals still do not include turning over lucrative opt-in email lists to the end-user. It's a line the legitimate list brokers/managers/owners are not prepared to cross.
Times are undoubtedly tough in the list industry. As a list user, you can expect brokerage consolidation soon. Expect to see marginally performing lists disappear off the rental market. Expect new selects that will help you dig down to find exactly the right people for your project. Expect new "hidden fees" for "special services" to emerge. And expect prices to keep moving around.
On a less upbeat note, you can expect a plethora of fly-by-night operators who offer a terrific-sounding product for an amazingly low price. If the offering price seems too good to be true, (I've seen offers of 100,000 records with full postal and email information for $99!), then it probably isn't true. Walk away. Don't let opportunistic predators into your wallet.
The list industry is in a bit of an upheaval right now. "Hard Times" to be exact. And that's the name of that tune.