August 21, 2000

Dear Friends,

I’m known as a book editor and some-time journalist, but today I am writing to you concerning a matter of the utmost importance. I want to inform you of the grave danger facing one of America’s most familiar institutions, an institution that has touched all of us at many times every day, an institution now at risk. I speak of the direct marketing industry.

To you the impact of direct marketing may seem trivial: a five-dollar saving at a local consumer outlet, or a chance for a free air flight to the Virgin Islands from Miami. But I’m here to tell you that direct marketing forms a major part of the American economy. And yet its existence depends on the fickle loyalty of businesses who force it to justify itself annually. And its days may be numbered—unless you act to save it.

What threatens direct marketing? First, the powerful Internet search engines that are becoming ever more sophisticated. People are satisfying their impulses by searching for exactly what they want, when they want it—and are finding the best deals without the need for any advertising.

Searches won’t find something new because nobody knows enough to search for it. But here too, modern trends are dealing a blow to the dedicated folks behind direct marketing. Through online communities, maintained by companies or independent organizations, people are talking to each other and to experts in the fields of medicine, sports, and others. Any new product that can solve a problem gets promulgated right away through these informal channels.

When more and more Americans go online and learn how to find information for themselves, the two great buttresses of direct marketing—offering short-term bargains and announcing new products—will disappear. Information technology has not been kind to direct marketing. Yes, some firms try to adapt, using electronic mail for their pitches, but they find themselves hounded from one Internet provider to another and excoriated in the public eye.

That’s why I ask for your help today. Here’s how your money can help direct marketing:

Don’t pass up this opportunity. Otherwise, this letter may be the last piece of direct marketing you ever get.

Andy Oram

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