Saturday, December 16, 2006

The only thing worse than spam

Dear customers!

Our business model is selling DRM-free music in a store open to everybody. We don't demand a certain browser in order for our store to work. It is open to everybody regardless of operating system and browser. Also, we want the purchase process and downloading to be as swift as possible: no login and passwords to remember, just point and click and pay.

The music is downloaded from links we send out in an email upon completion of the payment. You can use any browser to download, no special software is required.

The music files are either zip files with MP3 files, or individual MP3 files. We have chosen MP3 because it does not contain any DRM and also and mainly because it is the most supported file format for music files. MP3 works on nearly 100% of all portable players (including iPod) and a vast majority of the applications used for playing music on any computer regardless of operating system.

So far so good. If it wasn't for the email part. That has turned out to be the weakest link in our chain.

It turns out that most email services and ISP's have installed really blunt and non-forgiving spam filters. As a result, our perfectly legitimate and solicited emails are either bounced, blocked or put in the customers junk mail folder.

So, the customers wait for their email with the links, and after a while they get impatient and disappointed with what they thought should be a quick and swift way of purchasing music.

So, they send us an email and ask us "Hey, dudes, where is my email with the links?", to which we reply and give the explanation of foul play from their email suppliers' spam filters. Only, our reply also gets blocked. So the customer after a while sends us a second email with a slightly sharpened tone to which we reply but the reply never arrives etc etc.

So I look up the contact email for the domain owner, and send them a complaint. Sometimes they read and react to emails. In most cases they either never read them, or simply ignores them.

Then we have some email providers who always bounce our automatically sent out emails with an auto-reply that includes a link that we have to follow manually, regardless whether it's bounced back to us in the middle of the night in our local time in Sweden, in order to prove that our first email was legitimate and not spam. This is both very retarded and impolite.

But we have come up with alternative solutions to our email links. We have noticed that the receipt emails from our payment providers seem to slip through the filters.

Those emails include a code needed to download that identifies the purchase in out system. So I have created a download page on our site where the customers can download using the code from their receipts. This is the backup plan. Unfortunately, not all customers find the link to that page (it's in our left-hand menu, saying "Download purchased music" in bold print).

I think it is worth mentioning our view on advertisement and marketing.

We have no banners or ads on our site that are not our own, linking locally withing our site.

We have a newsletter which we use to send offers to all customers and anyone who voluntarily subscribes. For singing up, we use so called double opt-in. That means you can't just sign someone up. When signing up, we send out an email with a link you must follow to really sign up, so that you need to own and read the email you are signing up (pretty much like the auto-reply spam filter, only slightly more intelligent, since we tell people signing up what will happen, and we just don't do it because we couldn't come up with a better solution).

This is because we understand what pain in the butt spam is, and we really do all we can to protect our subscribers from getting unsolicited emails from us. And, of course you can sign out anytime you like.

But how inconvenient spam ever will be, nothing beats spam filters blocking important and business critical emails.

Please ISP's and email providers, be a little more constructive if you really care about your customers. Take a minute and think about whether you want to be ISP's as in Internet Service Providers, or as in Internet Service Preventer.

As one customer nailed it to the point:

The only thing worse than spam: Spam filters!


Rikard Froberg

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