Should You Rent An Email List? Stats, Examples and Advice

While buying a list of email addresses is widely accepted as a bad idea, marketers still debate the merits of a different practice called list rental.

With list rental (sometimes called a sponsored mailing), you hand over your content to me. I email it to my list on your behalf. You never see the addresses. One way to think about it is that you’re buying advertising to be shown to those subscribers.

So, should you rent an email list?

Of course, no subscriber hands over their email address just hoping to hear from all kinds of marketers. So while it’s different from buying a list of addresses, most rental campaigns just don’t return the results you’re looking for.

But some marketers do use this method to build their list or sell products. If you’re one of them, or are thinking about trying list rental despite the negative stats, we have some examples and suggestions that you should see first.

First, the proof: how standard rented lists perform

This graph from HubSpot shows how marketers rated these online channels in 2010. Only 12 percent of marketers reported a “great” return when they invested in traditional list rental (compared to 45 percent  for house email lists).

rented email lists

Presented at Marketing Sherpa’s 2011 Email Summit

The problem is that in so many cases, the list owner simply drops someone else’s content into an email and sends it out. The subscribers, who aren’t expecting it, aren’t sure what to make of it.

Why do house lists do so much better?

The straight answer is that a house list – in other words, your own list of subscribers that you’ve grown yourself – is made up of people who are getting exactly what they asked for. They don’t want to be bothered with anything else.

For a list renter, this means:

  • People respond best to emails they signed up for. Usually, that means emails from the list owner. So when someone else’s subscribers see a message about your business, they may be surprised or annoyed.
  • If the subscribers are annoyed enough, they might report your email as spam. Now, someone else sent the email, and that’s who’ll be directly affected. But you might still find that emails which link to your website (probably all of the emails you send) have delivery issues.
  • Finally, when you rent a list, you’ve got to wonder about its quality. Does the list’s owner rent it out all over the place? Are the subscribers thoroughly sick of hearing from other marketers?

If you consider all this and still feel you absolutely must have a larger list to send to this very minute, proceed carefully.

If you sponsor a mailing, get introduced

The point of renting a list is to introduce your brand to someone else’s subscribers. The trick is to make sure you’re introduced properly.

email list rental

For example, accessories vendor Red Ruby Rose pays Offbeat Bride (OB) a fee, and an OB editor writes up a little recommendation, explaining just why their readers might love Red Ruby. Red Ruby gets exposure; OB gets paid.

And here’s another example – an email from chocolatier Vosges, sponsored by the daily email magazine Urban Daddy.

There’s even the option of getting listed in an email like this one from Daily Candy for daily deals.

rent an email list

Want to sponsor a mailing yourself? Here’s how.

Steps for sponsoring a mailing

1. First, find another email marketer whose brand fits well with yours. If you were their subscriber, would your email delight you?

2. Contact the marketer with your proposal. Will you pay them to feature you? Will you trade space in each others’ emails? (Note: this works best if you have similarly-sized audiences.) You may have to ask around to find a partnership that works.

3. Make sure your host marketer introduces you to their list correctly. It’s best if they announce you in a previous message, unless their subscribers understand at sign up that they’ll occasionally hear from other marketers.

4. Turn over your message. It’s best if you agree that it will be sent with your host marketer’s usual design, so readers identify it correctly. To cover your bases, make sure there’s some sort of introduction from the host that explains just why their readers will love you.

Would you sponsor a mailing?

In our view, there are better ways to grow your list and market your business than list rental.

But what do you think? Would you pay to have a sponsored message sent on your behalf to another brand’s subscribers?

Nurture relationships with your customers through email marketing to grow your business with this free guide!

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  1. Pastor Sherry

    4/28/2011 1:53 pm

    I’ve not had to face that question at this point, but I think I’d be very careful whose message I forwarded to my own email list. At this point the people I know (real-life friends, acquaintances) have a fear of even signing up on MY email list. If I were to hit them with other people’s emails, I would probably lose most of the few that I have right now.

    On the other hand, if someone were promoting something I believed in and felt comfortable sharing with my list, I would do that gladly — by writing the email myself.

    Thanks for bringing this up so I could think about it!

  2. Codrut Turcanu

    4/28/2011 2:02 pm

    That is an out of the box article at AWeber, I like it. Hope more will follow!

    Yes, I accept and run paid sponsors in newsletters and mailing lists. There are dedicated web sites offering ad swaps and solo mail buys for interested parties.

    Direct marketing has a standard strategy: using list rental for mailing offers. For years offline businesses have rented lists.

    I see nothing bad with this approach. The fact that in house lists work better is another story, and some businesses don’t have the time or the interest to start building theirs

    What do you think?

  3. Etienne

    4/28/2011 6:07 pm

    Here’s good tip if your list is smaller:

    offer multiple runs.

    For example, if your list if 1000 people and their list is 4000, they run your ad once, you run their ad four time.

  4. geraldine whittle

    4/28/2011 6:38 pm

    my comment is this, it is said and truly so that it is nessasary
    to build a list. i have been trying for two or three months i started with 38 names and instead of building it has diminished according to me by 2 according to aweber by 36 . i am working with chris farrell and i’m using aweber because he recommended it. however i am about to give the whole thing up as i can see no way of adding to my mailing list using aweber as my host. i have built and launched two web sites, done chris’s e-mails, instituted his grenade thing, all to no avail as far as adding to my mailing list.

  5. Susan Burns

    4/28/2011 11:44 pm

    this was a great article especially for someone just starting to build a list, I was thinking of buying a list but not now so how do you build a list from scratch without buying one? enjoyed this a lot!

  6. Tony

    4/29/2011 7:53 am

    Geraldine’s comments are interesting. I’ve think with list-building it is worth being aware of a saying I came across a saying and that is “When asking for help, appeal to people’s self interest, never to their mercy or gratitude.”

    This means that people will ask what’s in it for them. They care not about you per se mostly themselves. From my unscientific experiments the headlines that convey some real tangible benefit(s) are the ones that work best. But, for me at least, they are the ones that are most difficult to think of and write.

    So Geraldine, don’t give up why not try the following. 1) shift your thinking more to the customer, 2) list the benefits your product/info will give them and 3) create a headline and email for each benefit and 4) try each one in turn. It seems to me that the more specific your info targets the customer need the easier it is to list the benefit – the easier it is to target them too.

    Would more people than normal be willing to enter a competition for the chance to win something tangible (rather than a free report say)? Maybe? Maybe not? Maybe you can spin it into a reward but the reward would have to be relevant for the target market of course. It’s worth a shot methinks. So Geraldine, before you give up, try something else. I’m sure there are lots more that can be said about this topic.

  7. Amanda Gagnon

    4/29/2011 8:16 am

    Codrut ~ I think a sponsored mailing to another marketer’s list could potentially be a good way to start the house list, then it could grow from there.

    Etienne ~ That’s a great strategy that opens you up to a whole lot more potential matches.

    Geraldine and Susan ~ Here are 7 ways to build your list. Don’t give up yet!

  8. Vera Sharapova

    4/29/2011 9:10 am

    Thanks Amanda. Great article especially I liked you tip about importance of introduction by list owner. I?m thinking about ezine advertising and like to share tips I’ve learned. Do a bit of research: find and subscribes to 5-6 ezines in your niche, follow them for a few weeks and choose 2 or 3 you like most for placing your ads.

  9. Evan Foster

    4/29/2011 5:23 pm

    Do people on lists really read the messages, or do they click on four or five at a time just to earn the mailing points?

  10. Amanda Gagnon

    5/2/2011 8:07 am

    Vera ~ Yes. Researching them first would definitely help.

    Evan ~ Usually people don’t get any sort of reward for reading emails. Whether or not they read the messages depends on whether they’re interested.

  11. geraldine whittle

    5/2/2011 7:02 pm

    Has anyone tried an outfit called “ListJoe” is there a possibility that this could work???

  12. MA

    5/4/2011 4:40 pm

    Don?t be surprised if you start to notice marketers “renting” an increasing amount of email lists. It’s similar to product placement within t.v. and motion pictures.

    In this day and age with DVRs, TiVo and the internet, viewers are skipping over t.v. commercials. Marketers are having a more difficult time reaching their audience so they got creative and started placing more and more products within t.v. programs and movies.

  13. Justin

    5/4/2011 7:38 pm

    I need help getting started

  14. Amanda Gagnon

    5/5/2011 8:12 am

    Geraldine ~ We don’t recommend it. See the above notes about house lists.

    Justin ~ Sure! Here’s a link to a video, a printable guide and our contact information. You can also sign up for an online tutorial!

  15. Eric

    9/15/2011 9:11 am

    No I am just starting out. I think I will do it the old fashion way, Work at it.Just keep adding to my list.

  16. Amanda Brill

    11/2/2012 1:03 pm

    Though building your own list is the best approach,it takes a lot of effort and time.Renting lists make it easier to reach the target audience, and one does not need to worry about creating the campaign as the list companies will do it on your behalf.This being said it also entirely depends on whether the listing companies are reliable or not. I have had few not so good experiences with few companies out there; but I have also had positive results with others.