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What You Need to Know NOW About the New CAN-SPAM Act

Have you heard? The new CAN-SPAM Act becomes law on January 1, 2004, and it pre-empts most state regulations governing commercial e-mail. (CAN-SPAM stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing.)

E-mail publishers are calling me in a tizzy, worried they'll be jailed for simply continuing their publication. I'd like to be first to say that you should NOT panic, as long as you're sending out a true, content-laden publication and not just promotional junk.

But ... you SHOULD use this alert as a wake-up call. It's time to do a check-up on your publication.

CAN-SPAM defines commercial e-mail as that whose primary purpose is to sell something. It doesn't define e-zines or e-mail newsletters as commercial e-mail, even if they contain ads. However the jury is still out how this can be interpreted. For many of us, our prime reason for publishing is to promote our own services and products.

The good news is that most small business owners are going to have a much easier time complying with this law than big companies with many different marketing lists and vendors.

Here are seven points you should address now, before the new year. Please remember I'm not an attorney, so you'll want to view the CAN-SPAM law yourself at

1. Make sure your FROM and REPLY e-mail addresses are correct and valid.

If you publish your e-zine with a fake or inactive reply addresses, that's a no-no after Jan. 1. If you don't want to use your normal e-mail address as your FROM/REPLY, create a new one, but make sure it's one that you will check regularly. If you don't know how to change your FROM/REPLY address, ask your list host or e-mail publishing system representative.

2. Add your POSTAL mailing address to every issue of your e-zine.

This is now required, and is good practice anyway. Remember the more "real" you appear to your readers, the more business you'll do in the long run. I list my full mailing address, and I also include my phone number. If you work at home and are uncomfortable publicizing where you live, rent a mailbox around the corner. (That's what I do.)

3. Honor UNSUBSCRIBES ASAP, and make sure it's easy to get off your list.

The new CAN-SPAM law also requires you to remove a name from your list within 10 business days of receiving the unsubscribe request. If you use a list host or e-mail publishing system, this should happen automatically and instantly. The only way you could get into trouble on this one is if you do them by hand or if you have multiple lists to cross-check, which could take you longer. Also, look at your e-zine and make sure it's very obvious to the reader how to be removed from your list.

4. Remind your readers they're getting a publication (not junk), and publish regularly.

If you are a publication, then act like a publication by being official and publishing regularly. Also remind your readers how they got on your list. Example: "Published on the first and third Wednesdays of every month. You are receiving this e-zine because you signed up at our Web site or have purchased a product from us." (Also, consider getting an ISSN to register your e-zine with the Library of Congress. It's free and makes you look very official!

5. Consider going double opt-in to protect yourself.

While CAN-SPAM does not require this, it's your safest option with all the problems going around. If I sign up for your e-zine at your Web site today and that puts me on your list, that's single opt-in. If I'm required to reply to an e-mail confirmation before I'm added to your list, that's double opt-in. Yes, you will lose some sign-ups due to people who will not reply to the confirmation message, but your list will be much cleaner and safer in the end.

6. If you DO send out occasional promotions to your e-zine list, make it clear that's part of the deal.

What if you mostly publish regular, content-filled issues, but send out the occasional promotion for a special event or new product? My advice to you is to make this clear where people sign up, at your Web site or elsewhere. Example: "Along with our biweekly e-zine, you will also receive a spec1al offer just once a month that is available only to our subscribers. We will not share your e-mail address with any third party."

7. Be cautious if you have multiple lists.

Here's where things can get messy. Suppose you publish your e- zine with one system but maintain your customer lists with another, such as your shopping cart system. If customer Jane Doe unsubscribes from your e-zine but two weeks later receives a special promotion you sent only to past customers, she may be mad because she thought she'd be removed from ALL your lists. The best solution is obviously to use one vendor for all your list needs, but if that's not possible, make it very clear to your readers what they are (and what they're not) unsubscribing from.

Wait, Is That It?

No. This is only the beginning, and thanks to some of the gray areas of the CAN-SPAM law, I'm sure there will be new developments in 2004. So keep your ears perked here for new information as it's released!

. . .

Article by Alexandria K. Brownn - Copyright © 2003
Online marketing coach Alexandria K. Brown, "The E-zine Queen," is author of the award-winning tutorial package, 'Boost Business With Your Own E-zine.' To learn more about this step-by-step program, and to sign up for FREE how-to articles and FREE teleclasses, visit

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