Do Agents Have “Right” to Market Customer Lists?

Do Agents Have “Right” to Market Customer Lists?

Byline: Marybeth Luczak

Do sub agents have an automatic “right” to market lists of subscribers generated through their companies? This old but still unsettled issue came to the fore again recently. Independent sub agent Magazine Subscribers Network of America (MSNA), also known as Magazine Subscribers of America and Magazine Subscribers Network, based in Washington State, is offering a list of nearly 1.6 million magazine subscriber names, selectable by more than 1,000 magazine titles. Ryan Lake, CEO of Lake Group Media, Inc., alerted clients to this practice in a June email.

Some publishers are unhappy about the availability of MSNA’s list. “This is not sitting well with publishers because they haven’t given Magazine Subscribers of America their consent [to market the names],” explains Direct Media VP, Georganne Rossi. “This gentleman [Dan Davis, list manager for MSNA] thinks that he has the right to sell those names.”

Davis indeed contends that authorization is unnecessary. “These are our customers,” he says, noting that his company clears subscription orders for publishers through 10 different clearing houses. “Publishers want to have their cake and eat it, too,” he adds. “They want all of the orders, all of the business they can get. If someone orders a subscription from us and that name goes to the publisher to fulfill the service, we have the name and they have the name. But they want to be the ultimate source for that name, saying, ‘You can’t get this name anywhere else.'”

“It’s the age-old debate over agents selling subscriptions,” says Rossi. “Is it just the publisher’s name, or do agents have the right to do what they want with that name, since the agents brought it onto the publisher’s file? It’s a gray area.”

According to Tom Bisdale, corporate attorney for Hearst Corp., whether they have the “right” to do it is “an issue that’s still up in the air.”

MSNA has been marketing its customer list for about two years, both with and without the title-specific selection, says Davis. “When we’ve taken the title names off, there is a lot less friction [with publishers],” he notes. “But we’ve found that we don’t get as many orders.”

Even some publishers feel that agents don’t necessarily need their authorization to rent out lists. “If these people collected names in a legitimate fashion, who are we to say that they can’t [market them]?,” questions one industry executive. “I don’t know that it’s incorrect,” agrees a senior-level consumer marketer at a major publisher. “Most of the directly authorized agents, like Synapse, PCH and QSP, are free to rent out [their customer] lists. We’ve never prohibited them. But if they do this, they don’t rent them in a way that identifies the names by publisher. I’ve never thought that this was a problem. Lists are used all the time, but not by identity, like ‘Dear xyz magazine reader.’ That, I’d object to.”

According to Davis, some publishers have rented MSNA’s list.

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