Why You Don’t Want to Buy (or Sell!) Email Lists by Eric Didier @ericdidier

Why You Don’t Want to Buy (or Sell!) Email Lists by Eric Didier @ericdidier

Why You Don’t Want to Buy (or Sell!) Email Marketing Lists

In the past, I’ve written about a question we love to hear when we talk to publishers about acquisition email: “How will this affect how subscribers view my company?” 

I want to discuss a question that we’re not as eager to hear: “So, can I buy an email list from you?” The short answer is: We don’t sell email lists, and we don’t recommend that anyone buy or sell email lists. However, this topic is important and deserves more than just a quick answer.

Admittedly, it has been covered quite a few times over the years by some highly experienced email marketing experts. However, it still seems to come up, perhaps because of the confusion between “buying” and “renting” lists. Quickly, here is the difference:

  • Buying/Selling an Email List: This means the actual list changes hands. This should never happen.
  • Renting an Email List: Here, the list owner sends an email on behalf of an advertiser, like a media buy.

Usually this question comes from marketers who do a fantastic job of engaging their own list of subscribers. They follow best practices, keep a close eye on their data and are overall quite successful at what they do.

The problem is that after finding success in their retention email program, it’s hard to find information on expanding their success in email into an acquisition channel. There are a number of fantastic resources for retention email marketing, but it’s hard find resources for acquisition email (which is one of the reasons we started our ividence blog).

On the flip side, there are publishers who want to open their list to acquisition email, but don’t know how to go about it. They can find it difficult to get reliable information on how to send acquisition emails in a way that respects their subscribers.

Though it may repeat points that email marketing experts already touched on, we think it’s worth sharing our full answer to the question of “Can I buy an email list from you (or sell one to you)?” and explaining our reasons for believing it’s a bad idea for advertisers, publishers and subscribers.


Permission, permission, permission – We talk about this a lot when we discuss publishers’ main concerns in opening their list to acquisition email. It’s also a concern for advertisers. The beauty of email marketing is that it’s based on the permission a consumer gives to a company to send them marketing messages.

Think about how powerful that is. It may sound tempting to “buy” a list of emails in your target market, but you can never “buy” their permission to market to them. Without that, a list is just that: a list, with none of the power or connection that should come with email.

If you send to that list directly, you risk generating spam complaints. You can also get fired from your ESP, whose terms of service likely don’t allow emailing purchased lists.

Where did it come from? – Though there may be good actors who offer to sell you a list, there are also people who knowingly sell poor quality lists that can harm your deliverability: lists with spam traps, old email addresses, hard bounces and the like. If you put your reputation on the line sending directly to such a list, you could end up with a major headache trying to repair the damage done by a single email sent to a purchased list.

  • Bottom line – Buying a list is not the way to go. Find a publisher or third-party service provider like ividence that will minimize your risk and get great results.


Permission, permission, permission – The power of your email marketing rests on the permission you earned from your subscribers. Your subscribers expect that you will offer them information that’s relevant, whether about your own offerings or another brand’s. You can’t be a part of the curating process for your subscribers if you aren’t a part of the email sending process.

If you hand over a copy of your list to advertisers, you risk their sending emails that you wouldn’t consider right for your audience without your knowledge. That can fatigue the list and reduce its value to you.

Where will your list end up? – There may be excellent advertisers who look to buy your list, but there may also be companies that aren’t interested in respecting your subscribers. Unless, you retain control of your list, you can’t guarantee that the emails that your subscribers receive are reputable or that the list won’t be sold again. It’s simply not worth the risk.

  • Bottom line – Selling your list isn’t the right way to open your list to acquisition email. You should always be able to see all the emails that go to your list before they go out. You can do this in-house or through a trusted service provider like ividence.

What are your questions about how acquisition email works (and how it should work)?

Takeaway: Buying a list can harm deliverability and ruin your reputation; selling one can undermine subscriber trust. You have the marketing power that comes with email subscribers’ permission, so why knowingly shoot yourself in the foot? 


Meet the author:

Eric Didier

Eric Didier

CEO & Co-Founder ividence Eric Didier is a successful serial entrepreneur with a broad background in enterprise software sales management, complex software development and product management for web technologies. In 2008, he co-founded ividence, a stand-alone email ad exchange that disrupts the traditional acquisition email market. The company’s platform matches email offers to records based on campaign performance, bid, and end-user behavior, which results in fewer emails sent with a higher ROI for all. In December 2011, ividence won a Red Herring Global Top 100 Award. Prior to ividence, Eric was the founder and CEO of Soamai in 2000, a metadata applications company which was acquired by Allen Systems Group in April 2004. He continued at ASG on the Executive Management team as the Worldwide Vice President of Sales, Product Management and Solution Marketing. As interim COO, he then helped two French companies in establishing their worldwide presence (Sunopsis, Viadeo).

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