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To COMM or Not to COMM

Being a vendor on a stamp list can be a joy and a delight, but when it comes time to post a commercial message (COMM) to those lists that allow them, vendors often take their virtual lives in their hands.

If you simply read stamp lists and post to them now and then, there's no real problem. Life's a hoot. But when it comes to learning the in's and out's of posting an ad to a list, I'm here to tell you there's all kinds of complications. For one thing, if you subscribe to a list and all you want to do is post, you don't have to read through the multiple pages of fine print that often come with signing on. In fact, it's been my practice for years to keep a "list" mailbox and every time I sign up for one, I transfer the introductory message to that mailbox for future reference.

Before sites like e-groups that managed your list subscriptions for you, I would spend hours trying to fashion the appropriate messages for going no-mail on lists before I went on vacations. Both of the common list software programs, LISTSERV and Majordomo, allow a certain amount of control in the hands of each list owner to specify commands, it seems. This means most lists used similar commands, but they are not all exactly alike, so I had to figure out the specific wording for each no-mail command and send an e-mail to each list. I can tell you I spent hours mucking around in my old list folders trying to find the my previous list of no-mail requests and find the ones I needed so I could copy them and resend the same messages.

Majordomo never has offered no-mail options, so you have to actually sign off majordomo lists and sign on again when you return. This means you have to go through the multiple-step process of subscribing, confirming your subscription, and being welcomed with multiple letters telling you how glad the list owner was to have you on board..

So web sites like e-groups sure have made my life easier. Unless I post a COMM.

On one list I belonged another vendor posted that she found trying to keep up with all the comm rules was hard. I posted to the list agreeing. Before long I received a message back from the list owner that there was absolutely nothing difficult about remembering the rules for comms. The implication was that there was something the matter with me since I couldn't remember the simplest of things. A bit later, I was chastised by the same list owner for posting a comm against the list rules when I had, indeed, followed all the carefully crafted steps for doing so. So don't tell me comm rules aren't difficult to keep up with!

What most list owners don't seem to keep in mind is that if you are trying to keep track of six or seven lists and looking for a day you can post a comm to all the ones of them, the level of complexity for this deceptively simple task grows by leaps and bounds.

Obviously some vendors manage to keep the comm rules straight, but often these are vendors making regular posts to all the lists that allow them, posting the same comm message to five or six lists at once. Sure, this makes it easier for a vendor. Make up an ad and plug in six list addresses at once. I don't really like to see my mailbox fill up with six identical messages hitting all the lists I belong to, but I understand the logic of it. I have even copied some of the multiple comm posts so I have a record of when and where to safely post, but then the list rule days change and it's time to regroup.

I have no problems with gentle reminders from list owners when I've mistakenly posted in some way that disobeys the rules, whether it's a comm or some other infraction. I do, however, have a lot of problems with list subscribers who take it upon themselves to get indignant about the mistakes I make posting. I've actually had a vendor tell me she no longer makes comms because of the list flack she gets if she doesn't get it right.

To add to my frustration, the comms I have gotten the most flack from have been only marginally ads to begin with. In the latest one, I was really directing list members to a new resource for acrylic blocks, showing a picture of the block, and posting the list address of the other vendor. What's more, I had no pricing in the post because I wasn't selling anything. There wasn't even a price on the page with the picture that was on my web site.

I had even considered not listing this acrylic block post as a comm because I was in truth not selling anything. But I feel that in many ways, any time I post, especially with a link to my web site, I am posting a comm. And I am honest enough to admit this. Some vendors post all kinds of information I consider comms and they do it any time, but without the COMM label, and as near as I can tell, they get away with it without the least notice from the self-appointed list hawks.

My point? Rules are necessary. But flame-like reactions to violations of the rules serve no useful purpose whatsoever. The list owners are very good at gently reminding subscribers of rule violations. Make us vendors gun-shy about posting comms and the only ones to suffer are list subscribers who may well have no other way of finding out what vendors have to offer. Some subscribers don't care to read comms and they routinely delete them. I've got no problem with that. On the other hand, some subscribers are open about really appreciating the comms. With so many subscribers to some lists, the audience is quite varied.

Perhaps the solution is to create a new kind of post, the TIP-COMM. The rules for posting comms are tight, but the rules for posting tips are wide open. Post a tip and tack a commercial message on to the end of it and everyone is happy. Actually, to my mind, that more or less accurately describes all the posts of any vendor who's business name and web site address is in his or her signature. As I noted above, any time I post to a list with my signature, I feel I am advertising Whiskey Creek Stamps. And I am. So let's get honest about what a COMM is and what it is not.

Or perhaps what is needed is a comm list, a list that allows vendors to post comms any time -- with only three rules.

  1. Only one comm a day is posted.
  2. Each comm must be a totally different message.
  3. The comm is posted to no other stamp list.
This would solve the problem of multiple identical comms to a long string of lists who often have the same subscribers. At the same time it would provide a friendly environment where vendors could post their comms knowing they would reach only the subscribers interested in receiving them.

What a wonderful fantasy! A place where vendors can post their messages without having to get sweaty palms just thinking about being jumped by the list hawks for posting a comm three minutes before the pumpkin turns into a stagecoach.

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