Deforest Your Mailbox
By Eric Wilson (The New York Times) - January 18, 2007
AFTER buying an outdoor table from the West Elm Web site this summer — without having ever shopped in a West Elm store or seen its catalogs — dozens of e-mail messages began arriving in my in-box promoting its organic bath linens, modern lamps or “the bed of your dreams.”
Fine. Whatever. Delete.
Then I began receiving West Elm catalogs in the mail, at least one every other week, as well as ones from Pottery Barn and its parent company, Williams-Sonoma. This mailbox glut, in the minds of many environmentally conscious consumers, is not fine, considering the number of trees that must have been deleted to make the 19 billion catalogs still mailed in the United States each year (with all due respect to those that laid down their lives for my table).
Now a new online service called Catalog Choice (www.catalogchoice.org) is facilitating attempts to unsubscribe. The site was developed by three nonprofit environmental groups — the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ecology Center — to relay requests en masse to specific retailers. Since it was introduced last Wednesday, more than 20,000 people have registered.
Retailers have thus far supported efforts to target consumers more effectively, but not legislation to enact do-not-mail lists (which would operate similarly to do-not-call lists). The Direct Marketing Association, a trade group that advocates direct mail as an effective form of retail advertising, offers its own “mail preference service,” although it requires a $1 payment by credit card to register online. Several other sites charge $15 to $41 for services that stop junk mail and catalogs.
Catalog Choice, which does not charge a fee, helps retailers “to maintain a ‘clean’ list so that they are not mailing to people who don’t want their catalogs,” said Kate Sinding, a senior lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
There have been some surprises: The most requests have come from people who wish to stop receiving the catalogs of L. L. Bean, a company built on an image of embracing the great outdoors.
Carolyn Beem, an L. L. Bean spokeswoman, said the company mails 250 million catalogs annually, “and we have one of the cleanest lists in the industry.” It monitors its mailings to prevent duplicates and allows customers to specify how many catalogs they wish to receive — if any. She said the company would be open to requests from an outside service like Catalog Choice.