The Evil of Adbase Spam


About six months ago, maybe more, I started getting emails from photographers, showcasing their new work.  Clearly, my email got put on some list.  But what list?  No way to tell.  I could opt out from emails, but that only opted out of emails from that particular photographer.  All the other photographers kept sending.  Since I was getting perhaps a dozen of these a day, I gave up and just let them cram my inbox.

Yesterday I learned where they were coming from, when a photographer sent an email titled "my last email with Adbase".  Some googling reveals that people are under the impression that this is a vetted list of creative directors and art directors who have specifically asked to receive emails from aspiring photographers.  This is how the Adbase site describes their services:

Don't bother marketing to the wrong buyers or sending the right buyers promotions they'll never see. Our database makes it easy to find the contacts you're looking for and gives you an edge by knowing exactly how they want to be contacted.

Note:  I am not a creative director, an art director, or someone empowered with a budget to purchase photographs either by my firm, or my husband.

Further note: at the time that I was added to this list, my title was Business and Economics Editor.  It is now Senior Editor. Neither of these titles implies that I am someone empowered with a budget to purchase photographs.

Even further note:  I have never requested that someone add my email to a database that photographers could use to send me new work, because, as I may have mentioned, I am not empowered with a budget to purchase photographs.

And final note to purchasers of the Adbase list: this is the quality of email address you're buying. Hope you didn't overpay!  Because even if I somehow acquired the budget to purchase new photographs, as god is my witness, I would make damn sure that I didn't buy one from any of the people who have wasted my time with completely unsolicited emails.

The mystery of who harvested my email and why remains--I could uncharitably speculate that the company figured any email with "The Atlantic" in it would sound to gullible photographers as if I were someone who could buy their work.  And there, I guess I just did.

But it's not a mystery why the emails keep coming--there are reports on the web of people that this list have worked for. If this, and similar tactics by authors and flacks, forces me to spent 15-30 minutes every day weeding their completely useless queries out of my inbox, well, why should they care?  There's a 1-in-8000 chance that they'll get work in a very competitive industry.  And if Adbase can charge more for its list by padding it out with names of people who will not now, or ever, buy work from these poor saps, then why not?  Most people aren't going to bother hassling them--indeed, most people, like me, won't even know where the emails came from.

The problem for us is that these emails aren't like traditional spam.  No doubt, the vast majority of people getting these emails wish that they would stop.  But it's still a small enough group that no spam filter is going to develop an algorithm to weed them out--particularly since the recipients are scattered across dozens of corporate email systems.  Nor have I been personally able to come up with a rule that would reliably exclude these emails, and only these emails.

The spam arms race may be over.  But the guerilla warfare is still going on.
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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