Is an Author Newsletter a “Commercial” Email?

These days, it seems as if everyone has a newsletter.

Whether or not you believe that author newsletters are an effective advertising method (and I’ve heard arguments on both sides) if you have one, you need to ensure that your newsletter complies with the law.

Although many authors view newsletters as a form of communication with readers, these newsletters almost always qualify as “marketing emails” under U.S. law.

In the United States, email marketing is governed by the CAN-SPAM Act, which divides email communications into two categories: “relationship-based” and “commercial.” 

Where emails contain both commercial and relationship-based content, the determining factor is the “primary purpose” of the communication. Although author newsletters often contain information and articles as well as advertising and marketing content, the “primary purpose” of almost all author newsletters is marketing. (How many of you would spend the time to prepare them if you didn’t think they helped to sell more books?) 

“Relationship-based” emails are those which focus on a transaction or relationship the recipient has already agreed to–for example, delivery dates for a pre-existing order. Relationship emails are generally personal and/or personalized in nature. A marketing email sent to an entire mailing list is not “personalized” and generally is not considered a “relationship-based” communication. This makes logical sense: a one-way communication between an author and hundreds of other people does not a “relationship” make.

On the other hand, an individual response to a reader question about the timing of your next release is probably not considered a commercial email.

Once an email qualifies as “commercial” it must comply with the CAN-SPAM Act requirements for commercial or marketing emails. Since author newsletters are commercial communications (in almost all cases), they need to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act. CAN-SPAM Act compliance means including opt-out links, monitoring opt-outs, and ensuring marketing content is identified as such. Over the next few weeks, my Wednesday posts will look at some of these requirements in more detail, and offer tips for author newsletter compliance.

 Remember: even if you suspect that a given newsletter or communication might qualify as personal rather than commercial (and that’s not likely, if it’s sent to an entire mailing list) it’s safer to comply with the law than to risk violations and penalties.

Most importantly of all: remember that your newsletter should be a vehicle for reaching people who want to hear from you. Don’t treat it like a sledgehammer of personal space violation that you thrust upon the unsuspecting or unwilling. 

People receive a massive amount of email, and many of us must process dozens of vital communications every day. Adding an unwanted email to the mix isn’t just an irritation, it’s an inconvenience in someone’s already busy day–which gets multiplied if the email doesn’t contain the required “easy opt-out” or if an opt out request is not respected.

Compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act is relatively simple, and can be easily integrated into the author’s newsletter format. I hope you’ll join me next week, as we dive into the specifics of making your newsletter comply with the law and (hopefully) avoid turning into a can of spam.