Boycott Barnes and Noble (spam)

By , August 5, 1997

Boycott all Spammers!

Posted August 5, 1997 by Mark J. Welch
Last Updated June 16, 1998

I’m upset about junk email. When I get upset about something, I try to figure out how to fix it. I get more than 100 pieces of unsolicited commercial email (UCE, also called “spam” or “junk email”) every week. I don’t like it, because it wastes my time and delays my ability to read legitimate email. Most of the “spam” is broadcast by fly-by-night scam artists, who conceal themselves behind anonymous email addresses or P.O. Boxes.

But today, I received “spam” from one of the newest multinational corporations to unveil a web site: Barnes and Noble, which seeks to unseat Amazon Books from its position as the leading internet bookseller.

The spam from Barnes and Noble was sent directly by Christa Toole, who was then the Publicity Coordinator for the company’s “New Media” division (she now works in the affiliate programs department). She apparently gathered email addresses from all the web pages she could find related to “horror,” “suspense,” “thriller” and “mystery books,” in order to broadcast her company’s commercial email message to all those people.

My address was copied from my Mystery Links page, which does not mention Dean Koontz or any of his books. I have trouble seeing any connection between my page and a Dean Koontz book promotion.

Of course, by putting an email address on a web page, the author or publisher of the page is asking for some email, such as feedback about the site or suggestions for additional links to related sites. If Ms. Toole had written to ask me to provide a link to the mystery-books section of the Barnes & Noble web site, I would not have complained. But that’s not what Ms. Toole did: she broadcast a commercial message promoting an online “event” whose sole purpose was to sell books for Barnes and Noble Online, and the text of the message makes clear that this is a “broadcast” email being sent to many people. She does not even indicate how someone can request to be removed from the spam list she has created.

Broadcasting unsolicited commercial email is wrong. Virtually all internet service providers, and all internet “backbone service” providers, prohibit the broadcast of unsolicited commercial email. “Spam” is a form of harassment. It is a form of “postage-due” marketing, because it shifts ALL costs to the recipient. It is unethical (indeed, two attorneys whose unrepentant “green card” spamning generated intense hostility on the internet two years ago were recently disbarred for their conduct). And finally, in the United States, it is illegal: a federal law (47 U.S. Code section 227) prohibits the broadcast of unsolicited commercial faxes and unsolicited commercial email in most situations.

Boycott Barnes and Noble: If we do business with a company that “spams,” we are rewarding the company for its unethical and illegal actions, and we are thus inviting additional spam. I won’t do that: I will never again do business with Barnes and Noble, online or offline, because I will not reward its unethical and illegal business practices. Instead, I will turn to legitimate, ethical businesses to buy books (and I do buy more than 50 books every year).

I urge you to boycott Barnes and Noble. And take an extra step: every time you get a spam, respond with a complaint, not only by email but also by telephone or postal mail (since the person receiving the email complaint may destroy it to conceal the spam backlash from superiors at the company). If you get email spam from Barnes and Noble, forward a copy to service@bnonline.com and also be sure to call Barnes and Noble at 1-800-668-7053 (or their shareholder number at 1-888-257-6397 [then 4 then 2]) to let their customer service staff know that you are upset and that you will no longer do business with the company. (If even one-tenth of one percent of spam victims complained, the company would immediately stop all spamming and would probably fire all the employees involved in sending spam.

Postscript 12/28/97: I am still upset at Barnes and Noble, and the company continues to refuse to accept or return my phone calls. B&N’s marketing director, Susan Boster, has even lied to reporters, claiming that the company has changed its practices and that the company has satisfied all my concerns. Ms. Boster continues to refuse to accept or return my calls, yet she lies to the media, telling them that I am “satisfied” with Barnes and Noble’s decision to maintain its policy of sending unsolicited commercial email to whomever it wants. I am not satisfied, and I continue to advocate a boycott of Barnes and Noble!

Note that many customers have complained that Amazon Books also sends unsolicited commercial email to its customers, including those who have “opted out” and asked to be removed from its lists; a number of book authors have joined together to urge a boycott of Amazon.Com.


Here is the text of the unsolicited commercial email I received on August 5 from Barnes and Noble Online:

Received: from bn.com (mail1.bn.com [161.221.10.2]) by value.net (8.8.5/8.7.4) with SMTP id HAA29684 for < abagado@ca-probate.com >; Tue, 5 Aug 1997 07:56:54 -0700 (PDT)
Received: from mseny1 by bn.com (5.0/SMI-SVR4) id AB16139; Tue, 5 Aug 1997 10:56:19 +0500
Received: by mseny1.BN.COM with SMTP (Microsoft Exchange Server Internet Mail Connector Version 4.0.993.5) id < 01BCA18D.B805A690@mseny1.BN.COM >; Tue, 5 Aug 1997 10:52:50 -0400
Message-Id: < c=US%a=_%p=Barnes_?_Noble_I%l=MSENY1-970805145250Z-51733@mseny1.BN.COM >
From: Christa Toole < email address deleted at the request of Barnes and Noble >
To: “‘Christa Toole'” < email address deleted at the request of Barnes and Noble >
Subject: BarnesandNoble.com Dean Koontz Exclusive
Date: Tue, 5 Aug 1997 10:52:50 -0400
X-Mailer: Microsoft Exchange Server Internet Mail Connector Version 4.0.993.5 Mime-Version: 1.0 Content-Type: text/plain; charset=”us-ascii” Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
X-UIDL: 62e96fc36ef040d203e2f3508034bb8d

Starting August 5, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/horror will have an exclusive preview of the introduction Dean Koontz authored for the anthology SCREAMPLAYS. The preview features author and Mystery Scene columnist Ed Gorman’s pick of his ten favorite Dean Koontz books and excerpts from an interview with Dean Koontz from Cemetery Dance Magazine.

Christa Toole Publicity Coordinator, Editorial
Barnes & Noble New Media
email addresses deleted at the request of Barnes and Noble >
http://www.barnesandnoble.com
AOL Keyword: BARNES AND NOBLE


On August 6, 1997, an anonymous Barnes and Noble representative posted the following message in the news:news.admin.net-abuse.email newsgroup. Note that while the company claims to be “revising” its policy, it says that it will continue to send unsolicited commercial email asking people to grant their permission to send more junk email. I find this unacceptable, because it is still forces people to “opt-out” to avoid receiving spam.

Path: vnetnews.value.net!vncnews!HSNX!hub.org!newsfeed.direct.ca!infeed1.internetmci.com!newsfeed.internetmci.com!portc03.blue.aol.com!newstf02.news.aol.com!audrey02.news.aol.com!not-for-mail
From: bnpromo2@aol.com (BNPromo2)
Newsgroups: news.admin.net-abuse.email
Subject: BarnesandNoble.com’s e-mail practices
Date: 6 Aug 1997 19:20:35 GMT
Lines: 1
Message-ID: < 19970806192000.PAA16661@ladder02.news.aol.com >
NNTP-Posting-Host: ladder02.news.aol.com
X-Admin: news@aol.com
Organization: AOL http://www.aol.com
Xref: vnetnews.value.net news.admin.net-abuse.email:55654

We have noticed your concerns about our e-mail practices. You have voiced some valid issues, and as a result we have decided to revise of our policy.

We will now ask sites for their permission to receive e-mails BEFORE we send any information about books or book-related events.

We will always provide an option for sites to let us know they don’t want to receive future notifications. If you have any additional questions, please e-mail us at service@barnesandnoble.com


Update June 16, 1998: Barnes and Noble has launched a new online contest which requires submission of an email address (plus birthdate and address) in order to enter the contest; the contest form warns that the email address may be used for commercial “emails” but provides no way to “opt out” of this list other than to not enter the contest. Also on June 16, I received a phone call from the Affiliate Program Manager (Christa Toole’s supervisor), asking me to remove Ms. Toole’s email address from this page; I have done so as a courtesy despite Barnes and Noble’s complete lack of courtesy.

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