In case you were wondering… the Stop Junk Mail campaign still exists. Working full time (mostly six days a week) is taking its toll but I'm still spending a fair amount of my spare time battling unsolicited dung. What's more, a couple of people have recently offered to help with the campaign. This is needed more than ever, and it has already achieved something: Royal Mail has today confirmed that its claim that the company distributes 'only' 25% of all unaddressed mail is complete nonsense.
For the uninitiated, I'm talking about the Door-to-Door Opt-Out, Royal Mail's opt-out scheme for unaddressed mail items delivered by the postman. Royal Mail distributes a fair amount of leaflets, and there are heaps of people who aren't one bit interested in all that crap. However, rather than simply not delivering leaflets to households with a 'No Junk Mail' sign Royal Mail has decided people not interested in unsolicited leaflets should sign up to an opt-out scheme.
One of the many issues with the Door-to-Door Opt-Out is that Royal Mail discourages people from registering. When you request an opt-out form (phone 01865 796 964 or use Junk Buster) the company will warn you that you may miss all sorts of
important information if you opt out. On top of that they used to advise that registering won't do much to reduce junk mail because
Royal Mail only delivers about 25% of the total volume of unaddressed mail in the UK. In other words, you may as well not bother.
I've always maintained that the figure of 25% is misleading and probably (and wrongly) includes inserts in free newspapers. In response to a Freedom of Information request - made by one of the people kindly helping out with the campaign - Royal Mail has now confirmed the figure was indeed misleading.
Getting an honest response from Royal Mail was, let's say, a challenge. The request was submitted on 2 December last year and asked for the following:
- The year to which the statistic of 25% relates.
- The total volume of unaddressed mail used in the calculation.
- The total volume of unaddressed mail distributed by Royal Mail used in the calculation.
- The source of the data used in the calculation (in particular the source of the data used to estimate the volume of unaddressed mail distributed by other distributors).
- The definition of 'unaddressed mail' used in the calculation (i.e. does the definition include items such as inserts, unsolicited directories, and free newspapers).
In its initial response Royal Mail stated that data about the total volume of unaddressed mail is available on the world wide web and that statistics about how much unaddressed mail is distributed by the company are too
commercially sensitive to be revealed. The two statements are, of course, irreconcilable. If data about the total volume of unaddressed mail is publicly available then any idiot can figure out how much unaddressed mail is distributed by Royal Mail: 25% of the total volume.
Royal Mail is very sorry
The appeal was successful. Royal Mail has confirmed that the data about the total volume of unaddressed mail came from the Direct Marketing Association - and they've also acknowledged the data is only available to members of the junk mail lobby group. What's more, Royal Mail has now also acknowledged that data about how much unaddressed mail it distributes isn't commercially sensitive at all. So here we have it; finally the British public is allowed to know how many leaflets are distributed in the UK, and how many of them are pushed through the door by the Royal Mail.
|Year||Total (m.)||RM (m.)||RM (%)|
Interestingly, in its response Royal Mail states that the figures are based solely on surveys amongst members of the Direct Marketing Association. In other words, the data comes from a biased source and doesn't include leaflets distributed by companies that are not members of the association. As far as the Direct Marketing Association is concerned take-away menus don't exist.
Another problem with the figures is that they do indeed include inserts in free newspapers. It's for this reason I suspect Royal Mail's share of the leaflet business is likely to be around 50%. In 2008, Royal Mail distributed roughly 2.2 leaflets to the average household* per week. It's probably fair to say the average (weekly) free newspaper comes with three or four inserts. What we're looking at, then, is a simple accounting trick aimed at persuading you that your postie really doesn't deliver that much junk mail (and that you might as well not sign up to the Door-to-Door Opt-Out).
Finally, the Freedom of Information request has achieved something else. The claim that Royal Mail distributes 'only' 25% of all unaddressed mail has been removed from its website. So you see… the campaign is still very much alive.
* Calculated as (2,989,000,000 leaflets / 25,800,000 households) / 52.