The last day of 2011 - time to reflect on another year of campaigning. Instead of giving the usual chronological overview I'll this time pick out a number of 'Hot Junk Mail Topics'.
I'm never sure if the way the junk mail industry runs its opt-out schemes for junk mail is a hilarious insult to people's intelligence or simply shameless propaganda. In any case, thanks to Stop Junk Mail the schemes became a little more customer-friendly in 2011.
Royal Mail made a couple of improvements to the way it's operating and advertising the Door-to-Door Opt-Out. Not only has the company given up its attempt to keep the phone number for the opt-out scheme secret (the number to call is 01865 796964), it has also set up an e-mail address which people can use if they have queries about their registration. It's a very long e-mail address:
To request an opt-out form you can still send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Royal Mail's web page with information about the opt-out scheme can finally be found via its online Shepherd's Wife, and just a couple of days ago the company removed the claim that it 'only' distributes 25% of all unaddressed mail from the same page (which I'll have more to say about in the new year). The first was the result of regularly ridiculing the company's PR strategy, the second of a Freedom of Information request.
The Mailing Preference Service also removed a misleading and unsubstantiated claim from its website in 2011. For years the Direct Marketing Association told the public that signing up the scheme reduces personally addressed advertising mail by "up to 95%". After making a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority the junk mailers finally agreed to be more realistic about how much junk mail the scheme can prevent.
My prediction for 2011 was that publishers of paper directories would make it easier for people to cancel unwanted phone books. I was wrong, although some progress has been made.
Thomson Local stopped the production of the rather silly 'No Thomson Local' door sticker but, to its credit, remains the only directory publisher to send a confirmation letter to people opt out of receiving its directory.
BT seemed to be on the right track. The company followed Yell's lead by mentioning its opt-out scheme in the latest edition of the phone book. However, BT then made a fresh attempt at preventing people from cancelling the delivery of the phone book by retrospectively demanding that people give the company their phone number. The Information Commissioner's Office agreed this was a breach of the Data Protection Act and asked BT to review its policy.
Stickers and other goodies
After I reluctantly introduced 'No Junk Mail' stickers to the shop in 2010, I decided to redesign the good old 'No/No' and 'No/Yes' stickers. Equally nice is the 'Addressed Mail Only' sticker I introduced in November.
Also new in the shop is the return to sender stamper. I'm not that enthusiastic about the original product, as I've explained in a vlog, but combined with a (short) paper copy of the Guide to Stamping Out Junk Mail and one of the above-mentioned stickers it's another nice product.
Since July, Stop Junk Mail is donating 10% of the sales to good causes. The first cause was Adblock Plus, the second SOS Children's Villages. The cause for the next three months will be announced shortly.
Junk mail in the media
For no apparent reason junk mail got much more media coverage than it normally gets. It started with a story in the Daily Fascist. According to the tabloid Royal Mail is seeking to deliver 15 leaflets per week to the average household. As you would expect from a tabloid, the figure is wide off the mark.
In February, the Independent picked up on the (old) story that the Mailing Preference Service / Direct Marketing Association refuses to send people registration forms in the post because they want to save paper. "One of the finest pot/kettle examples of our time" indeed.
Which? Magazine also covered junk mail in November. I was given the honour to act as junk mail expert, and wrote an article for the Which? 'convo blog' about self-regulation by the junk mail industry.
New in 2011 was the Royal Junk Mail Catablog. The aim of the blog is to investigate how much "important information" is distributed via Royal Mail's door-to-door scheme. A year on, I can now tell you that of the (exactly) 100 pieces of unaddressed junk mail I received from the postman in 2011 only five could be classified as 'information'. As an aside, the fact that I got 'only' 100 leaflets from the postman this year is quite interesting in itself, given that Royal Mail aims to increase the amount of unaddressed mail it distributes (apparently the target is six leaflets per household per week - and not 15 as suggested by the Fascist).
More importantly, the Stop Junk Mail website has been redesigned. Most of the issues I talked about on this blog still need to be addressed. In particular, having only a small number of items in the main navigation bar isn't ideal. Still, I reckon it's an improvement over the old website (which you can still view in the UK Web Archive).
Once again Government didn't bother to respond to its own public consultation about the future of the Edited Electoral Register. The consultation closed on 23 February 2010, and a response was due on 18 May 2010. That's politics for you…
Sometimes the inertia of MPs is a good thing. I was pleased to find that the All-Party Group on Junk Mail has ceased to exist. As you'd expect, the members of group didn't bother telling the public why the decision to abolish the group was taken, and they've allowed the junk mail company that provided the secretariat of the group to continue to use the website as a propaganda tool. Still, it's good to see the junk mail industry can no longer dictate MPs what to think and say.
Another sign that politicians have become less willing to do as they're told by the junk mail industry is the latest 'responsibility deal' between Defra and the junk mail industry. Although the deal is by no means as good as suggested by the mainstream media it certainly looks more promising than previous agreements. And, I'm pleased to say a number of things I had suggested to Defra have been included in the agreement. In particular, from April 2012 the two opt-out schemes for unaddressed junk mail will be merged and from the same month you should finally be able to register online with the new-style opt-out scheme (via the website of the Mailing Preference Service). As always, the devil is in the detail - only last week I found that there will be separate registration processes for the opt-out schemes, for instance. Still, compared with the previous deal (which introduced the Your Choice Dummy Scheme) it's a lot more ambitious.