Next month's Which? magazine (which I believe will come out on 27th October) will feature an article about junk mail, and to promote the magazine Which? sent round a press release on Wednesday. Nothing newsworthy, really. It contains a mini version of the Guide to Stamping Out Junk Mail; mentions that the average household receives an estimated 453 pieces of junk mail in 2009; and reveals that 84% of Which? members agree that reducing junk mail should be made easier. Yet, newsworthy or not, the response to the press release has been overwhelming. On Thursday I spoke with various local radio stations, and I'm still working my way through an inbox with comments and queries.
It's interesting how junk mail is always good for a bit of a media storm. In particular the Daily Mail presented the story in a rather dramatic fashion. We're drowning in junk mail, apparently.
What no-one noticed is that the figure of 453 pieces of junk mail per household represents a decrease in junk mail volumes. Since 2004, when volumes reach their peak, the amount of junk mail produced in the UK has dropped by about a quarter, or maybe even a third. There's nothing remarkable about this. 'Direct mail' nowadays has to compete with Google, Facebook and other online giants, and the ongoing recession isn't helping junk mailers either.
There's something else that is interesting about the figure of 453 pieces of junk mail: the figure is a complete guesstimate. Had any of the journalists that reported the story bothered to look at the source of the figures - the Facts page on the Stop Junk Mail website - they would have noticed that the junk mail industry refuses to publish any meaningful data about unaddressed junk mail. The real story here is that the public isn't allowed to know exactly how much junk mail is produced in the UK.
Or, maybe that's not the issue after all. Looking at the comments people have left underneath the article in the Mail the issue seems to be quite simple. There are a great many people who just don't want their letterbox stuffed with junk mail.
To accompany the article in Which? magazine I was invited to write a piece for the organisation's Conversation Blog. It's about my favourite topic: self-regulation by the junk mail industry, and how it has failed to cut waste and make it easier for people to reduce unwanted junk mail. Perhaps unavoidably, that article is also being reduced to a 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down' vote on junk mail. I've come to realise that it doesn't really matter what you write about junk mail; people just have this irresistible urge to voice whatever opinion they already had about the stuff.
I don't mean to sound dismissive about the comments that have been left on the page so far. I'm just observing that none of the comments is a response to the article; it's a collection of opinions about junk mail. That's fine, although also somewhat ironic; the article is an invitation to the junk mail industry to start discussing the junk mail issue with recipients of junk mail. I guess that might be just a bridge too far.