Happy Sunday to you all! Today’s topic comes from questions from subscribers as well as observations of my own.
If you send out electronic communications, do you know what laws you need to follow?
The analogy I like to use is the one of speeding. When we are teaching kids to drive, we don’t teach them to speed. We (hopefully) teach them the rules. If they choose to break the rules once they know them, that is their choice.
Authors are expected to wear so many different hats and I find that many stumble their way through quite a few of the tasks they have to perform without being taught. Sometimes it doesn’t matter…but with respect to newsletters and other electronic communications, it does. There are laws governing what can and can’t be done. There are huge fines involved. And yes, these rules are enforced. And not just to big corporations…
The two main problems that I see are:
- Not putting a mailing address contact point at the bottom of the newsletter
- Not understanding that you need to follow every country’s law about electronic communications
Let’s talk about these two points in reverse.
Pretty much every newsletter service is based out of the US. The CAN-SPAM act 2003 is the name of the American legislation that is enforced in the US and that is the one that these services focus on. Most civilized countries have developed a law that covers what you can and can’t do when communicating with someone electronically.
Like how I phrased that?
Some of the laws are concerned with newsletter type of communications but some countries – like Canada – include all electronic communications in their laws. That’s right – every email is included not just newsletter/sales or promo types of notes and so are text messages or other types of instant messages.
If you are sitting in the US, you might say to yourself – so what?
The point than many miss is that the enforcement is from the country of the receiver not the sender. If you send a newsletter to a Canadian subscriber and you have broken Canadian law, you can be dealt with by Canadians.
Let’s talk about the similarities in all the laws and then we’ll talk about the differences.
- Don’t use deceptive headers or header graphics for your newsletter. Don’t use deceptive subject lines or deceptive reply-to addresses
- Always provide an unsubscribe link or an easy method of unsubscribing
- Always include your physical mailing address
Headers and Subject lines
Most of us understand that impersonating someone else is not a good plan. And most of us understand that using a subject line like “Open this newsletter and you will win a new car” is also not good. As you see above, it’s against the law, but most of us understand that it just going to piss off our readers.
I’ve gone into more detail on this in my book, The Complete Mailing List Toolkit, but let’s briefly explain. Our readers probably get a large number of email addresses each day. I know I read a lot and although authors probably don’t want to hear this, I have trouble remembering the names of all the authors I read. I recognize the book covers or websites, but frequently have trouble connecting names with books I’ve read without help. Using a header on a newsletter that matches a website or that displays book covers helps me put the pieces together. Makes me and other more likely to pay attention to the note.
The topic of subject lines is highly debated. I cover many of the theories in my book and there are a huge number of blog posts available on the topic also. We want to encourage our readers to open our notes, but our subject line needs to reflect the content.
One of the main reasons to use an email marketing service like MailChimp or aWeber or CampaignMonitor is that they make unsubscribing easy. They generally supply an unsubscribe link in the footer of every newsletter. If a reader clicks on that link, they may be asked questions, but the email marketing service ensures that their email address is removed from the active portion of your lists and labeled ‘unsubscribed.’ This is more difficult to do if communicating via Gmail or other email program.
It should go without saying, but don’t remove the unsubscribe link from the footer of your newsletter. It needs to be there.
Always include your mailing address
As I mentioned above, this is a sticky point with many authors. Most authors I work with are female and we are very aware of guarding our security. Putting our home address on a newsletter that may go out to thousands of readers is not something that many of us are willing to do. I often say that the rule of including a mailing address stems from businesses that have an actual bricks & mortar location. Most authors work from home (or a coffee shop). To comply with this rule without actually putting your home address on your newsletters is to rent a PO box and use that address. Yes, there is a cost. Depending on which country you live in, renting a PO box may be an easy and relatively cheap thing, or may be quite difficult and relatively expensive.
Since the requirement for a mailing address stems from the ability to reach you via snail mail, you might be able to find a different option. Perhaps you can use your publisher’s address. If you are employed full time, perhaps you can use your employer’s address. Be creative!
Let’s go back to the beginning of this note – you need to understand the rules and if you choose to break them, it should be a choice. I have chosen to rent a PO Box because I don’t want a crazy person showing up on my doorstep. The money I pay helps ensure my family’s safety. I feel it is worth the money. You need to make your own informed choice and be ready to accept the consequences if you choose to not comply with the law.
Opt-in law vs Opt-out law
The United States has a law dealing with electronic communications that is different than any other country. It has what is generally considered to be an Opt-Out law. In other words, it isn’t against the CAN-SPAM Act (the American law) to add people to a mailing address without their consent and send newsletters or other electronic communications to them. You just need to honor their choice to unsubscribe from your list if they request.
Every other country that has a law concerning electronic communications requires people to Opt-In to your list of subscribers. They must enter their own email address in a form and confirm this choice (also known as double opt-in) or indicate in another way that they WANT to be on your list. In Canada as well as other countries, records of this choice must be kept for 3 years. This is clearly why using an email marketing service is a good idea for your communication with readers!
As an author who is sending electronic communications to readers, this is information that you need to pay attention to. In many countries the fines are quite large and the powers that be are sanctioning people as well as businesses. For your reference, I’ve included links to a few of posts with specific country information. A quick Google search will offer information on details from other countries. And because I’m fond of Infographics – I’ve included a handy infographic below from the Canadian site!
For great information on the Canadian law, click here.
For great information on the UK law, click here.
For great information on the Australian law, click here.
For great information on the US law, click here.
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