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Will Amazon's Commodity E-mail Service Harm ESPs?

  |  January 26, 2011   |  Comments

Amazon SES could open up bulk e-mail marketing to cash-strapped companies.

Amazon's Simple E-mail Service (SES) could open up bulk e-mail marketing to cash-strapped companies. Will it siphon business away from established e-mail service providers?

Announced on Tuesday, Amazon SES lets marketers send up to 2,000 e-mail messages a day via Web services calls (define). Otherwise, e-mail messages are charged at $0.10 per thousand. Marketers can also use a simple query to obtain basic statistics, such as volume sent, bounces and complaints.

Amazon did not respond to an interview request. Its press release quoted Adam Selipsky, VP of Amazon Web Services, saying customers have consistently asked for the ability to send large quantities of e-mail from Amazon Compute Cloud, a core piece of the company's hosted Web services platform. "With Amazon SES, businesses no longer have to worry about the details of building and maintaining their own e-mail-sending solution or negotiating and paying for expensive outside e-mail services. Instead, they can focus on improving customer communication and reducing costs," he said in the release.

In addition to that low pricing, Amazon touted the simplicity of SES, including not having to sign a contract or negotiate price as marketers would have to with some third-party e-mail solutions.

Amazon emphasized that it offers some deliverability features, including ramping up the volume to avoid ISPs interpreting a sudden increase as spam activity. It also uses content-filtering technology on its end to avoid passing along spam or malware and gives e-mailers access to complaint feedback loops provided by ISPs.

But Richard Harrison, president of SMTP, a provider of high-volume outbound e-mail delivery services, says most marketers would be flummoxed by this automated approach.

"Legitimate people playing by the rules are still running into issues. It requires support people and interrogation of what the issues are. I don't see how Amazon will do that at that price point," he says.

For example, he says feedback loops delivered by ISPs differ and are very technical and difficult for marketers to understand. And Amazon's rules-based approach could mean that a campaign gets rejected moments before it's supposed to hit, triggering a cascade of screwed-up dependencies within an integrated campaign.

But Amazon's move could hurt the e-mail service provider industry as much as marketers.

"It's a tough business, managing lists, working with ISPs, trying to help customers stay on the straight-and-narrow," Harrison said. "Amazon is obviously just driving the price right down."



Susan Kuchinskas

Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.

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