Print industry pushes back against mail restrictions

Print industry groups are pushing back against pressure groups and political parties across Europe who are calling for draconian ‘opt-in’ laws that would mean consumers having to specifically consent to receive bulk mail.

Five years ago, Amsterdam pioneered the use of an opt-in system for printed bulk mail that is now in use across the Netherlands. Residents use stickers on their mail boxes to indicate their preference regarding receiving unaddressed mail (advertising meant for an entire post code, such as circulars or flyers etc), addressed bulk mail (which carries a specific address on it) or nothing at all.

Elsewhere last year, things took a legislative turn with Luxembourg introducing an opt-in law, scheduled to come into effect in 2024, and France beginning a trial scheme that bans unaddressed mail unless households use a ‘OuiPub’ sign on their mailboxes. In Switzerland, meanwhile, the Green Liberal Party submitted a law to switch from opt-out to opt-in, also by using a sticker on the letterbox. And last summer, an environmental group in Germany, Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), urged the government to introduce an opt-in scheme there, claiming that 28 billion sheets of advertising are deposited in the country’s mailboxes each year, much of it unwanted.


The unintended consequences of legislation

Mail restrictions

However, Luxembourg printers Association des Maitres Imprimeurs says that that country’s new law could put 200 jobs at risk in an already fragile printing industry at the same time as impacting the bottom line of small businesses that rely on mailed advertising.

Meanwhile, according to Swiss Post, the impacts of such laws could be wider, with the Swiss proposals potentially costing up to 5,000 jobs in the postal industry and among part-time workers – no surprise when considering that bulk mail accounts for around 50% of the mail sent in Switzerland.

For Mark Davies, opt-in schemes will have broad repercussions. “They threaten the operational and economic viability of the networks that provide distribution,” he says. “This in turn has unforeseen consequences impacting the delivery of free newspapers, disenfranchises more vulnerable segments of the population – particularly the older and the poorer households where internet access or usage is not a given – and risks a negative economic impact on businesses unable to advertise effectively. They also threaten jobs in the print and distribution industries.”


Legislation may be unnecessary

There are also questions over whether opt-in laws are genuinely required – since various countries, including Germany and France, already have schemes allowing residents to display stickers if they don’t want unaddressed mail. While, for most people, unaddressed mail may not be a problem in the first place. In Germany, only 28.5% of people have enrolled in that country’s opt-out scheme, while surveys show that 60% of consumers make use of mail advertising before making purchases.

“In Belgium, 40% of people rate doordrops as their number one marketing channel and spend, on average, 20 minutes reading them each week. Doordrops remain extremely popular, remarkably effective and enjoy high levels of consumer engagement. They are one of the most trusted media channels and are only ‘junk’ if they are untargeted or irrelevant.”

Mark Davies, managing director of Whistl Doordrop Media

What’s more, advertising mail becomes more effective when people opt, with publicity not being delivered to those who have no interest in it.


Legal complications to opting in

Ultimately, the biggest obstacles to new opt-in schemes may be legal. The German Justice Ministry points out that freedom of advertising is guaranteed constitutionally, as is freedom of the press – which could be infringed if publications have to drop sections dedicated to ads. A spokesperson for the ministry commented: “A comprehensive evaluation of the economic interests of publishers and the interests of environmental conservation considerations would have to be performed before amending the law.”

Then there is EU law, under which any opt-in scheme may flout the Unfair Commercial Practices (UCP) directive by facilitating an unfair competitive advantage to other marketing channels such as social media. The European Commission has already rejected a petition calling for new legislation on bulk mail advertising.

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