E is for mail: still the killer app

The US postal service delivers half a billion letters a day. In the same duration, 1.5 billion e-mails are delivered in the US.
Indians may be taking to surfing very quickly, but eight out of 10 dial-ups to an ISP in India are not for surfing or Web access. They’re for e-mail.

E-mail is by far the dominant Internet application. It’s changed the way people live and work. In our company, as in many others, a lot of processes have simply moved to e-mail: sanctions and permissions, planning and discussions, day-to-day workflow. It doesn’t matter where you are, or in which city; e-mail and roaming phones keep you in the workflow. Meetings today are abbreviated or replaced by `let’s discuss it on mail’.

E-mail is big. Anything this big cannot but have revenue, cost and other business implications. It’s big enough to be the center of attention for virus authors, who have abandoned traditional viruses for mail Trojans…and `social engineering’ where a mail can encourage senders to forward to others, causing globally participative denial-of-service attacks that bring down networks.

E-mail advertising has nearly doubled, from 5 percent of total online advertising dollars in 1999. US companies alone will spend nearly $ 0.5 billion on e-mail advertising in 2000, according to research agency eMarketer, growing more than fourfold by 2003. An Indian American’s campaign website for George Bush Jr got a million e-mails in a couple of days, and he got paid per e-mail, making permission-based mail one of the few working B2C revenue models online. Of course, there’s the dark side of the mail: spam. Every tenth message in the average user’s mailbox is unsolicited mail-excluding all the newsletters, opt-ins and chain mail forwarded by friends.

E-mail is clearly the cheapest form of marketing out there today, a fraction of the cost of telemarketing or direct mail. It’s ideal for retention marketing, though with innovative use and opt-ins, it can be a powerful acquisition tool too–as long as you steer clear of spamming. Our Internet subsidiary Ciol.com, for instance, has a 110,000 strong opt-in list of newsletter subscribers, a power database of IT users.

There were 570 million e-mail boxes worldwide last year, an 84 percent growth. At the same growth rate, we’d be crossing a billion this year. Of course, the average user has two to three accounts. But that still means nearly 0.5 billion e-mail users worldwide. 

That makes for a very powerful market indeed. IDC projects the global Internet economy at almost $ 4.5 trillion in 2004. E-mail is going to continue to be the most powerful tool and entry route into this economy.

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