Enlarge your penis? Need a home loan? Then click this link. You wouldn't believe the spam that I get in my inbox. It's amazing not for its volume, nor its content, but for the sheer fact that someone, somewhere sent it with the belief that another human being would respond to it. Nearly all of the spam mail I get is ill-targeted and poorly written tripe.
There must be a very low success rate for most of this junk. One purchase in a million emails? Ten million? The problem is that all this email is free to send. It costs so much more for a company to actually target ads to people who might be interested in their product than it does to just blanket send it to their entire address list. This creates an unfortunate feedback loop: as companies send junk mail to a wider and wider audience, more of the audience tunes out, requiring the companies to send more mail. What's more, the selling of these vast lists of email addresses is a business by itself. If you host your own web site I'm sure you've received the spam ads for these lists. For $300.00 I can buy a CD containing several million active email addresses. Nowhere on this CD will it list those people's interests or any other information I could ever use to target an ad. Thankfully, I could care less about sending spam mail to people so I still have that money in my pocket.
The internet is a free resource. It's got to stay that way or else its amazing abilty to communicate ideas freely will falter. However, I think there can be a way for the internet to remain free for the vast majority of soceity but successfully slow the inflow of just plain rediculous spam mail we all receive: simply have ISPs charge to receive mail. They wouldn't have to charge much. Say, 1/500 of a cent for each email. The ISP sending the mail could easily absorb this cost for casual users. The cost would be passed on to users who went above a certain limit. With the cost so low, this limit could be huge; a cost of only a dollar to an ISP is the equivalent of 5000 emails. Individuals would never see this fee as it would be covered by their monthly service fee. An ISP could reject email from a system that refused to accept the fee. Companies who send bulk mail would see a cost, but that's the whole point. By charging to send massive amounts of email you give companies incentive to target their customers better, just like they do for ads and flyers sent to your home mailbox. This breaks the feedback loop. Hell, I might even buy something from a spam mail if I ever received one that advertised something I actually wanted to buy. But, to date, I haven't. Or maybe I have, but all the other spam overwhelmed it and I deleted it.