The Asymmetrical Economy of Spam

Written by Chris Ivey on May 23rd, 2011. Posted in Unmasking Spam

In an earlier post, I wrote about the curious economics of the spam industry.  Considered as an industry, the numbers initially make spam seem like an attractive proposition, with estimates, (and no figure relating to spam is better than an estimate), of global revenues from spam running as high as $3.2 billion in US dollars in the porn business alone. However, because of the quasi-legal nature of the industry, and the fluidity of the borders between nuisance selling and outright fraud, it’s difficult to really put a number on the value of the industry as a whole.

Put simply, it’s hard to determine how much of spam is selling, and how much is stealing.  The membrane that divides the merely sharp operator selling an iffy MLM scheme from the illegal operators selling unlicensed drugs and software, or from the outright frauds who are trying to find “marks” is continually breaking down as operators exchange personnel, data, and technology.

It also becomes apparent that the actual revenues generated by individual operators aren’t really all that attractive. All too often, spam operators use the methods they do because they’re trying to sell a product that doesn’t really present an attractive value proposition, and wouldn’t perform well enough to be a viable selling proposition if they were obliged to pay to use more orthodox marketing channels.