Whitcoulls defends school ‘spam’ campaign

Bookseller Whitcoulls is defending itself over a mass email campaign it conducted aimed at teachers.

Bookseller Whitcoulls is defending itself over a mass email campaign it conducted aimed at teachers.

Whitcoulls’ consumer research manager, Sharyn Taylor, says the contact information for the marketing exercise came from a $5 “Web Guide” booklet, published with the apparent approval of the Ministry of Education. This gives email addresses and other contact information for schools throughout the country. Such information is also available on the website of the ministry’s “online learning centre” Te Kete Ipurangi.

The targeted email exercise was Whitcoulls’ first, Taylor says, adding that teachers themselves had suggested that email was the best way of contacting them. In retrospect, she says, Whitcoulls was “a bit naïve” in not giving recipients a chance to take themselves off the list. This “opt-out” clause, frequently appearing on unsolicited emails, gives a URL or return email address where recipients can try to get themselves removed — though this is not always reliable.

Whitcoulls, when contacted by Computerworld last week, had already planned to send out a separate email offering opt-out, Taylor says.

The “Web Guide”, subtitled “a directory of internet resources for educators”, is published by APN Educational Media, which also publishes the Education Gazette. Spokespeople at the ministry, however, appear unaware of the former publication.

APN manager Lee Smith says there is “a fair point” to be made on the lack of guidelines on use of the publication. “In fact a lot of publishers should be indicating more clearly how their material should be used.” APN will consider what kind of annotations should be made in the “Web Guide” in future, he says.

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