The other day, INTERN found a trampled but still legible coupon on the sidewalk for 15% off any book at a charming local bookstore on the little island she is temporarily calling home.
"Huzzah!" exclaimed INTERN. "What a find!"
She stuck it in her purse along with various other sidewalk finds (feathers, pennies, someone's bifocals) and went along her merry way.
Today, INTERN went to the bookstore and picked out a book to give to her big sister for Christmas (The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes, in case you're curious—INTERN's big sister is a crafty lady). When INTERN took her purchase to the counter, she presented the friendly clerk with her coupon.
That's when things got peculiar.
"Write down your e-mail here so we can keep you updated on our events," said the (really very friendly) clerk.
"Oh, no thanks," said INTERN cheerfully. "I'm just visiting."
"You'll still want to know about our events," said the clerk.
"Oh, but—I mean, I'm not going to BE here. I'm moving to California," explained INTERN.
"Yeah," said the clerk, "but you'll want to stay updated on our events."
This was turning into some kind of bizarre stand-off. INTERN began to flail a little.
"But—I'll be living in my van. In California. This is literally the only time I'm ever going to be near this store."
She tapped the sign-up sheet for the e-mail list.
At this point, INTERN decided there must be something sinister going on. Perhaps the store had some kind of policy whereby employees would be fed to the hogs for letting customers escape with their contact information unharvested. If so, INTERN certainly didn't wish to responsible for this nice woman's demise. She scribbled down her e-mail address (yes, her real one—INTERN will never learn...) and hurried out of the store before the clerk could shake her down for a Facebook like as well.
This was a fairly benign experience as such experiences go, but it speaks to a larger phenomenon of people, businesses, and institutions jumping on the e-newsletter and/or social media bandwagon in an ineffective and slightly ridiculous manner.
The e-mail harvesting craze reminds INTERN of the time last winter she decided to make acorn meal. Like a greedy squirrel, INTERN gathered all the acorns she could find, conveniently overlooking the fact that some of them had black spots, some of them had been sitting on the ground for months, and some of them weren't the edible kind at all. At the end of the day, she had an impressive pile of acorns, of which only a tiny handful were actually suitable for human consumption. They ended up rotting in a bowl until Techie Boyfriend threw them outside.
You can have ten thousand newsletter subscribers and not reach a single person. What matters more than numbers is connecting with people who actually care. And for that you need to be a discerning squirrel, not a greedy one. Certainly not a rabid one!
INTERN is all for bookstores (and writers, and publishers) doing everything they can to connect with readers. But unless we're smart about it, all we're going to end up with is a pile of rotten acorns—or a bunch of newsletters for events happening 800 miles away.
Are you weirded out by having your e-mail address wheedled, bullied, or bribed out of you? Does anyone actually READ e-newsletters? Where do you draw the line between reaching your target audience and reaching some poor sap who doesn't know you from a spammer? INTERN wants to know!