Why subscribe to a newsletter you don’t read?

Why would you subscribe to a newsletter that you don’t read? I mean, maybe you intend to. Maybe it’s sitting there in your inbox unread just waiting for you to get around to it Real Soon Now. Or maybe you filter it off to some folder where email does to die. I get that. I do that all the time.

No, what I’m thinking about is the case where an obvious spam account signs up for a newsletter. As of this writing, my newsletter has 283 subscribers — a number that has grown 27% in the past month. But only 40 people at most have ever opened it. The number of opens has stayed relatively constant even as the subscriber count has gone up.

So why do I think the accounts are spam? For one, there’s the fact that most of them haven’t opened any newsletters. Sure, maybe there’s a reason for that. But also they look…spammy. The addresses are often yahoo or other domains that have fallen out of favor. The names represented by the addresses don’t look like the names of people I know. I can’t imagine why people I do know read my newsletter, nevermind why strangers would. Taken all together, I feel safe calling many of these accounts spam.

But to what end? I understand spam accounts on Twitter liking random posts in the hopes that someone will look at the profile and click a link to whatever thing someone’s trying to peddle. Or maybe follow the account and get clicks that way. That makes sense to me. But what can a spammer do with a newsletter subscription? Is it a really crappy denial of service attack? Do they hope that after a few years my subscriber list will exceed Mailchimp’s free tier? Maybe it’s done to hide nefarious activity in a flood of confirmation emails. That seems like the most likely answer, but it doesn’t seem very efficient. Then again, I’m not a spammer, so what do I know?

6 thoughts on “Why subscribe to a newsletter you don’t read?

  1. People like me that block outbound connection requests from the mail client won’t register with the tracking pixel. So you probably have more reads than you realize.

    I used to have one of those newsletter things. maybe I should try writing it again.

  2. @Chris that makes sense. I figure some people do that. I do it too, but GMail lets me opt-in to auto-loading images on a per-sender basis, so I’ll generally allow that for select newsletters. But even assuming my total open count is higher than Mailchimp reports, it’s pretty clear to me that most new signups are not real.

    What is real is your newsletter that you should definitely resume.

  3. Sometimes, people just have (and get) too much in their inboxes. They can’t read everything, at least not without making it an unpaid part-time job.

    Back when I published a weekly newsletter, only about half of my couple of hundred subscribers opened one. Ever. It is what it is.

    I wouldn’t sweat it too much.

  4. Yeah, I don’t mind the real people who don’t actually read it. Like I said in the posts, there are a lot of reasons for that. It’s the fake subscribers that perplex me.

  5. The fake subscribers don’t seem to be part of the bot-registration attack you linked to as those would require real email addresses of victims. I have two alternative theories: a) it is botnets testing for the ability to use your list for those kinds of attacks; or b) it is a proactive way of preventing spam accounts from being shut down. I would believe that ISPs monitor for accounts that don’t follow typical send/receive ratios. Therefore your input confirmations serve as “inbound email”to legitimize the account.

  6. Brian, it’s possible that the fake subscribers are actual email addresses, but I haven’t verified. Some of them seem pretty obviously non-real, so I like your theories. I still secretly hope its because I speak too much truth to power so someone is trying to very slowly drain my finances by making me pay for MailChimp. That seems pretty far-fetched, though.

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