The Truth About Email List Rental

If you’re unfamiliar or unimpressed with the practice of email list rental here’s the lowdown on the benefits and pitfalls, as well as the key differentiating factors between renting email lists other direct marketing tactics.

What Experience Has Taught Me

Legitimate email list rental opportunities have been tarnished by the practices of less-than-stellar providers…be they those who sell email addresses or outright thieves. In my 14 years in email marketing, I’ve worked with countless list providers. Some great. Some horrid. I now know what to look for, who to go to, who to avoid, and how a campaign will likely perform. But there are few guiding principles that will help all marketers, even those inexperienced at list marketing.

On a very high level, I’ve found that the best results for business-to-consumer marketers (i.e. marketers with a consumer-facing product or service) often lie in renting true subscriber lists. That is, opt-in email lists that are derived from a single source such as a publication, association, or non-competitive product/service. They are brands that the recipient knows and often values or respects.

The practice of selecting true subscriber lists is a great choice for business-to-business marketers too; however I have also found success in using well-maintained complied B2B lists (i.e. lists which are derived from multiple sources). B2B lists are a bit different. Marketers have far more latitude. More about that later.

Key Differentiators

  • The list owner (i.e. that company that built and rents the list) will transmit the marketer’s offer.
  • The marketer pays a fee for this service, usually on a cost-per-thousand (CPM) basis. Costs range from a few dollars per thousand to $550/CPM, depending on the volume of the campaign, the desired demographics, and source of the list.
  • Unlike direct mail or telemarketing, the marketer never sees the list.
  • Unlike inbound marketing, it’s all about producing a valuable offer, not content.
  • The email lists that a marketer chooses is often the most important factor, followed closely by the subject line, the offer, then the copy and design.

The Upside for Marketers

For many marketers email list rental is a consistent means of growing their own subscriber lists, packing their pipelines and of course making direct sales.  Here are a few benefits.

  • Value of association (“Hey, look at us, we’re friends with the list owner!”)
  • Low cost of acquisition (compared to other direct channels)
  • It’s quick (test results and make adjustments in days, not weeks)
  • Better deliverability (Compared to purchased email lists)
  • It’s compliant (think CAN-SPAM act)

The Upside for List Owners

List owners come in many flavors such as retailers, wholesalers, event producers, associations, as well as traditional publishers and bloggers. All of which can find considerable value in email list rental too, albeit of a different sort.

  • Revenue ($1-2 per subscriber, per year is a good rule of thumb)
  • Control  (what they’ll mail, how often they’ll mail those 3rd-party offers, and who they’ll work with)
  • Easy (no sales, marketing, billing – if you work with a professional list management company).
  • Hygiene (weed out hard bounces more frequently, which helps their overall email deliverability rates)

Case in Point

Going beyond selecting the right lists, wise marketers are no longer taking the “BUY MY STUFF” approach. Instead email list rental campaigns are getting more creative, take a look at this campaign from Surfline and Rip Curl. It’s a great example of how the publisher (Surfline) provides their subscribers with direct access to exclusive offers all while reaping additional revenue from the marketer (Rip Curl) in the process.

The Future of Email List Rental

Email deliverability will continue to be a challenge for marketers who use  purchased email lists. In fact, “challenge” is probably too light of a description. And that’s a good thing because it frees up inboxs for more relevant email communications. Besides improved deliverability, legitimate email list rental provides marketers with the opportunity to earn new customers at a fair price, all while respecting the mindshare of the subscribers. But be wary, the list rental universe is often a dodgy one. Marketers and list owners alike should look first to companies that specialize in email lists that originate (and are mailed) from respectable and identifiable sources.

Still have questions? Need a recommendation? Email me at

– Scott Hardigree | Indiemark | @indiescott


  1. Hi Scott

    My heart sank when I first saw the title of this article and the first sentence. I saw you had posted it so I was curious as to what SH had to say on the matter.

    I thought for a moment I had judged you all wrong and you had crossed to the dark-side. I am glad to see you were not really talking about list rental, but marketing to a third party list.

    It seems the perfect way to go, latching onto another publications mailing. You might be surprised to learn though that in the UK your great advice is a little harder to follow. The big publishing and media giants dont deliver your message for you at a CPM rate, they ‘rent’ you the list. Actually giving the client the Names & EMail Address. I was shocked to learn this was the case.

    1. Hi Andrew – Hope I didn’t give you a scare.

      Here in the states List Rental is term used when marketing using a 3rd-party list, which is often the cause for confusion and how the opportunity is usually ‘guilty by association’.

      I agree, leveraging the lists of others is great way for impatient and more aggressive marketers to grow their own house files and of course make new sales.

      Surprised to hear that UK publishers will hand their hard-earned subscribers, outright.

      1. I was more than a little surprised and would love a sit-down with some of those guys it is so obviously a bad model for them.

        They believe they protect their interests by ‘seeding’ their lists. Some go so far as to say it needs to be done through an approved ESP… the whole practice is still shady and so obviously open to abuse.

  2. I think it’s just semantics, but you’re talking about advertising here, not list rental. When people call me asking about list rentals, they’re really talking euphemistically about buying lists.

  3. Hey Scott – great post. Just wanted to say I received the email you sent this morning and loved the creative as well as the content (great subject line too – anything starting with “The Truth…” – got to drive open rates). Have a great weekend. – Brett

  4. List rentals have always scared the crap out of me. There is just no way to know anything about the true source of the list, how it’s been used, and if the recips are a complaining lot! I think the closest I have come is to place ads in others ezines or to have a partner send out a sponsored email or review type email.

    1. Good point Mitch. The waters in the email list rental world are often murky. But it really depends on the list sources and the ethics and transparency of the list owner (or their list manager).

      A great way to test those waters is to actually subscribe to the sources that interest you; it’s the best way to discern how much the publisher values their subscribers.

      Done right, email list rental can produce an unusually high ROI, but the devil is in the details. Have a good weekend. – Scott

  5. Scott – very informative post. Curious if you can recommend a few reputable list rental companies, or provide some guidance on how to go go about sourcing rental lists?


  6. I think list rental is a fab idea as you don’t have to worry about designing the campaign and worrying about your server getting spammed or black listed. I recently rented a list and their design and analytic team handled everything for me.

  7. Love this – and I love the idea of renting email lists. My marketing director and I purchased a list from, which turned out good, but for our next campaign we did a list rental with and we were pleasantly surprised. They helped with the design and deployment. Our open and click-through was much higher than with the purchased list. ROI was higher and we got some new subscribers for our organic list because of it. I plan on doing the same thing for our next campaign.

  8. Hi Scott 🙂
    I’ve just read Your post and that was my first here. I need to say was great, I’ve only heard about selling email lists somewhere on the blogs but have no knowledge about list management. For sure I’ll be coming here more often 🙂
    Thanks, Iza

  9. Reputable email marketing services don’t let you send emails to lists you’ve bought. Good email address lists aren’t for sale. People on a purchased or rented list don’t actually know you.

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