Three Minutes: So-Called Spam King Sounds Off
PCW: You also filed a lawsuit against SpamCop [an antispam company that was acquired by security firm Ironport in 2003].
Richter: We believe that they have a product that's broken and all we want them to do is fix it. We didn't sue them about their spam filtering. We sued them about their inaccuracy.
PCW: And their inaccuracy is?
Richter: Who they report complaints to is inaccurate.
PCW: So who do they report their complaints to?
Richter: They just send them out en masse, to whoever they feel like sending it to. It's just an inaccurate system. And, if you want a company that is a spammer, IronPort is the one. IronPort sells servers that do nothing but send 24 million e-mails a day out of each server.
PCW: It's been reported that you make $20,000 a day or as much as $2 million a month. Is that true?
Richter: You know, I won't usually talk about what I make; obviously the New York AG probably subpoenaed documents or knew my financials. I don't really ever discuss that.
PCW: What about the idea of an e-mail tax, or a spam tax? The idea that we all have a few dollars a month added to our ISP bill to deal with our ISP handling the cost of spam?
Richter: That's not true at all. Has AOL gone up from pricing in the last ten years? It actually went down in price, didn't it? Look at MSN. When they came out ten years ago, it was $39.99 a month or $29.99 a month. And now it's $19.99. Prices are going down.
PCW: Actually, in 1996 AOL's dial-up access cost $19.95 per month. Today, it's $23.90 a month. In 1996, MSN also cost $19.95 per month for dial-up access. Today it costs $21.95. So the price of dial-up Internet access has risen.
Richter:Then why do these companies send e-mail to their members marketing their own services?
PCW: You don't think the price of Internet access would go down even further if there were no spam?
Richter: No. I think all you would have is a bunch of spam-filtering companies out of business.
PCW: So are you saying that you're not a spammer but perhaps you're keeping the spam-filtering companies in business?
Richter: Oh, I think the spam-filtering companies need us big time. If e-mail marketing stopped tomorrow, beside the fact that you'd have tons of people out of business online, think about all the spam-filtering companies that would be out of business. This is a billion-dollar-a-year business now.
PCW: But don't you think that sounds a little bit like tobacco companies keeping doctors or hospitals in business?
Richter: Part of that may be truthful. If a lung cancer clinic is only in business because everybody who smokes has cancer, then that's true.
PCW: But you don't think that your job is akin to spreading cancer?
Richter: No. You're reading what ten free radicals have posted on the Internet. You're not talking to people we do business with, companies that we've helped grow from 2 employees to 25 employees.
PCW: Can you tell me one of those success stories? What kind of good you do for these companies?
Richter: Yeah, we generate leads and acquisitions for companies. We generate on the average 300,000 leads a month right now--300,000 orders because of our work, off the Internet. Companies need that service, and companies need that business.
PCW: And what kind of companies are these?
Richter: A whole variety of companies: Coffee companies, home improvement companies, medical companies, psychic companies, cash advance companies, restaurants, cigarette companies, software companies, dating companies, animal companies. I mean, it's a whole gamut of them. We won't do business with anybody that's illegal. Anybody that has a product and wants to market it online.
We're no different than a search engine. You go to a search engine, you type in what you're looking for, and it gives you links that are free and on the side it gives you companies that have paid for sponsorship. We're no different. People come to us and we send out e-mail about different products. If you sign up for our lists, we send you e-mail that people have paid us to send you. We're more like a TV commercial. You don't know what's going to pop up next.
PCW: Has your reputation taken any sort of hit from the way you've become such a vocal figure?
Richter: No, the only change is that now I'm more of a media celebrity.
PCW: It's been said that your goal is to be a media celebrity.
Richter: You know, I'm going to give the public what they want. I enjoy what I do, I like the business. If the antispammers didn't harass me so much I probably would have retired by now. But you know what, that's what gives me my drive to keep going.
PCW: Do you think too much attention is paid to spam?
Richter: One thing that really ticks me off right now is the FBI, that they have 100 agents or computer specialists working on spam e-mail. Every day, all you hear about is a terrorist attack, about when it's going to happen. They pulled 100 agents off terrorist attacks for spam e-mail? What if another 5000 people die in a major devastation or even worse? How can they justify it? "The good news is, we found a spammer"? I sure hope that when a national disaster hits again, that the FBI feels good that we have 100 agents working e-mail.
PCW: So do you think the whole spam thing has just been way overblown?
Richter: Oh, it is. There are simple solutions to it. We're looking at launching a filtering product. Look at these filtering companies, at Brightmail. [Symantec is paying $370] million for a company with $26 million in revenue. Who'd pay 16 times earnings for a company? They've got to be nuts. But I tell you, if anybody could figure out how to come up with one of the best filtering products out there, it's probably somebody who's been in the business.
PCW: Is that in your future, a spam filter?
Richter: We're getting a lot of offers with filtering companies right now.
PCW: Anything firm that you can talk about?
Richter: No. Everything's under nondisclosure.
PCW: Is there anything you want people to know about your company?
Richter: We're not the reason that spam is an issue. People can opt out of our lists. We're not the people who send you the Viagra ad, with Viagra spelled 12 different ways. We're not the people who won't let you ever opt out. We're out to make the Internet a better place with e-mail marketing.
--Liane Cassavoy, PC World