How to build your e-zine subscriber list rapidly and inexpensively using “Safelists”


By Robert W. Bly



            Online marketing expert Debbie Weil recently asked me, “How do you know whether an e-zine is successful?”

            “An e-zine is successful if it achieves its stated marketing objective,” I replied. “Conversely, if you have no written marketing goal for your e-zine, you have no way to determine whether it is worthwhile.”

            The original goal of my e-zine, “Bob Bly’s Direct Response Letter,” was simply to update clients, prospects, book buyers, seminar attendees, and colleagues about things I was doing that they wanted to know about, such as publication of a new book or availability of a recent speech on audiocassette.

            As a result, I kept it deliberately small: between sign-ups on the home page of and e-mail addresses added from my database, circulation was about 2,000. And that was fine with me.

            But my plans changed, and I suddenly wanted to get a lot more subscribers in a hurry. One reason was that a larger e-list would mean more sales of my books when announced in the e-zine. In fact, my publishers were concerned that with such a small circulation, sales of my books to my e-zine readers would be insignificant.

Also, a larger list would allow me to do cross-promotions with other e-zines, enabling me to reach a wider market for my books and tapes, as well as drive more people to my speaking engagements and Web site.

            I called Peter DeCaro, my freelance Web master, and gave him the task of adding new e-zine subscribers. To my amazement, within 6 weeks he had built my e-zine distribution list from 2,000 to more than 60,000 subscribers.

            “How did you do it so quickly and inexpensively?” I asked Peter (the entire fee was around $1,000). “Safelists,” he replied.  

            As Peter explained it to me, the Internet users on what is known as a “Safelist” have agreed to provide their e-mail address in exchange for the ability to regularly promote to the list’s membership. It is known as a Safelist, I suppose, because it is “safe” to send promotional material to these people -- they have opted in and agreed to receive it.

            Peter has joined numerous Safelists for the purposes of promoting his clients’ offers, including me and my free e-zine. You and I can join, too. There’s no exclusivity. Some Safelists are free to promote to; others require a fee. But the fee is a tiny fraction of what you’d pay to mail to traditional rented opt-in e-lists, which can run $200 to $400 per thousand.

            What works in promotions targeted to Safelists? “Free offers tend to pull well in Safelists,” says DeCaro. “So by offering a free report or some other freebie in your promotion, you establish credibility with the Safelist subscribers and encourage them to investigate the source of the ad -- you -- further.”

            Some Safelists permit only text ads; others allow either text or HTML. Peter says HTML ads pull better on Safelists.

            I asked Peter where one finds Safelists. He recommends several online directories that contain Safelist listings, including,,, and

            Here’s how our promotion worked: Instead of sending Safelist subscribers directly to to simply sign up for the free e-zine right away, we first directed them to a special landing page offering a free bonus report as an extra incentive for subscribing to the e-zine. The copy on this landing page began:

            “For a limited time, you can get a FREE copy of my report offering recession-proof business strategies by clicking here. Apply these techniques to your own marketing and selling efforts during a recession or a down time, and you will survive - even prosper - while others struggle to get by....”

            A link at the bottom allowed the reader to click onto my home page to sign up for the e-zine. An autoresponder automatically fulfilled the subscriber’s request for the free report.

            Peter suggests using a cgi-based autoresponder as opposed to a pay service. A cgi script is prewritten code that performs the autoresponder function of automatically responding to e-mail requests. A good Web site that reviews different cgi autoresponder scripts is Many cgi scripts can be found on

            At this point you may be thinking that Safelists sound like an Internet scam and that the quality of the names can’t be any good. This I don’t know yet -- it’s too early for me to tell. I do know that the unsubscribe rate for Safelist-acquired names is many times higher than people who subscribe to my e-zine either because they (a) know me or (b) signed up for it on

            What I do know is that if you’re interested in quantity and not necessarily quality, Safelists can be an effective way to build your e-zine subscriber base in a hurry at very low cost.

            If you’ve had experience using Safelists, good or bad, why not e-mail your thoughts to so I can share them with our readers? And to reach Peter DeCaro, visit


About the author:

            Robert W. Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha). His e-mail address is and his Web site address is