Driveway spam

Freshness Warning
This blog post is over 15 years old. It's possible that the information you read below isn't current and the links no longer work.

Ken Norton is getting the SF Examiner delivered to his home, although he’s never asked them for it. He calls it Driveway Spam.

I had the same problem with the New York Times. It would show up every once in a while. I assumed that the delivery guy made a mistake and someone in the neighborhood was missing their paper.

Then the paper started showing up daily. Still assuming the problem was an errant delivery driver, I thought that surely the intended recipient of the paper would start to wonder why he was being billed for a newspaper that didn’t show up. He’d call the paper and that would be the end of it.

After a month, I called the paper. The person in the subscription department took my name and address and promised to stop delivery. A couple of months later, the paper was still coming. I called and spoke to billing this time. I’m certain that the call center I spoke to is located in the Keystone Cops office tower. They asked for my account number.

"I don’t have an account number."

"Well then what’s your address? That’s odd, I don’t see an account under that address."

"No kidding," I replied. "I’m not a subscriber."

"You aren’t receiving the New York Times," she’d say.

"And yet here it is, sitting right in my hands. And at my feet are the last three months worth of papers."

Was I certain it was the New York Times? I assured her it was either the Gray Lady or someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make a very good forgery. Every day. For three months.

They couldn’t cancel delivery because I wasn’t actually getting the paper. They had no idea how to even track down my phantom subscription. I suggested that perhaps they talk to the local distributor. They obviously have my address somewhere. They manage to find it at 4am each day.

That was it, then. They’d talk to the distributor and the paper would stop showing up. But it didn’t. The paper kept coming. Maybe the distributor was slow. Maybe they needed to send an encrypted message in Braille by carrier pigeon. And the pigeon got lost, or simply couldn’t read Braille, what with those tiny claws he calls toes. In any event, they’d straighten it out. After all, the nice lady named Betty said they would.

Weeks passed. I now had enough fishwrap to take care of Jaws and most of the sequels, so I called the Times again.

"What’s your account number?" she asked.

Finally I was able to explain the problem. They proposed calling the distributor. Perhaps that would work this time. Maybe they’d use a pigeon that hadn’t flunked the orienteering merit badge as a Squab Scout. But I wasn’t taking any chances. I’d already called a number of times and sat on hold to cancel a paper I wasn’t paying for. I wasn’t about to do it again. I pointed out that California has a law against littering and the minimum fine is $1000 per occurrence. With seven days in the week (every week of the year!), that ought to add up pretty quickly.

I was assured that the New York Times was not littering. So I had to explain what litter was. "You’re throwing paper onto my driveway. Paper I don’t want and have to clean up. What’s the difference whether that paper says New York Times and contains articles, or says McDonald’s and contains half of a cheeseburger?"

They must have used the smartest pigeon in the coop that day. I haven’t seen the New York Times since.

Dave Kaufman - Techlife
January 12, 2007 5:55 AM

Imagine if the lawmakers gave power to individuals for email spam.... "Hello, you have sent me 2500 spam emails since July 2004, according to the police, which are conferenced on the line you can either pay me by credit or cash, the fine is $1000 per occurence. Oh yeah, we charge a 3% convience fee for using a credit card."

January 12, 2007 8:36 AM

Great story. Your analogy at the end is excellent.

Ken Norton
January 12, 2007 9:36 AM

Thanks for sharing this tale. Your story reminds me of another experience. A few years ago my wife and I decided we'd try to get rid of most of our junk mail. We kept a stack of junk for a month and then called, emailed or snail-mailed as many as possible. Most of the "reputable" companies agreed to take us off their list, except one - Comcast. Comcast told us they could only update our "marketing preferences" if we became a customer (we use DirecTV). To this day we get 2-3 pieces of Comcrap every week. If it came down to the last straw, perhaps you could have signed up for NY Times delivery service and then put it on "vacation hold" indefinitely. :-)

This discussion has been closed.

Recently Written

The Trap of The Sales-Led Product (Dec 10)
It’s not a winning way to build a product company.
The Hidden Cost of Custom Customer Features (Dec 7)
One-off features will cost you more than you think and make your customers unhappy.
Domain expertise in Product Management (Nov 16)
When you're hiring software product managers, hire for product management skills. Looking for domain experts will reduce the pool of people you can hire and might just be worse for your product.
Strategy Means Saying No (Oct 27)
An oft-overlooked aspect of strategy is to define what you are not doing. There are lots of adjacent problems you can attack. Strategy means defining which ones you will ignore.
Understanding vision, strategy, and execution (Oct 24)
Vision is what you're trying to do. Strategy is broad strokes on how you'll get there. Execution is the tasks you complete to complete the strategy.
How to advance your Product Market Fit KPI (Oct 21)
Finding the gaps in your product that will unlock the next round of growth.
Developer Relations as Developer Success (Oct 19)
Outreach, marketing, and developer evangelism are a part of Developer Relations. But the companies that are most successful with developers spend most of their time on something else.
Developer Experience Principle 6: Easy to Maintain (Oct 17)
Keeping your product Easy to Maintain will improve the lives of your team and your customers. It will help keep your docs up to date. Your SDKs and APIs will be released in sync. Your tooling and overall experience will shine.


What I'm Reading


Adam Kalsey

+1 916 600 2497


Public Key

© 1999-2022 Adam Kalsey.