How to rent or buy an email list and why YOU should avoid it like the plague

Marketing and communication teams have significant pressure put on them to grow their reach and lists every quarter. This pressure leads many to want to see if there are new tactics or shortcuts that can be taken like buying/renting an email list. 

Full disclosure, I have purchased and used email lists in the distant past and have NEVER seen any ROI from the tactic. Today, the downside of this tactic is even higher with an even smaller return on investment. 

Hopefully, this article will map out the pros and cons of email list purchasing. 

Reasons not to rent or buy a list

  1. CAN-SPAM fines
    Let’s start with the scary legal argument: it is technically illegal to send unsolicited, ‘cold emails’ to people that haven’t opted-in to hear from your organization. This may be a bit of a grey area when working with an ‘email broker’ that is sending it on your behalf. Learn more about the CAN-SPAM fines which can be up to $16,000 per violation.
  2. ESP Reputation and getting booted
    When buying a list your company will need to send the emails from your domain and ESP (email service provider). So if a list of 5,000 just show up in your MailChimp, Constant Contact, or Emma account and 10% get flagged as spam when you send a blast out your account will probably be flagged as spam and possibly booted.
  3. The math doesn’t add up…
    The cost of messaging a cold audience that doesn’t know your brand at a rate of $6 per CPM can be beaten by almost any thoughtful social ad targeting that will have much better measurement. The time involved with managing the process can add up with copy revisions and negotiations.
  4. You aren’t the only one buying that list
    Like using a porta potty, someone was definitely there before you were there. Gross metaphor aside, consider the quality of the list and how willing someone who gets blasted with these cold relationship emails is going to respond to your message.
  5. Brand Reputation
    Consider how hard your company has worked to build its brand and then consider how that might change if you are seen to be a spammer…
    “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”
    – Benjamin Franklin
    “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
    – Warren Buffett
  6. You don’t rent relationships, you earn them
    For good organizations customers, supporters and donors are like friends. Relationships built over time on trust. Now consider how successful you, personally, would be at making friends if the first step of the relationship was you buying their data.
  7. No free lunches
    Buying or renting a list can seem like a quick tactic that can give a quick boost to your marketing goals. The sales pitch is very convincing, pay X and you’ll be magically handed your perfect customer. Just remember, there are no shortcuts in the relationship game. What’s more, if there were AND they worked the tactic would be exhausted instantly because everyone would do them until they didn’t work. 

How to rent/buy and use a purchased list

Let’s first define the difference between renting and buying a list. Renting a list doesn’t give full access to the data and only offers temporary message sending depending on the agreement. The cost vary based on the target audience, but a general consumer list will run about $6 per CPM (thousand email impressions), so a list of 5,000 will cost about $800. 

Once purchased, the ‘email broker’ will send out the agreed message to the audience at the agreed time/date. 

Buying an email list is more expensive than renting but allows your organization to fully use the information purchased for emailing or remarketing targeting. Costs range greatly based on the target audience and data request, but roughly $1 to $4 per email or $100 to $400 per thousand emails (CPM) should be expected. 

5 Things to do instead of spend money buying a list

  1. Lead acquisition ads on Facebook or Linkedin that will deliver highly targeted, opt-ed in leads.  
  2. Invest in creating a survey, whitepaper or resource download you can use as a lead magnet.
  3. Pay for Linkedin Sales Navigator, it lets you send much more targeted messages for a B2B audience. Still kinda spammy but can work if you’re thoughtful. 
  4. Offer a Amazon gift cards as a signup promotion.
  5. Hire a creative freelancer on Fiverr.com to create a fun promo video.
  6. Invest in a part-timer to do any of these tactics to grow your email list 
  7. Starting a small money fire and record it as a TikTok marketing stunt because burning your money might be a smarter move than buying a list.
    Disclaimer: it is illegal to destroy US currency but so is sending cold email so pick your poison.

Companies that offer renting buying of email lists


If you weren’t convinced by this article not to buy a list here is a list of companies that offer these services: