The New York Times has an informative interview with a man who used to earn his living sending “bulk email.” There are a couple of take home points:

1. Spammers don’t make that much money because there is a lot of competition. The price for sending a million e-mails is about $900, and will drop soon. It’s only about $300 for 10,000 e-mails.

2. Spammers cater to other dodgy businesses. Not the kinds of people to be deterred by toothless legislation.

3. The author claims mass faxes were reduced because individuals were allowed to prosecute individual junk faxers for small amounts ($500). Enough to harass junk faxers, but not so large that the plaintiff would have to engage in a lengthy court battle. These smaller fines hurt because most spammers are small time operators with slim profit margins.

The most insightful observation is that legislators have considered both models of controlling spam – prosecute a few large operators for millions in fines, or let citizens go after the small fry in civil suits. The deck is stacked against the second solution – one FTC officer said but that there needs to be “a couple of good hangings.” Conclusion: we probably have the legal and economic tools to curtail unwanted mass emails, but the political process won’t let it happen.