Someone not involved with email marketing recently asked me if the anti-spam positions taken by Delivra and other email service providers aren't hypocritical. "After all," he reasoned, "if spam weren't a problem for the ISPs, then there wouldn't be a need for spam filters, and therefore your clients wouldn't need an email service provider to help get their mail delivered. Seems to me that you need there to be spammers for your service to have value."
There's at least some truth in that statement. Yes, ESPs "benefit" from the problem of spam in the same way that police officers, judges and jailers benefit from the problem of crime. As long as there are criminals, those professions will enjoy a certain measure of job security. Similarly, as long as there are spammers, ESPs will be needed to help legitimate marketers send opt-in email campaigns in ways that won't be mistaken for spam.
Further, I guess you could technically argue that, occasionally, ESPs profit directly from sending spam. We've had to terminate clients for violating our terms of service by sending unsolicited email. But when we fire them, it's not as if we're also refunding their payment for services already used. There are costs involved in sending as much mail as we do (and abuse only drives those costs higher).
But believe me when I say that we at Delivra would rather live in a world without spam. For one thing, we're email users ourselves; unsolicited emails in my inbox annoy me as much as the next person.
Second, the problem of spam complicates our sales process. In most other industries, "qualifying prospects" refers to making sure they have the appropriate budget, decision-making authority, and reasonable timeframe for making a choice to purchase. For ESPs, there's an added dimension of "making sure we trust the prospect's opt-in practices enough that we feel comfortable accepting the actual money they're prepared to pay us." Someone who meets all the other criteria of a "qualified" prospect can still be someone with whom we decide we shouldn't do business.
But most importantly, if there were no spam, we wouldn't have to spend time dealing with deliverability concerns, because there would be no need for filters. Then we could give even more attention to the other services we provide. Even in a world without spam, marketers would still need tools for managing their mailing lists; creating attractive content; segmenting their recipients and targeting them with most relevant message possible; monitoring mailing results to know what techniques do and don't work with their constituents; and integrating email marketing with other critical systems.
Anyone who sees the role of the ESP as limited to preventing spam filtering would have good reason to fire their ESP in a world without spam. But the smarter marketer also values the other services of an ESP--those that actually help them make money or retain subscribers.
A world without spam is pure fantasy of course, just like a world without crime. Spam is part of our reality, but it's not the whole reality. If you think email marketing is all about avoiding spam filters, I know some people who would be glad to help you broaden your view of what's possible.