A statistic offered during recent conference session stimulated a (then) spontaneous and somewhat provocative stream of thought. Using a very, very large sampling of spam, the presenter and his colleagues had determined that over 70% of spam targeted consumers of "life-style" drugs (non-scheduled prescription medications such as male performance enhancing drugs). This is such a staggering proportion of overall volume of spam that I immediately tried to think of another market where similarly astonishing statistics existed, to see whether there were similarities in demand-supply that made criminal activity attractive.
RIAA/MPAA piracy "statistics"
For the record, I don't question the validity of the spam statistic because the sources in this case are academians at a reputable university conducting research under the direction of a highly respected professor. The RIAA/MPAA stats are much less trustworthy (see Cato@Liberty), but they will serve my purposes for this post.
I began to think, "These are both problems of supply and demand, where criminals satisfy the demand in excess of supply. Is there a common way to solve the problem?".
Some experts argue that the RIAA and MPAA make it hard and expensive to for consumers to get the entertainment they want, at the time they want it, in the forms they want, at what consumers believe is an acceptable cost. The content suppliers don't satisfy consumer demand and certain customers resort to "piracy".
Can one argue that the US healthcare system and the US FDA make it similarly hard and expensive for consumers to obtain life-style drugs? Like Big Content, aren't they failing to satisfy consumer demand?Are certain customers responding to spam and resorting to counterfeit life-style drugs obtained through illegal pharm sites for essentially the same reasons that people "pirate" music?
A common solution for piracy and spam?
One suggested solution to piracy is that Big Content evolve their business models and make music and movies cheaper, faster, and readily accessible in all popular mediums. Could we apply this solution to mitigate spam? Specifically, would spam volume and spam-derived revenue be affected if the US FDA allowed life-style drugs to be sold as over the counter products1?
I discussed this notion with a few experts in the spam field. One expert observed that if life-style drugs *were* OTC, then efficient, high volume online merchants could undercut the businesses that currently market these drugs "illegally". Another agreed, stating that if these products were to be offered over the counter (or perhaps even as generics), the market for the spamvertised product would collapse due to insufficient margins.
Remember, we're talking about what represents 70% of spamvertising here. And there's no obvious candidate to supplant life-style drugs. The next most spamvertised pharmaceuticals are scheduled controlled substances. The markets are much smaller and the risks dramatically higher for both consumer and supplier.
"Increase supply. Satisfy demand. Eliminate the market for counterfeit product."
Admit it. It's as interesting a ten word sound bite as any you've heard this year. And no more provocative than many you've heard from Rick Santorum:-)
1 In case it is not obvious, nowhere in this "What if?" scenario am I advocating that any drug be made over the counter without considering public health and safety.