The answer could be a shock to your creative team. There is a trend within many Web-based email services to block images by default. We first saw this with Gmail, and while it was initially troubling to many publishers of email newsletters, Gmail email addresses only represented a fraction of a typical consumer email list, as little as 5% by some estimates. And while Gmail blocks images by default, you could set it to always download images from specific lists. The trouble here is that many email newsletters include a unique identifier in the address of each email sent, so while you as a consumer might set your browser to allows allow images from MyFreeWidget.com, if MyFreeWidget.com uses a unique identifier, each email sent will appear to Gmail to be a different list that must be set individually, essentially defeating the purpose and frustrating the consumer.
Two new announcements have the potential to make the problem worse than it currently is. Yahoo's new email program, currently in beta, follows the Gmail lead in blocking images by default. And while this image blocking does not extend to their current email product, it is certainly a signpost of the way Yahoo is thinking. And that is a much more significant threat than Gmail, since it is estimated by some sources that Yahoo addresses could amount to 25% of consumer email list. The other announcement is that Gmail has opened its email program to the world: before, it was by invitation from a friend only.
So why is this image blocking going on in the first place? Initially, it was most likely an anti-pornography attempt. Blocking images eliminated the fear that pornography spam's images would show up in the preview pane. A second reason lies in the fact that the more sophisticated spammer would place a beacon in the image files. By blasting out to a lot of addresses, they could determine if an address was valid via the beacon planted in the image, since it would be triggered by the preview pane unless the images were turned off. The most threatening problem, though, occurred this fall when images were actually used to deliver viruses and Trojans for the first time, making images a potential security risk.
All of this is good news for companies such as Goodmail, whose Certified Email service guarantees fully rendered images delivered to the inbox. It is not hard to imagine a day when services such as Goodmail's become standard operating procedure for every marketer concerned about the brand impact its messages deliver to the consumer.