How to Sell an Email List (Legally)

How to Sell an Email List (Legally)

Your email list may not be the most glorious of assets, but it’s one of the most valuable things you can possess. Many businesses out there don’t have the funds to run paid marketing campaigns consistently. And so they are looking for emails of people to whom they can market their products. If you can offer them a quality email list, they’ll be happy to pay you well. Oh, and if you could include a business to go along with it, that’d be great. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at how to sell an email list legally and the traits that make for a great email list.

What Is an Email List?

An email list is simply a collection of email addresses you have received through your online store or website. The addresses are owned by people who are interested in getting updates from you. You can enable customers to submit their email addresses by placing a sign-up field on your website. If you own a Shopify store, you can also display a checkbox on your checkout page that visitors can check to subscribe to your marketing emails, like the popular Shopify store Luxy Hair has done. Once people sign up and confirm that they want to receive marketing emails from you, you can send them product information, special offers, and newsletters that may encourage them to make a purchase. 

what is an email list

Why Sell an Email List?

There are good reasons to think about selling an email list. For example, it’s a win-win for all parties. The buyer gets to skip the long list-building process and start promoting offerings immediately. Meanwhile, you get to earn from the effort you’ve put into building a strong subscriber base. Here are some other reasons to consider selling your email list:

  • Improve business valuation: If you’re looking to sell a business that generates the most revenue from email subscribers, including the email list in the sale will give it a healthy valuation. This allows you to get a better price than what you’ll receive by just transferring the business name and inventory.
  • Build new lists quickly: Speaking of email lists, building them is never easy. You need to manage lots of moving parts before subscribers can think about signing up to receive your promotions. When you are selling an email list, you’ve already gone through the list-building process, meaning you’re aware of what it takes to create an army of loyal subscribers. As a result, you should be able to build new lists to keep or sell quickly. 
  • Explore new opportunities: Even if your current email list is profitable and targeted, you might want to explore another niche market if you see a good opportunity to enter it. In this scenario, it’s better to focus all your efforts on the new market and sell your existing contacts database. You can build another list collecting email addresses of consumers from that market. In the meantime, look for a buyer who has a passion for engaging the type of audience that makes up your current email list.
  • It’s a valuable asset: Email lists are one of the only marketing assets people truly own. Social media accounts are owned by Facebook, Twitter, and so on. And their terms of service can shut down your account at any time. But with an email list, you can bounce around from one provider to another and still have complete ownership of your list. Since it’s valuable, there’s a pretty decent return on selling it and a need for wanting it from the people you sell it too. Audience acquisitions are becoming more common these days to help new businesses jump start their success. 

Email is a valuable asset

Is It Legal to Sell an Email List?

The law surrounding the sale of email lists is anything but straightforward. However, we’ll try our best to explain the legal implications of undertaking this activity. Essentially, no law specifically restricts the sale of an email list. However, new legislation like the European Union’s GDPR reinforces the need to obtain explicit consent from individuals before you can send them your communications. Even if your business is not based in the EU, you must comply with GDPR if you have an audience in Europe. Plus, you must specify what an individual can expect to receive by opting-in to your mailing list. In many instances, website owners with email lists have subscribers who have not explicitly agreed to be contacted. Therefore, they would be violating GDPR by putting their lists up for sale.

In the United States, the CAN-SPAM Act regulates the sending and receiving of commercial emails. While it doesn’t prohibit selling email lists, it does forbid using emails for spam-related activities. If you sell your email list to a company you know will use it for spam, you would be breaking the law. Misstating the nature of the list might also prompt the regulators to hold you guilty of fraud or conspiracy. There’s also the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) that you need to be mindful of. This law requires companies to honor requests from California residents to delete, access, or opt-out of selling or sharing their information.

So before you put up that email list for sale, make sure that you comply with the law. A best practice is to use a ‘double opt-in’ process, which involves sending people an email to confirm their subscription before sending them your promotions. Those who neglect the confirmation should not be approached again. You can also vet potential buyers to ensure your list doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. (i.e., with someone who intends to send bulk unsolicited emails to the subscribers). Plus, if you use a mail provider, make sure to transfer your account access to whoever agrees to buy your list.

Is Renting an Email List the Same as Selling One?

In a word: no. Renting an email list means you still own rights to your subscriber base. The business paying the rent has no official relationship with the people on the list. Companies typically rent email lists to run a one-time campaign to reach a new audience. They might not even ask the seller to share the list of email addresses with them and just provide the campaign’s content to the list owner. Renting is a safer way to monetize an email list, but it won’t earn you as much as selling one, especially if it’s naturally associated with a full-fledged business. Plus, you’d need to thoroughly analyze the content of the renter’s campaign to ensure it doesn’t contain spam that might prompt your subscribers to write negative reviews about your business. And you don’t want that, now do you?

 renting vs selling email list

How Much Can You Sell an Email List For?

The best way to price your email list is to look at industry benchmarks. Consumer email lists typically sell for about $150-$350 per thousand email addresses. So if you’re a B2C brand with, let’s say, 3,000 subscribers on your list, you can charge between $450-$1050 for the entire list. A B2B (business-to-business) email list typically sells in the range of $250-$1,000 per thousand email addresses.

List charges vary based on the type of audience on the list. A more relevant and targeted list would enable you to command a higher price. B2B email lists are more expensive than consumer lists because people on that list have greater purchasing power and tend to spend more than B2C consumers. However, it’s no use to get B2B buyers on your email list if your product is designed for the consumer market. Keep it relevant, and you should be able to sell your list at a good price.

How to Build a High-Quality Email List That Sells

Some entrepreneurs see email lists as a numbers game. They will get as many individuals as possible to subscribe without evaluating whether they are the right fit for their brand. The reality is that having a big subscriber base with few targeted subscribers decreases the quality of your email list. Plus, irrelevant subscribers make it difficult for your ESP (email service provider) to get your messages to people’s inboxes. Email clients like Gmail do not favor emails that are irrelevant to the recipient. While businesses that build and maintain their lists with careful targeting may have a much smaller subscriber count, they tend to enjoy higher open and conversion rates than companies targeting everyone in a bid to grow their list.

Are you interested in building a quality email list for your business? Here are a few steps you can take:

  • Place your opt-in forms and CTAs strategically throughout your website. Some key places are your header or navigation bar, checkout page, and website footer, among other areas. Potential customers arriving at your site should be able to sign up easily. 
  • Make the email sign up exciting for your target audience. Share a benefit or two of subscribing to your list. Maybe you can offer people a discount or offer to deliver insider tips in their inbox.
  • Request enough information to segment your audience effectively, but not so much as to be intrusive. Asking people for their birth date is okay, but requesting them to share their monthly income or living condition is a bit far-fetched. Keep it simple if you want visitors to fulfill your requests.
how to build a high-quality email list
  • Use a double opt-in where your email provider sends requests confirmation from subscribers that they wish to stay on your list. This helps you comply with the law that requires you to obtain explicit content from people before you can start emailing them your materials. Further, it filters out bots that sometimes add random email addresses to mailing lists.
  • Segment your contacts into different categories based on their engagement and the data you have gathered. For example, you can group your subscribers based on purchase preferences, interests, order value, etc. Segmenting your list will make it easy for the potential buyer to deliver content useful to the recipients. 
  • Keep your email list healthy by practicing list hygiene. This is a process where you remove non-engaging, bounced, or inactive addresses from your list. You can do this by sending subscribers a re-engagement email to confirm that their email address is current and that they still want to receive marketing communications from you. Feel free to remove recipients who haven’t opened your emails in the past six months – they’re likely unengaged with your business. 

How to Sell an Email List?

If you’re new to the idea of selling an email list, you can create a listing on a marketplace like Fiverr, where businesses search for targeted lists to buy and use. You can also sell individual or segmented contacts to demand generation companies that firms approach for specific contacts. But perhaps the best way to sell an email list is to build a profitable business around it, and then you can sell the whole business and present the list as one of its assets

One great option is to set up a Shopify store targeting a niche market you are familiar with. Once done, you can start collecting customers’ emails using the tips mentioned in the previous section. Shopify also offers easy-to-use apps to help you grow your email list. For example, you can use the app Spin to Win to collect emails on your site. The app offers a different take on the standard pop-up offer by giving people a chance to win a prize by submitting their email. There’s also Shopify Email, an app that lets you send branded emails directly from your Shopify dashboard. It offers various pre-made templates that pull your branding from your website, as well as the option to customize buttons and text.

Shopify email

When it comes to selling the store and your email list, you can sign up to Exchange Marketplace to reach thousands of potential buyers. The platform allows you to sell online businesses and present the mailing list as one of the assets. You can also display the subscriber count on the platform to let people know about the size of your list. Other assets that Exchange allows you to include in the sale are your domain name, product photos, logo and branding assets, supplier contact list, social media accounts, and inventory (if you have one). Selling the entire business rather than a standalone email allows you to stay on the right side of the law while making a bigger profit. 

Exchange marketplace sell email list


Email offers a much higher ROI (an average return of $42 for every $1 spent) than other marketing channels. So it isn’t surprising that there are businesses out there looking to purchase targeted lists. Use the tips above to build a high-value list that you can later sell directly or as part of a business. Companies will be willing to pay for this asset, which allows you to make a good profit. Just be sure to keep your list relevant and clean.