Walter J. Carl stated in a 2004 Western Journal of Communication article that "MLM organizations have been described by some as cults (Butterfield, 1985),[57] pyramid schemes (Fitzpatrick & Reynolds, 1997),[58] or organizations rife with misleading, deceptive, and unethical behavior (Carter, 1999),[59] such as the questionable use of evangelical discourse to promote the business (Höpfl & Maddrell, 1996),[60] and the exploitation of personal relationships for financial gain (Fitzpatrick & Reynolds, 1997)".[58][61] In China, volunteers working to rescue people from the schemes have been physically attacked.[62]
Because of the encouraging of recruits to further recruit their competitors, some people have even gone so far as to say at best modern MLMs are nothing more than legalized pyramid schemes[13][21][22] with one stating "Multi-level marketing companies have become an accepted and legally sanctioned form of pyramid scheme in the United States"[21] while another states "Multi-Level Marketing, a form of Pyramid Scheme, is not necessarily fraudulent."[22] In October 2010 it was reported that multi-level marketing companies were being investigated by a number of state attorneys general amid allegations that salespeople were primarily paid for recruiting and that more recent recruits cannot earn anything near what early entrants do.[67] Industry critic Robert L. FitzPatrick has called multi-level marketing "the Main Street bubble" that will eventually burst.[68]
Beim klassischen Direktvertrieb werden in der Regel firmeneigene, spezialisierte Außendienst-Mitarbeiter eingesetzt (Eigenpersonal). Diese verkaufen direkt an den Kunden unter Ausschaltung von Zwischenhändlern. Die Mitarbeiter im Netzwerk-Marketing sind ein wachsendes Netz aus selbständig und selbstverantwortlich handelnden Laien (Fremdpersonal), die haupt- oder nebenerwerblich als Wiederverkäufer bzw. Vermittler arbeiten. Im Vergleich dazu ist die Zahl der Außendienst-Mitarbeiter im Direktvertrieb gering, weshalb beim Direktvertrieb der Kostenanteil des Vertriebs niedriger ausfallen kann.[2]
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