Direct mail is big business, accounting for $900 Billion in annual revenues, employing nine million people. Industry consulting firm CAP Ventures projects print related mail services to grow at a 35% CAGR, or increase from $1 to 4.5 Billion in the next five years. At Xplor 2001—Orlando, I interviewed Bruce Otte, IBM Worldwide Manager for Production Solutions Strategy, and asked him what impact he thought the Anthrax scare would have on the direct mail business. Otte sees "further consolidation of printers from what we see today. Direct mail will move closer to the mail sites, with the United States Postal Service (USPS) becoming directly involved in direct mail printing." Cited examples for the USPS to emulate, include the postal departments of England, Germany and Sweden which made this switch about a year ago. As an example, the German Post Office now prints billing statements for German Telecom. "Existing direct mail houses will move into more specialized areas which involve custom and individualized inserts. Small shops will disappear, and trusted, USPS approved operations will prosper. Printers need to become output consultants to their clients," says Otte. Like the railroads which didn't think of themselves as being in the transportation business, print providers need to be responsive to customer needs, constantly revitalizing their service offerings. Often, these needs are unspoken and need to be fleshed out by service providers.

According to Otte, "book publishing, document publishing/corporate reprographics and one-to-one customer initiatives (including direct mail) are the primary markets within commercial printing which constitute IBM's primary marketing focus". Facilitating these objectives, software products, hardware enhancements and new finishing capabilities are being offered.

Supporting this initiative is a job ticketing capability using a PDF workflow, Acrobat plug-in called Visual Job Ticketing (VJT) which simplifies tasks associated with complex print jobs. VJT utilizes an easy-to-use graphical interface for building different output device profiles. This includes profiling particular RIP characteristics for each device in order to optimize its own particular halftoning capabilities. In addition to reducing job setup time, VJT minimizes training required to achieve difficult and repetitive tasks by graphically defining document and page level, providing visual cues of job ticket parameters, creating multiple jobs and providing paper and tab selection. An especially nice feature is a click-and-highlight graphical solution for inserting pages (color and tab), changing page order and specifying duplexed pages.

Infoprint Manager XT, IBMs workflow management solution for IBM B&W and color devices, "automates 80% of meta code translation for standardized, high-quality PostScript output", according to Otte. "Since some tags are not standardized, the remaining 20% of tag conversion is accomplished through a mapping program. Once done, the non-standard tags process seamlessly," producing standardized PostScript from a divers range of file types.

In the hardware department, the Infoprint 4100 has optimized half-toning capabilities, paper selection and many new finishing options. Both pin-fed tractor and friction-fed roll is offered for high-speed book publishing, statement and direct mail applications. A smorgasbord of finishing options abound in a mix and match array. Key to fast finishing, according to Otte, is the "fold-stack-stitch sequence", which allows for precisely folded and stitched documents of different sizes. These new features and product enhancements are geared to assist IBMs three-market, commercial printing industry focus and penetration. For additional information, go to the IBM Web site at