While offering mailing services can deliver a new revenue stream for print service providers, it’s important to remember that it’s an entirely new business requiring different knowledge and skills, says Jim Workman, Assistant Vice President, Center for Technology and Research, Printing...
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Printers can either use a software package or a cloud based application to clean, update and sort mailing lists. Using a software package often means dedicated resources, learning curves, and maintenance schedules which can result in added time and expense for a printer. A more cost effective and efficient alternative to software is a cloud-based mail processing solution, says Pam Corbeille-Lepel, VP Client Services, Lorton Data.
In a cloud-based solution, the mailing software does not reside on the printer’s computer. Similar to other cloud applications such as Gmail or iTunes, the user (in this case the printer) accesses the mail processing application online through a web browser. Updates, maintenance, and management are all handled by the cloud service provider, offloading precious production time and resources from the printer. Typically, updates, new features and maintenance happen transparently to the user.
“Features of mail processing cloud applications rival those of even the most robust mailing software packages at a fraction of the cost,” says Corbeille-Lepel. “Additionally, rather than having to make a large purchase up front with annual maintenance and service fees as in the case of software, with a cloud application, monthly subscription pricing is available, making it easier for a print shop to manage budgets.
Lorton Data’s cloud-based mail processing solutions include A-Qua Mailer, an on-demand service designed to maximize postage discounts for customer mailings, and provide cleansing, updating, and sorting services for their customer lists. A-Qua Command enables print shops to automate the processing within their workflow. These services are easy to use and available online anytime, says Corbeille-Lepel.
Along with software, mailing services require several pieces of machinery, including a tabber, an addressing unit, and an inserter. Deciding on which equipment requires an assessment of type, run length and frequency of mailings. Depending on the volume you’re looking at and the level of sophistication required, total equipment investment can run from $50,000 to $150,000.
If you’re projecting low volume runs, you could go with the least expensive option—tabletop equipment. This typically demands an investment of about $30,000 for a tabletop tabber, addresser, and inserter. Tabletop models, while slower and not effective for medium-to-high volume work, are well-suited for a printer that is slowly making its way into offering mailing services.
Tabbing equipment, which applies adhesive tabs or wafer seals to mail pieces, is used for mass mailings of newsletters, booklets, brochures, newsletters, double postcards, and other self-mailers, explains Workman. While tabletop models apply one tab, more substantial models are able to apply up to three 11⁄2-in. tabs in-line. This capability is necessary to meet new USPS specifications for self-mailers and booklet tabbing regulations.
High-end tabbers not only run faster, but also include a programmable interface and can handle a broader materials range and size. These tabbers area also able to apply labels and stamps, as well as tabs and seals.
Obviously every piece of mail has to be addressed. If you aren’t addressing your mail pieces on a digital press, then you’ll need some kind of inkjet addressing equipment that can print fixed text, variable text, as well as barcodes like the IMb.
There are a variety of approaches to inkjet addressing, including the very popular thermal drop-on-demand inkjet (TIJ) unit. In these units, the aqueous ink cartridges also contain the print head.
Moving portable inkjet heads, situated in-line with folders, stitchers, and inserters, are often sought out by larger-volume direct mail and publication printers.
The largest and most expensive piece of mailing equipment is usually the inserter, reports Workman. One of the main things to consider when purchasing an inserter it how fast it can process the mailings per hour. Also important are application handling and flexibility, since you’ll want an inserter that easily handles a range of applications.
Before plunging in, Lorton Data recommends talking with a mailing industry consultant, as they can aid in planning for a transition, and in arranging an appropriate hardware configuration.