Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Post-Press Software for the Future: Three Metro Newspapers Team Up with IBM to Plan an 'Intelligent' Mailroom Computer System

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Post-Press Software for the Future: Three Metro Newspapers Team Up with IBM to Plan an 'Intelligent' Mailroom Computer System

Article excerpt

TRYING TO TAKE a lesson from manufacturers of less perishable products, the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Boston Globe have teamed up with IBM to plan an "intelligent" mailroom computer system to manage the mind-boggling job of distributing billions of advertising inserts.

The Integrated Production Resource Management System (IPRMS)"will do for the mailroom what pagination will do for the composing room," said William O. Taylor, chairman and CEO of Globe parent Affiliated Publications Inc.

Planners hope to use knowledge-based artificial intelligence systems to integrate and coordinate post-press functions, which Taylor said "are becoming almost impossible to keep track of."

A survey by the Newspaper Association of America shows that the number of inserts carried by newspapers has soared 57% in seven years, from 45.4 billion in 1985 to 71.6 billion in 1991. Revenue from inserts has grown 12% a year over seven years-while total newspaper ad revenue growth averaged just 4.5%.

The steadily rising tide of inserts has swamped newspaper mailrooms and fueled the expansion of post-press operations and systems.

The Globe, for example, is building an entire plant solely to prepare its Sunday insert package and hopes to cut labor requirements and to increase its ability to target sales pitches at consumers.

The unusual software development project--three of the nation's biggest metro papers and the world's largest computer company--came about because of the increased use of narrowly targeted ad inserts and because nobody else had the resources to develop such a system--neither current vendors to the newspaper industry nor the Newspaper Association of America--said Globe production manager Mike Ide.

The papers looked to IBM's plant operations unit in Austin, Texas, because of its experience in helping integrate systems for such diverse operations as a state liquor distributor, a Minnesota printer and a unit of Ford Motor Co.

Though IBM's staff "never walked into a newspaper," Ide said, the methods and tools it used for other manufacturers "apply equally well to our business. One of the unfortunate things is we are too inward-looking. …

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