The beginning of the end of printed mail . . . ?

Rivals Salmat and Computershare have stolen a march on Australia Post by jointly launching a “digital letterbox” venture that could replace printed mail.

The transactional print and communications giants have launched their first-ever joint venture by joining with US developer Zumbox to createDigital Post Australia (DPA), a “communication delivery service that will provide a free, secure online digital postbox for every Australian”.

Computershare and Salmat each have a 40% stake in the venture, with 20% held by Zumbox. Computershare Communication Services managing director David Hynes has taken the role of DPA chairman.

DPA has been in discussions with the top 30 mailers over the past six months to get them onboard before the service launches to consumers in the second half of the year.

The idea is that the first time a consumer opens up his or her digital postbox, it will already be filled with PDF versions of essential mail, such as bank statements and bills.

Salmat and Computershare will be able to lean on their close relationships with the major mailers. Salmat already controls 60% of the business-to-consumer mail in Australia.

Hynes stressed that DPA would be complementary to printed mail. “The need to deliver physical items isn’t going away anytime soon, but the need to deliver transactional communications online through a secure channel has evolved – and Digital Post Australia is bringing this to the market.”

A Salmat spokesperson told ProPrint: “We see this as a clear extension of our multichannel communications strategy and complementary to existing mail services.

“In the longer term, that might change if there is huge adoption but this is essentially Salmat ensuring we are ahead of the curve. There is no point putting your head in the sand.”

Salmat and Computershare each have an enormous stake in printed mail. Both made multimillion-dollar investments in equivalent high-volume printing lines in 2010, Salmat with Océ Jetstreams and Computershare with InfoPrint 5000s.

The decision to go with Zumbox came through Computershare Communication Services USA’s relationship with the software developer.

Zumbox is already active in this region following a deal with New Zealand Post in April 2011.

Hynes said: “Zumbox is a technology platform that has been tried and tested in other markets. Zumbox is a provider whose core technology is already up and successfully running in the USA.”

Zumbox chief executive John Payne said: “This is Zumbox’s second engagement outside of the US and we are excited to be advancing international markets’ push toward digital postal mail.”

The DPA website makes it clear that the project “is not an Australia Post business”, and the move into electronic mailboxes seems to have stolen a march on the country’s postal service.

However, Australia Post has been quick to respond to the news, with a spokesperson telling The Daily Telegraph it will launch its own digital post service “within a few weeks”.

Talk of a digital postal service for Australia started in August last year, when shadow communication minister Malcolm Turnbull told the National Digital Inclusion Summit of the Opposition’s plans to launch an electronic “pigeonhole” for every citizen if the party is returned to power at the next election.

“Government could save hundreds of millions – if not over time, billions – of dollars by saying to any Australian who wanted it: we will give you a lifetime address, a lifetime pigeonhole,” said Turnbull.

This article first appeared in ProPrint Daily Newsletter, 20th March 2012

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