Up to now a digital mailbox solution featured a web site, managed by the digital mailbox vendor, where consumers would receive all their bills and communications from organizations with whom they do business. In some models, unsolicited advertising might also be delivered to digital mailboxes, segmented into separate folders from the transactional documents.

Two of the major players in this business in the USA have recently backed out. Both Zumbox and Manilla have concluded there is insufficient interest from consumers and mailers at this time to sustain continued operations.

Another digital mailbox entity planned for the US market was Volly, from Pitney Bowes. If anyone was going to succeed in widespread adoption of digital mailboxes, I thought Pitney Bowes had the best chance. But Volly had its own difficulties, announcing and then missing multiple launch dates in the USA over the last couple of years as they strove to build up volume. Eventually, a version of Volly was implemented at Australia Post - but there have been no recent announcements about renewing plans in the USA. When we didn't hear from Pitney Bowes after two of their competitors closed up shop, it seemed there must be something in the works.

A different approach this time
As it turns out, there was some development underway over at Pitney Bowes. The result of this development is the recently announced Inlet - a joint venture between Pitney Bowes and Broadridge, a premier distributor of investor communications and a longtime supporter of Volly. I had an opportunity to meet with executives from Pitney Bowes and Inlet to learn how this new offering is NOT another digital mailbox system as we've come to know them. It's more of an enabling technology connecting document distributors with presentation portals - all in the background.

I'm glad to see this change in thinking. Replacing a simple and familiar bill delivery system that works pretty well (the US Postal Service) with something new requiring consumer behavioral change wasn't catching on. Four out of five consumers in the USA still prefer to receive at least some of their bills and other transactional documents on paper. The digital mailbox offerings in the marketplace just didn't provide enough benefit to convince those people to embrace these paperless alternatives.

The Inlet approach abandons the idea that digital mail service must include consolidation within a proprietary mailbox system. Instead of prying consumers away from an established trusted entity, Inlet will deliver the proper content to the bill-pay or file-storage provider chosen by a consumer. For many consumers in the US, their bank's bill-payer application probably fills the role of a mail consolidation site today.

Portals signed up on Inlet will be able to accept and present content directly from any Inlet-enabled biller or document service provider. The billers and service providers generating the documents will have a single interface to incorporate into their workflows, regardless of the final delivery destination for each document. Inlet keeps track of individual customer delivery preferences instead of requiring this information to be gathered and managed by each individual mailer.

Time will tell
Inlet has already signed up some partners who will help supply content. The new company has forged a connection with some financial institutions who could be some of the first document portals powered by the new system. Of course it will take a while for these partners to get up to speed and actually start serving real live consumers. However, the influence and resources of Broadridge and Pitney Bowes, along with the background approach taken by this new venture might be the best chance for a near-term shift in paperless adoption by consumers.

Will we start seeing "Inlet Inside" as the standard for digital mail delivery? Will other similar solutions come to market? It's going to take a while to find out. We'll keep an eye open as Inlet and other digital delivery strategies develop. Stay tuned!

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm helping companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. Connect with Mike directly at Or visit and sign up for Practical Stuff - the free newsletter for document operations professionals.