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The Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., Inc. (HFM U.S.) project

As an I.S. director it's not often that I can find a utility that fits a specific need completely. More often than not, the utility hasn't even been written, or if it has, it's just not exactly what I need. So it was pretty cool when I stumbled upon something that really fit the bill-txt2pdf.

Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., Inc. (HFM U.S.) is the New York-headquartered subsidiary of Hachette Filipacchi Médias, the world's largest magazine publisher. HFM U.S. reaches nearly 50 million readers in the U.S. through its 18 titles including American Photo, Boating, Car and Driver, Car Stereo Review's Mobile Entertainment, Cycle World, ELLE, ELLE Decor, ELLEgirl, Flying, Home, Metropolitan Home, Popular Photography, Premiere, Road & Track, Sound & Vision, Travel Holiday, Woman's Day and Woman's Day Special Interest Publications.

We began a project in 2001 to decommission our last remaining mainframe system. The single application running on it was almost 100% COBOL and responsible for acknowledging and invoicing orders places for advertising in our magazines. The project was to move it to Windows NT without rewriting it all.

A main obstacle was output. The COBOL was spitting out thousands of acknowledgements and invoices monthly on preprinted multipart forms, not to mention reams of paper reports, all using line printers and 1st-column carriage control. I sure didn't want to try to configure NT to output to a line printer! As a matter of fact, I wanted to get out of the report printing business entirely and use our intranet to deliver PDFs. At first I thought Acrobat could do it all, but those pesky carriage control characters kept getting in the way and batch processing seemed difficult.

Further, I still didn't know how I was going to convert the forms to laser. For that I was going to use Crystal, but I hoped I'd be able to find an easier way; Thank goodness for the Internet. I started my research and almost immediately found txt2pdf. How many times has a software company told you, "The software doesn't exactly do that, but we've built it to be flexible so we can easily add that functionality?" Well... Yeah... OK. I'll get back to you if I don't find anything. You can imagine what it felt like to hear, "Yes. It'll do that." to every question I asked about txt2pdf. Here's what I've got it doing for me:

  1. It converts all of the carriage control characters correctly-a form feed gets a new page.
  2. If a report starts with a form feed, it eats it so you won't get the blank page.
  3. It can run from the command line, so batch processing isn't a problem. (It's also got a GUI interface.)
  4. Our reports are not always 132 characters by 60 lines, but I can custom configure a report so that it will center and look perfect coming off a laser printer. When a custom config hasn't been built, the standard config (which also can be tweaked) is used.
  5. The configuration file also supports line drawing, so as txt2pdf converts each acknowledgement or invoice file, an appropriate form is created and laid on top of the now-converted line printer output. I'm importing the company logo into the form, too.

In short, the product works and Sanface supports it well. Thanks a lot, guys!

This is a sample Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. bill


This synopsis was compiled by:

Peter Manse
Director of Application
Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.

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The Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., Inc. (HFM U.S.) logo