When I was a kid, I pored over tech books like The Macintosh BibleI always found myself glossing over the sections on direct mail, which I – rightly, I maintain – dismissed as something boring that only adults should worry about.
So, naturally, here I am, twenty-five years later, in a situation where direct mail is actually very useful: I recently sent quite a bit of snail mail, and I discovered that my printer could print envelopes (albeit one at a time, which is a bit of a shame). But rather than typing or copy-pasting addresses into the envelope template I set up in Pages, it seemed like it would save time by automating that process. This is exactly what direct mail is supposed to do.
Except Pages doesn’t have a mail merge feature.
A bit of googling later and I found a solution of, of course, from my former Macworld colleague Chris Breen. Chris’s article in turn pointed me to AppleScript guru Sal Soghoian’s Mac OS X automation sites. Among the wonderful resources you can find is a little helper app called Page data mergingwhich did pretty much exactly what I was looking for.
Long story short, there’s a feature in Pages that lets you mark parts of documents as placeholder text. These placeholders can then be addressed by scripts, and Pages Data Merge can import rows of data from Numbers (or other sources like a CSV file) and generate separate Pages files (or PDFs, ePubs, DOCs, etc.) with the data from the connected spreadsheet. in the model.
I used it to grab the names and addresses I had entered into Numbers, insert them into the envelope template, then generate individual Pages files for each custom envelope – and it worked like a charm. The only downside is that every time I want to do a new batch, I have to remind Pages Data Merge which Numbers columns go to which Pages placeholders, but honestly it doesn’t take more than about 30 seconds.
It might not be exactly the kind of handy fruit Apple is looking to add to Pages, but it’s certainly a bit of a feature-hole at the moment. It’s great that Apple’s robust automation (and Sal’s magic) means you can make this work even without Apple building it in, but I’d like to see a more robust solution.
In the meantime, if you were looking for a way to personalize this type of content – and I should note that Pages Data Merge even lets you automatically attach created files to personalized emails – this might work just as well for you as it has for me.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at [email protected] His latest novel, The Nova Incident, comes out in July and is available to pre-order now, so do it!]
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