Asking all printers: Who wouldn't want to boost your local and regional business in 2011 and widen your geographical market reach in the process? Oh, and at the same time you could reduce sales costs for customers while freeing up your own reps to chase more business—with no snake-oil strings attached. If this sounds like a win-win-win-win proposition, that explains why so many printing firms are turning to web-to-print technology to help increase their profit margins. John Arnsdorf, product marketing manager for XMPie, calls web-to-print "the preferred approach to the marketing and sales environment."
Jay Mandarino of award-winning printer CJ Graphics, Toronto, says online storefronts are his firm's biggest growth area, with three full-time programmers now on staff and two more to come soon. The 40,000-square-foot sheetfed and digital operation is celebrating its 30th business anniversary this year. On average, web-to-print orders account for between 25 percent and 30 percent of most printers' gross total sales, says consultant Bob Atkinson.
Simply put, web-to-print is a browser-based software application that lets printers sell their wares online. More than that, it facilitates commerce, collaboration and/or customer service interaction between those who buy print products and those buyers and sellers of printed products. Web-to-print is nothing new, starting with the onset of e-commerce in the 1990s, say InfoTrends consultants.
In making the industry tradeshow rounds this year, most recently GRAPH EXPO and PrintWorld in Toronto, it is evident just how many web-to-print suppliers are out there today. At GRAPH EXPO alone, more than 40 exhibitors brought some type of web-to-print solution to Chicago. Some names are familiar, such as Avanti Computer Systems, GMC Software and Printable Technologies; others are newer to the scene -- Aleyant, PrintSites and Prisme Technologies' PrintSYS product. (PN readers, please note that this report is not a product roundup and is not intended to be comprehensive.)
Indeed, "the number of vendors has doubled in the last three years," estimates Atkinson, a senior technology consultant with Sabatier who spoke at the biennial PrintWorld show in late November. More than 30 printers gathered to hear Atkinson, who brings more than 25 years of experience in the graphic arts/publishing and new media industries, advise how they can create profit centers using web-to-print technology.
While most North American print firms have websites by now, only about 30 to 35 percent of US small and mid-size shops use web-to-print to their advantage, says Atkinson. Web-to-print shopping is sort of like shopping for dry breakfast cereal at the grocery store: There are so many variations that all look good and all sound good and most probably taste pretty good, too. So, which one should you buy? The answer, of course, depends on what you have a taste for, and/or whether you're counting sugary calories. The consensus is that web-to-print services can be sweet for print providers' bottom lines.
W2P Layers and Players
At its most base level, web-to-print means virtual retail "storefronts" where people can obtain price quotations, submit jobs and, well, buy printing online. The lion's share of web-to-print providers now offer design templates for products such as business cards and letterhead/stationery. At GRAPH EXPO, for example, WitPrint Technology demonstrated its Web Cloud web-to-print software that features an online design tool. End-users can upload popular file types, including AI, CDR, PSD, PDF, J-PEG, TIFF and PNG. UpLinX, a PaperlinX company, has premedia software solutions including on-demand quotes via an e-commerce storefront and an add-on module that merges personalized data into customized print materials.