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Online options for the printing industry

Mar 1, 2009 12:00 AM


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Web-to-print or “W2P” as it is frequently abbreviated, can encompass everything from online ordering to print production. Printing Industries of America's “Web-to-Print Primer” identifies four basic business models: print procurement (e-commerce storefronts or broker sites); marketing/brand management (private branded sites for corporate/franchise collateral ordering as well as sites for managing marketing campaigns); document management (fulfillment, mailing and inventory management); and workflow automation (client-facing portals to a print shop's internal production environment). This product roundup highlights one of W2P's most basic functions: generating online quotes.

Printers can opt for standalone estimating software generally used just for pricing purposes or a module from a comprehensive MIS package that will harness the data into an automated production plan. “There's a need for both,” says ConsultWare's (Salem, MA) Don Goldman. “Publishing companies often have price lists [for magazine customers], and for some packaging companies doing combo runs, a pricing tool might be sufficient. But cost estimating ultimately yields a job, and you're going to need a production scheme.”

Sophisticated storefront systems have strong production links. “Most have imposition software,” says Goldman. “Because of JDF and XML connectivity, these systems can set the production path and generate invoices.”

Inventory components also are common. “You don't necessarily have to set up an inventory of printed products,” explains Goldman. “I recently visited a company inventorying a customer's uniforms and office supplies.”

Rocket plan

Rocketprint Software (Greensboro, NC) offers RocketQuotes Web-to-Print storefront. It integrates into an existing website, using the printer's internal pricing. It offers quotes dynamically or at fixed quantity points. The complete e-commerce storefront can handle all transactions with customers including instant online quotes, fulfillment/inventory management, print-on-demand and data-merge print items.

A RocketQuotes-enabled website also allows the printer to create an unlimited number of customer portals — returning customers have secure access to their unique print items. Using DataMerge Pro, users can create print item templates that their customer can populate and proof online.

Out-of-the-box storefront creation & management

Amazing Print Corp.'s (Toronto) flagship product, eCardBuilder, provides proofing automation and print procurement solutions to dealers, printers and retail partners across North America, and allows clients to easily monitor, queue and automate all aspects of the printing process. It includes template-driven business card and stationery designs; private branded and printing service website; and inventory, fulfillment and support software.

Clear upgrade path

Print-Quotes Software (Kitchener, Ontario) offers instant online quotes and orders for custom project estimating or predefined product catalogs, client specific pricing, Web-to-print templates, file uploads and asset management, production dockets, management and reporting, e-commerce and accounting software integration, setup and administration. Users can start with a low-cost light version and upgrade to a full production version.

Complex or simple pricing

Red Tie Ltd.'s (New York) Quotation (RTQ) lets users' customers build their own instant quotes, submit jobs online and upload artwork. RTQ offers price matrices for printing, finishing, delivery, books and products. Complex or simple pricing structures are available for products on a global or individual user basis.

Storefronts and more

Online Print Solutions (OPS) (San Francisco) offers Web-to-print, dynamic publishing and cross media innovations. The suite covers a wide range of customer interaction requirements, including corporate storefronts, job submission, retail sites, online design, VDP and advanced multi-touch cross media campaigns.

End-to-end workflow

Aethos Technologies' (Santa Rosa, CA) PressWise is an end-to-end digital print workflow solution. Features include Web shopping/shipping, unlimited templates, estimating, quoting, order processing and management, fulfillment and MIS integration.

Harding Poorman taps Pro-Mail

The Harding Poorman Group (Indianapolis) includes Full Court Press, SPG Graphics, Ropkey Graphics, Discom Technologies, Miles Printing on Plastic, and Education Connection. The company recently selected Software Marketing Associates' (SMA) Pro-Mail Fulfillment software. Pro-Mail System is a suite of software solutions targeting fulfillment and direct mail providers.

JDF-powered estimating

Hiflex (Ashland, NY) Webshop is a completely dynamic W2P storefront that extends custom ordering capabilities to the print buyer with zero administrative costs. It uses JDF to automate estimating and provide dynamic ordering capabilities, and can be purchased as a stand-alone system or integrated directly into HIFLEX MIS or any other open or JDF-capable MIS.

Take a test drive

In 2008, the Digital Printing Council, a section of the Printing Industries of America, unveiled the Web2Print Test Drive Center, a one-stop resource for Web-to-print solutions. Printers can browse, search, compare and, in many cases, access trial versions of more than 60 options.

See you online

Printable Technologies (Solana Beach, CA) a leading provider of software as a service (SaaS) Web-to-print and personalized marketing solutions, has launched a new online community. It's a meeting place for the company's FusionPro variable data publishing (VDP) and W2P customers.

Printable's email forums have served its 1,500 customers for the past three years. From learning software basics, to sharing tips and tricks for advanced templates, thousands have benefited from the experience and knowledge of other Printable users and company experts.


Katherine O'Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at KOB@americanprinter.com.

Minding the store

We asked Gerald Walsh, product marketing director, EFI (Foster, CA) APPS Division, to tell us more about EFI's Digital StoreFront e-commerce solution.

“Our customers typically use EFI Digital StoreFront to streamline workflow, reduce touches and improve accuracy,” says Walsh. “Digital StoreFront standardizes the submission and quoting process. Everyone's speaking the same language — this is critical.”

Prompts, pull-down lists and data validation ensure that even a print novice can submit an RFQ with all the necessary information for an accurate quote. Digital StoreFront can be configured to promote special services such as design, advanced printing (spot color for example) and unique finishing options. These services can be highlighted during the submission process, identifying the need for a special quote or consulting.

“Digital StoreFront also can provide on-line quotes for standardized products, again speeding the submission process,” says Walsh. “These standard products can be provided in a general or customized catalog and may include variable data with on-line proofing for business cards, letterhead and promotional items.”

Potential benefits include the following:

  • Everyone's working with the same information

    “Eliminating manual processes ensures that we're all working with the same job description and details,” says Walsh. “This improves accuracy and speed.”

  • Information is complete and validated

    “You're no longer making multiple contacts with the customer to collect omitted information. Likewise, it eliminates the introduction of jobs with bad information into the production process.”

  • Information moves to production without re-keying

    “Accuracy is better and production is faster and non-chargeable rework and delivery delays are reduced,” observes Walsh.

  • Strong repeat business

    “Give a client an easy process for ordering and tracking with the ability to look at order history and re-order quickly, and you reduce their workload and costs,” says Walsh. “In many instances, a printer has doubled or tripled their business from a single print buyer while eliminating many of the costs related to sales calls and competitive quoting.”

  • Improved visibility with print buyers

    “Essentially, Digital StoreFront puts a salesperson on the buyer's desktop, ready to respond to their production needs,” Walsh explains. “The branded desktop makes the client feel as if they're working on a personal print buying desktop. Digital StoreFront also provides exposure to the printer's entire product line. When a buyer visits your Digital StoreFront site to order a product brochure, you can tell them about your other digital printing, wide format or direct mail capabilities.”

EFI's Digital StoreFront

Is W2P a product or service?

In 2009, it's commonplace to find printers doing business online, producing everything from simple business cards to complex fulfillment projects. But in 1998, some printers on the cusp of the dot-com boom essentially were given an Internet ultimatum.

“That year, Noosh and some other players appeared at Seybold,” recalls Don Goldman, principal of ConsultWare (Salem, MA). “The focus was on creating a buyer's market, where the printer's customers would put out their specs [and the printers would respond].”

Goldman, then the chief information officer and COO of Master Graphics, a multiplant conglomerate, recalls that large customers in the publishing, telephony and automotive industries said, “‘You can't do business with us unless you put all your specs in Printcafe.’ It was the same thing with Noosh.”

Although many of the dot-com pioneers signed up some important customers, virtually all found their original premise was flawed. “Customers were doing some online buying, but for the more complicated things, they still wanted to have a print salesperson involved,” explains Goldman. “At Master Graphics, one of our [key] clients wanted to reduce its print vendors from 150 to five. They intended to do everything online and eliminate salespeople. But marketing people said, ‘We still need the printer to help us.’ The software companies that survived, such as Printable, were product focused, with [online ordering for] business cards, envelopes and so on. As a result, commodity printing [flourishes] online.”

One notable example, VistaPrint (Hamilton, Bermuda) reported that its 2009 Q2 revenue grew to $138.9 million, a 32 percent increase over revenue of $105 million reported in the same quarter a year ago. Gross margin was 63.5 percent, vs. 62.0 percent in the same quarter in 2008.

Goldman says printers increasingly are moving beyond offering standardized products and fulfillment services. “The biggest difference between 1998 and 2009 is that printers have realized W2P is a service they can offer to their customers, it's something that will tie them closer to their customers.”

Using W2P tools, printers can create web portals to get customers' specs, receive copy and deliver proofs, communicate job status and delivery information and support electronic billing. Familiarity often leads to other opportunities, such as web portal development services for multimedia projects that may include campaign set up, offer response services and results analysis.

Integrating W2P with production modules

Avanti's (Toronto) eAccess Web-to-Print modules are fully integrated with its production modules. Customers can submit and access print jobs at any time, regardless of their location. The eAccess portal's look and feel is completely customizable. Users' logins control the branding they see, the options offered and online catalog products as well as payment options.

All Internet functionality operates within a secure environment, running on the Avanti customers own server that reads directly, in real-time, from the Avanti database. Customers see the most up-to-date information — any changes on the production side (order status, pricing, new products and so on) are immediately reflected on the eAccess portal.