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Just the W2P facts

Jan 1, 2008 12:00 AM

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PIA/GATF's “Web-to-Print Primer” is a model of clarity on an unwieldy topic. The book covers five key topics: business models, what to do before you get started, selling Web-to-print and a buyer's guide. That's a lot to discuss in less than 200 pages, but co-authors Sarah McKibben and Julie Shaffer are equal to the task.

What is Web-to-print? McKibben and Shaffer concede that there's a lot of crossover among the various product offerings. They make a strong case for 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).

Many printers' indecisiveness is hampering their efforts to boost their online offerings. Typical stumbling blocks include determining which type of solution to offer, evaluating the merits of homegrown vs. commercial products and understanding the difference between vendors' offerings. “Develop a business plan to determine how Web-enabled services can fit in your operation,” urge McKibben and Shaffer. Consider these questions:

  • What type of user is expected to interface with the system?

  • Do you need a localized language interface?

  • Should the system integrate with other existing systems?

  • Is IT or special staffing required?

  • What are the upfront and ongoing costs?

  • How customizable is the solution for individual clients?

  • Is the system user friendly?

If you're not a do-it-yourselfer, you can purchase a solution from a print workflow vendor, a third-party integrator or a solutions vendor. A hosted solution can be cost effective as well as expedient — you can implement it almost immediately. Licensed and turnkey packaged solutions are the most prevalent delivery models. Costs range from $10,000 to $100,000, depending on the level of customization and concurrent users supported. “While the cost might seem high, buying a packaged solution can be much less cost-prohibitive than building your own,” submit McKibben and Shaffer. “All of the licensed and turnkey solutions offer some degree of customization and the actual system is licensed and operated by the buyer, either onsite or through a server hosting service.”

Selling strategies

How will you sell Web-to-print services? Start by establishing your pricing model. “Unless you have deep pockets and immense faith in the volume of work that will be garnered by the site, you must account for overhead,” the co-authors caution. “You [must] charge your customers something to recoup your development costs.”

Target C-level executives and remember you're selling an entire business solution, not a one-time job. Rather than price-per-piece, focus on solving the customer's problem(s). How will you add value to the customer's business? “Illustrate [long-term] cost savings and demonstrate that you fully understand the metrics of Web-to-print and its potential impact on your client's business,” advise McKibben and Shaffer.

Once you've won the sale, prepare a contract that details setup fees, monthly maintenance services and expansion considerations.

Web-to-print success stories include TecDoc Digital Solutions (Hudson, MA), VistaPrint (Bermuda), Graphic Communications Corp. (Lawrenceville, GA), Vermillion (Derry, NH) and Custom Print Now Solutions (Columbia, MD).

Graphics Communications Corp. (GCC) helped a corporation in the hospitality industry streamline its ordering process while maintaining brand consistency. Users at the customer's 850 worldwide locations can create customized pieces. GCC now produces 150 distinct printed pieces per day in multiple quantities for this client. GCC president and CEO Hoyt Tuggle says Web-to-print promotes stronger customer partnerships that generate more conventional print work.

The primer concludes with listings for more than 50 companies offering Web-to-print products and services. Concise descriptions enable readers to quickly assess their online options.

The bottom line

Readers hoping to find a rationalization to avoid adding online capabilities will be disappointed. “The decision to get into Web-to-print shouldn't be a decision, it should be a given,” declare the authors. “Printers risk losing business by not offering online services.”

Katherine O'Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at