Commentary & Analysis
Web-to-Print Becomes a Product Category: It's Business, not e-Business
By Chuck Gehman Isn'
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: May 3, 2004
By Chuck Gehman Isn't it time for the other fifty percent of printers to take the plunge and got wired for business? May 3, 2004 -- People are using the Internet to make travel arrangements and buy tickets. Amazon.com is profitable, and consumers buy goods over the Internet every day. Consumers are actually shopping for cars over the web (a couple of years ago, this seemed ridiculous, didn't it?) We use the Internet for banking, too… these days, I am almost upset when I go online with my bank and notice that someone hasn't cashed a check I wrote them a couple of weeks ago (in the few cases where I actually write the check by hand). Access to up-to-the-minute information is key: we use the Internet to look up the weather forecast before traveling, for both home and destination cities. Google and other Internet search engines have become the first choice for high school and college student research when they write papers. Ubiquitous Internet access is truly here. According to a recent Nielsen NetRatings report, about 80 percent of Americans ages 35-54 have Internet access as do 77 percent of children and 63 percent of seniors. An estimated 204 million people now have Internet access in the US--quite an impressive number. What's even more astonishing, is how quickly the Internet has become an essential work tool. From online research to web marketing and web collaboration, wired employees and employers are online and expect the companies they deal with to be online as well. Both printers and their customers have begun to realize just how powerful the Internet can be as a customer acquisition and retention tool. The printing industry is not exempt from this trend. What we're seeing in the printing industry today is strong demand from customers for Internet applications, from job submission to fulfillment applications. Printing companies that wouldn't have considered implementing Internet applications two or three years ago are finally ready to make the plunge. And this is a major change: as recently as four years ago, many commercial printers considered the fax machine to be the embodiment of high tech communications. According to CAPV's March 2003 study, The U.S. e-Print Infrastructure Market, more than half of the print providers surveyed said they offered Web-enabled services to their customers. Isn't it time for the other fifty percent of printers to take the plunge and got wired for business? As we rapidly approach the "JDF Drupa," we are beginning to see systems that link customers on the Internet to production and business systems at the printing company. Both printers and their customers have begun to realize just how powerful the Internet can be as a customer acquisition and retention tool. Most of the discussions of JDF have been about programming presses (a la CIP3 PPF and ink key presets), but we're entering a new era of JDF where the "customer's intent" will be brought into the equation. We are starting to see companies that were early adopters of Internet technologies now providing real functionality to their customers (not just "brochure-ware"), such as job submission, simple specifications, online catalogs, and job status information, and they need ways to increase their traction and business with customers via the web. These companies are ready to take it to the next level by adding even more functionality to their web presence. In the past, printers couldn't compare one web-enabled system to another. This is changing very rapidly, and at Drupa, you'll see many examples of functional Internet-based products from many companies. Web applications for print have finally matured enough to become a product category. It's no longer about e-commerce, it's finally about what it should have been all along: doing business with customers in the most efficient way possible.