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Web-to-Print: The Best or Worst Investment?

Some print service providers are automating production with Web-to-print software, but this strategy does not work for all companies. This article explores why some companies succeed with Web-to-print while others fail.

By Howie Fenton
Published: March 19, 2015


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Howie Fenton is InfoTrends' Associate Director of Operational Consulting. For over 25 years, he has focused on benchmarking operational and financial performance in in-plants and commercial printers. He can be reached via e-mail at Howie.Fenton@infotrends.com.



By Trevor Cocks on Mar 20, 2015

Hi Howie, an interesting article and analysis - particularly that last graph.

As a company involved from a vendor perspective in print MIS and W2P, the top 4 challenges there are very real. Customer training and adoption are intertwined as one imo.

I truly believe that many printers go into web-to-print "blinkered" for the wrong reasons... on the principle of "build it and they will come". Some don't really think about how they will promote the site, drive traffic, and educate/train existing customers (the roll-out). They get sold the dream by the vendor - the razzle-dazzle of a flashy looking "storefront" (oh how I hate that word!)

Some printers buy web-to-print for ONE specific client, because they "asked for it"... They haven't had the vision themselves to decide where a strong transactional web presence fits into their business. It is fear-based.. If I don't do this I'll lose the account (or won't win it at all). This is the tail wagging the dog. What can then happen is the client's print buyer goes elsewhere, they lose the account and the w2p solution is left dwindling.

There are two sides to this whole thing: the benefits to the customer, and the benefits for the printer. If both are not met then w2p will fail - it has to be a win-win.

On the customer side the most important areas (imo) are the education and training of customers (as highlighted by your graph). For the printer it is all about the integration (less so staff training in my experience).

The printer must take ownership of marketing the site and training his clients to promote adoption, but likewise the vendors must be more engaged and accountable for integration between MIS and W2P.

Historically the integration issue has been a difficult one, because you are talking to disparate vendors with products that weren't "designed" to talk to each other perhaps. The printer then starts down a path of paying for professional programming/integration services which requires time, money (lots), and the complete cooperation of the MIS and W2P vendors (who may have their own agenda and vested interests). Inevitably the printer either loses interest or money, or runs out of time. Printer's are not IT companies and rarely have the in-house expertise to do this themselves. Painful lessons.

You could argue that the printer is equally responsible for integration, because he should have done due diligence when he chose his MIS/W2P partner(s). He should not have believed throw-away comments about "writing links" or "integration - yes sure that's possible" from a sales-person. He should have pushed this point and seen proof BEFORE making his purchase. What does integration even mean?... In short, it means different things to different people.

The answer? - Well a big topic to discuss here... definitely do a lot of due diligence.

You either choose two solutions (MIS and W2P) and ensure both vendors are on-board for integration and have experience with open-architectures/apis (there are a few truly like this), OR you choose one vendor that can provide it all seamlessly out of the box.

We at Accura MIS offer MIS and Web2Print in one fully integrated solution.


By Judy Berlin on Mar 23, 2015

You raise some valid points, Howie!
Web-to-print is transforming the print industry, bringing with it a host of benefits for print providers, but there are always challenges when implementing new processes. Of those benefits are generating business during off hours; strengthening customer relationships; ensuring brand control; expanding market reach; centralizing administration; and maximizing efficiency.
To me, the pros far outweigh the cons. But remember that achieving Web-to-print success requires ongoing training, commitment and partnership with vendors.


By Howie Fenton on Mar 24, 2015

Thanks Trevor, Judy and tlwengenroth (http://ow.ly/KHSzE. For someone who works with a lot of different companies I am constantly asking myself “Why did this (i.e. technology, product, equipment) work in this company but not that company”. Of course, there's never one simple answer, so instead you start to group the issues into categories such as “poor customer buy-in”, “lacks a champion”, “integration issues”, “internal sabotage”, and others. Then if you're lucky, you can find data to support your observations. I feel very fortunate now that I have joined InfoTrends to be able to find research to support these observations.


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