Straight Talk From the Digital Printing Council Internet Storefront and Center By Frank J. Romano June 2, 2006 -- During the dotcom boom of the late 1990s, there were a lot of wild and crazy ideas that were presented to the printing industry. Most of them were good at raising money but few were good at making money. Almost all of them involved print buyers and print originators using the Web as a tool to communicate with printers. And they all wanted a percentage of print purchasing revenue. Over 30 percent of all print is now purchased via Web-enabled tools. Fast forward to 2006. Over 30 percent of all print is now purchased via Web-enabled tools. If you count FTP sites and e-mail attachments, over 50 percent of jobs are received via the Internet. The bad dotcom business models metamorphosed into the good business models--software and services that printers can apply to create Web storefronts for interfacing with customers. The concept of the Internet storefront is simple--it is the portal to the printer. It is a job submission site, a job verification site, a job specification site, a job monitoring site, and a job pricing site. A storefront also allows customers to re-order jobs from a catalog that lists them. Printers use a blend of software to provide Internet storefront services: * 30 percent developed the storefront internally; * 44 percent purchased it from a vendor; * 26 percent use a combination of both. There is no doubt that the very nature of print buying has changed. Once, I met a printer with two pagers and two cell phones hanging around their waist. It looked like Batman's utility belt. They said that print buyers would often call and wanted instantaneous response; thus, they had to contact the plant in order to communicate whatever the customer wanted. Today, that printer would probably have a PDA in order to read e-mail. The good thing about e-mail is that it leaves a trail. When specs change or approvals are provided, it is in writing. The new print buyer is much more oriented to e-mail. Storefront software keeps track of all jobs and feeds status reports back to the website--but it also generates e-mail to all those involved, from the designer, to the buyer, to the marketing person. One of the last bastions of non-automation in a printing plant may be the intersection of sales, customer service, estimating, and planning. JDF is the enabler of all this. The hype about JDF has now become pragmatic implementations that communicate job information to and from every process. You cannot buy JDF, but you can buy systems that work very well because of JDF. One of the last bastions of non-automation in a printing plant may be the intersection of sales, customer service, estimating, and planning. Internet storefronts are a major step toward integrating these inter-related functions into new automated workflows. The storefront itself is only the visual manifestation--the underlying software must communicate with the printer's MIS estimating, planning, and scheduling functionality, as well as receive information from all steps in the workflow and then present them to the customer as status reports, PDF proofs, or other advisories. Within a few years, almost all printers will have Internet storefronts.