The Web-to-Print Opportunity: Revitalizing Printing in the Internet Age By Tom Leibrandt April 16, 2007 -- The Internet has wrought dramatic change on the printing industry, increasing competition from alternative forms of communication and changing the way people think about print. It also has brought new opportunities to the industry, and savvy print service providers are moving quickly to take advantage of those opportunities. Perhaps the biggest advantage the Web offers is the ability to remove geographic barriers from what previously were local businesses serving local geographic areas. Now with the right mix of advertising, marketing and search engine optimization, printers can draw business from anywhere in the world using what is increasingly called Web-to-Print. Taking advantage of Web-to-Print does not require an investment in variable data technology. A lot of the discussion around the Web-to-Print topic focuses on variable data and template-based applications, such as just-listed/just-sold mailings in the real estate business, or promotions by a local hotel franchisee to its frequent guests. However, Web-to-Print is much broader than that and does not require an investment in variable data for printers to take advantage of the opportunity it provides for business growth. Short-Run Books Tim Simpson is a good example of an entrepreneurial printing executive who transformed his business using the Web. Simpson acquired QuickPrint, Inc., in 2001. The company, located in Saline, Mich., was an independent quick printing firm offering two-color offset printing and primarily serving the local area. A substantial amount of the company's business was coming from the production of business cards and stationery for local corporations and universities in nearby Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Still, Simpson had a vision that would take the business in an entirely different direction. Simpson launched an Internet-based business, DiggyPOD.com, designed to meet the short-run publishing needs of authors who wished to self-publish rather than struggle with the difficult process of working their way through traditional publishing channels. "We are not really a quick printing operation anymore. Our previous bread-and-butter --business cards and stationery-- represents less than 10 percent." "We provide a Web site that allows authors to upload their manuscripts, and we print the book blocks and full-color covers, laminate the covers, bind the books and ship the specified number of copies to the author," Simpson says. Simpson also found he could serve authors by producing all of the associated marketing materials they needed to promote their books. Orders come to him via the Web, and he is heavily using search engine optimization to draw business to the site. Simpson uses a Presstek DI press to produce this short-run, high-quality work, leveraging the press' automation and consistent quality to quickly turn work around. He has transformed his business and notes: "We are not really a quick printing operation anymore. We do so much more. Our previous bread-and-butter --business cards and stationery-- represents less than 10 percent of our business now." Ido Print Another great example of Web-to-Print in action is On Demand Imaging in Portsmouth, N.H. Founded in 1998 by John Adams and Scott Prevost as a prepress service bureau catering to the printing industry in the Portsmouth area, the company added printing services to stay competitive as the prepress industry changed. Adams and Prevost were looking for the easiest way to get into four-color offset without having to become printing experts and as a result, acquired a DI press. They soon saw mounting competition from Internet-based printers eating into their business and determined that they needed to reinvent themselves once again by adding a Web-to-Print solution. With that in mind, On Demand Imaging spent 18 months building a user-friendly Web-based customer interface called IDoPrint.com. This interface tool not only makes it easier for customers to do business with the firm, but it also takes cost out of the process for both On Demand Imaging and its customers by streamlining the order-to-production-and-invoicing process. All aspects of the process --including quoting, ordering, file transfer, scheduling, proofing and payment-- are executed through the IDoPrint.com Web site. We knew if we didn't begin to offer Web-based services, we would not be able to continue to compete. Adams says: "Just as we saw change coming in the prepress business, we saw change coming for the delivery of printing services as well. We knew if we didn't begin to offer Web-based services, we would not be able to continue to compete." Response has been excellent, according to Adams, especially with the use of search engine optimization to make IDoPrint.com easier to locate amidst the thousands of printing firms that show up when "Googling" business cards, post cards or printing. Adams points out that the fast turnaround offered by the DI press is critical to being able to meet the needs of his new Web-based audience. He says, "We can go from desktop to sellable sheets in 20 minutes or less, and we don't have all the makeready time and waste that is inherent in conventional offset printing." These are just two examples of enterprising print service providers who are turning the power of the Internet to their advantage without the need to invest in the technology and human resources required to produce variable data printing. They are leveraging the market demand for short-run printing, using their DI presses to deliver high quality, fast turnaround print jobs to a geographically dispersed customer base. These print service providers are breathing new life into their businesses through improved productivity, increased volumes and higher margins than they were able to achieve by producing traditional commodity print. They present a terrific example to printers everywhere of how to adapt and thrive in the rapidly changing 21st century landscape.