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Web to Print: Hero or Zero?

Web to Print

Web to Print Hero

One of the fastest growing sectors in the Print Industry is Web to Print & Online Print Management services — in particular, online commercial print management for medium to large sized organizations. What started out as an easy way to order business cards and flyers has recently grown into full-fledged customer-branded online print management portals, but the question remains:

Is it really worth all the hype?

Change is Inevitable

If there's one thing we can count on in any industry, it's change. Change for the better, change for emerging technologies, changes in standards, regulation-based changes, economical changes, changes in expectations, demand changes, and sometimes even drastic industry-killing or industry-creating changes, and if there's any industry that has gone through it's share of changes in the last few decades, it's the Print Industry.

One of these changes involves the ability to upload large files quickly over the Internet. We take it for granted today, but in 2000, only 3% of the US population had access to broadband — and the broadband of that time was much slower than today's Internet. As a result, uploading very large files to your printer was not the norm. Just over a decade later, with broadband now available to over 70% of the population,  you would be hard pressed to find someone still using FedEx to overnight their disc and print instructions to their print provider.

Most Change is Good

Change is (mostly) Good

The ability to upload large files and browse faster on the web brought about another inevitable change: Online Print Stores. The increasing availability of broadband and changing attitudes about doing business online created a whole new print industry based solely on eCommerce. For the first time, individuals and companies alike could order business cards, flyers, brochures and other collateral online and have it shipped right to their door. Suddenly, print consumers were able to do things they could never do before — proof jobs online, re-order at the click of a button, see their order history online and get short runs at competitive prices with decent a turn-around time. It was utopia!

Well... almost.

The early online print stores were convenient enough and competitive enough to build a multi-billion dollar industry around it's virtues, but it still lacked some fundamental elements:

  • Larger jobs were prohibitively expensive
  • Customer service was lacking (some didn't even have phone numbers)
  • Custom jobs couldn't be accommodated for
  • Whomever had the account login had the keys to everything
  • Customers could not have terms (e.g. Net 30)
  • Customers could not tap the companies for their expertise (creative, marketing, printing, etc - this is a big one!)
  • Variable Data Printing was not available
  • Mailing services were not available

...and the list goes on. So as great as these companies were, and as huge of a leap forward in convenience they were, it still had all the typical shortcomings of eCommerce: impersonal, unaccommodating and — if you couldn't find exactly what you were looking for — frustrating.

Enter the Hero

As print consumers found themselves jumping between the convenience of online print stores and the comprehensive services of the more established commercial printing firms, a new sort of 'hybrid' industry began to emerge: Web 2 Print. This was an industry that promised to bridge the gap between online print stores and commercial print firms by offering the convenience of the former and the comprehensive services of the latter. It's nothing short of a paradigm shift in the commercial printing industry that allows the majority of print commerce to be conveniently handled online, while freeing up human resources to allow for an improved customer service experience.

Web 2 Print allowed commercial printers to keep up with the "on-demand" convenience of the online print shops while continuing to extend services unique to brick-and-mortar print shops. The icing on the cake was that it allowed commercial printers to offer even more value by helping their customers:

  • Manage costs with instant pricing
  • Manage their brand with pre-approved collateral templates with editable regions
  • Pair their online orders with Variable Data and Mailing Data for direct mail campaigning
  • Control access with permission-based accounts and approval hierarchy — which includes controlling who can order what, where they can ship it, and who's approval they need to order
  • Complete digital asset management
  • Instant ordering, proofing and approval anywhere, any time
  • Comprehensive order history and easy re-ordering

...and it could all be packaged inside a private, customer-branded online print portal.

The best part is that behind the scenes was the same print firm you may have already done business with for years. So if there was anything you needed, you could still pick up a phone or walk right into their front lobby. It was the best of both worlds!

So is Web 2 Print a Hero or a Zero? Why don't you decide, and let us know what you think in the comments below?