Archive for the ‘Web2Print’ Category

Best Practices for Getting User Buy-In for Web-to-Print

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

I have been surprised lately by how much traction my posts on Web-to-print have been getting lately. It tells me that I’m on to something. Currently, I’m working on an article for Printing Impressions on getting user buy-in once the system is installed. In other words, printers only make money with Web-to-print if their clients’ employees are actually using the portals you develop, so how do you ensure that happens?

You can’t guarantee anything, of course. But here are 5 of the best practices I’ve been talking about in no particular order. What would you add to this list?

1. Charge for development, template-building, and execution. If something is free, there is little perceived value.

2. Place the link to the portal in a place where employees regularly go to conduct business. Also known as, “If they can’t find it, they can’t use it.”

3. Proactively work with the customer on its launch plan. If the customer doesn’t have a plan to get its employees to buy into and use the system, then help them create one. Webinars, seminars, help desks, employee newsletters. What would you recommend?

4. Understand how people will actually use the system. For example, if they are salespeople out in the field, ordering on iPads, the site cannot use Flash. If it relies on Flash, then — newsflash — it won’t get used.

5. Keep the feedback line open and respond to user requests. If the templates are being designed by corporate and employees, distributors, or other authorized users hate them, guess what? They won’t use them. (Assuming they’ve been given a choice.) Solicit and respond to user feedback and give the users on the ground what they need, want, and will use.

There are lots of more, but it’s a great platform for discussion. What do you think of this list? What best practices would you add to it? What has worked for you in the past?


Web-to-Print: Selling from a User’s Point of View

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

It seems that I’m seeing user stories about Web-to-print everywhere recently. I’ve written here about best practices, the most important of which, I have argued, is getting the user buy-in.

At Graph Expo, I attended a press conference by CHILI Publisher, and one of the elements of the conference really struck me. It was the promotional video at the opening of the press conference. The video didn’t talk about the features or benefits of the solution. It showed real business owners, real distributors, real consumers using it.

The video showed a brand owner, a retailer, a product distributor, and father and his daughter all creating a variety of elements that promote different aspects of the brand. Whether logging in on a laptop while sitting behind the retail counter or sitting on a couch with an iPad, the diverse range of users logged into a portal and customized documents, sliding and resizing elements like you’d do on a touch-screen mobile device.

The brand owner created a custom catalog. The retailer created custom product labels. The distributor created signage. A father and daughter created and received branded merchandise delivered to their homes.

There were banners, displays, and mailing labels for boxes — a wide variety of products created by multiple individuals within the marketing and distribution chain, each serving a different role, all creating products with the appropriate branding.

In just a few minutes, the video showed — not told – the benefits of an online document creator and editing solution.

This focus on “how this benefits me” is what has been sorely lacking in the Web-to-print discussion for a long time. We, the industry, understand how this solution ties everything together, saves customers money, and facilitates branding (especially in a decentralized marketing environment), but how well is that being communicated to customers?

I have blogged about the Webinar produced by What They Think and how both large brand marketers (The Toro Company and LifeLock) only recently invested in W2P after having the broader content marketing, document management, and time/cost savings demonstrated to them, not by a printer, but by a software vendor.

This is another example of a software vendor doing a great job of illustrating the benefits of these solutions. It’s an example that I think many printers could benefit from.

More on my perspective on Web-to-print.

Create Long Term Success with Web-to-Print

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Web-to-print is a valuable tool in your toolkit when it comes to creating long term success for your printing business. Web-to-print solutions offer your customers outstanding flexibility, cost effectiveness, and control over their end product, making you their go-to solution for their printing needs.

So, what are you doing wrong?

Although web-to-print poses a great opportunity for your print business, it is not a case of “if you offer the solutions, the customers will come.” The key to success with web-to-print is understanding how it meets your customers’ needs and making sure they know that.

How can you communicate the value of your web-to-print services to your customers and in turn, create a successful future for your print business? Download our article, Create Long Term Success with Web-to-Print, to learn how you can effectively market your solutions to your customers.

Please take a moment to read and share this resource at Do you have any tips and best practices for marketing your web-to-print services? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Building Your Web-to-Print Relationships

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Having a web-to-print storefront can be extremely beneficial for businesses. Through setting one up, a printer can save time and resources when it comes to the process of taking orders. However, while an online storefront may accomplish the goal of reducing the printer’s workload, could it end up meaning less business in the end?

Is the online-only bride too narrow?

As more and more of our interactions with businesses, friends, and other associates move online, service providers must still seek to develop relationships with customers that simply order online. Not only will this help us open up the communication lines when it comes to customer service, but it may also lead to conversations that generate additional business opportunities.

How can you make sure each customer who orders from you online feels just as appreciate and acknowledged as the rest? Download our article, Web-to-Print and Relationships, to learn 5 ways to build greater relationships with online-only customers.

Please take a moment to read and share this resource at Do you find your company running across this issue with online storefronts? What solutions have you found? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Stay Ahead of the Curve with Automated Web-to-Print Solutions

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Want to learn how to keep your print services on top within the fast-paced marketing community? If so, InfoTrends’ Kate Dunn offers insight and recommendations on how to adapt and automate print services for your clients. Sponsored by the PressGo program of Canon Solutions America, this webinar gives you the information needed to bolster your online business.

You might be asking, “What are some of the web-based market models out there?” For starters, there is the standard Ad-hoc Send-and-Print, which most printers already have in place. This allows the customer to upload a single file, receive a cost estimate, and send the file to print. The Catalog and Template based models mainly surround business communications, sales and marketing collateral, and direct mail, which are customizable to certain degrees. The holy grail of models is Process Automation, which integrates an enhanced supply chain with fully customizable print ordering.

OK, let’s apply a model to a real-life scenario. With an automated template process system, a realtor can sign-in online, choose a business card template, select copy that pertains to his property sales pitch, send the card to print, as well as have the business cards packaged, postmarked, and mailed to recipients. Accomplished all in a series of clicks without having to juggle communications with a number of service providers.

Let’s review: why are automated print services so important? Well, InfoTrends predicts that 40% of all printed materials will be procured over the Internet in the coming year. Customers are asking for automation services in order to streamline their supply-chain and maximize profits. In short, web-based automation adds value for both you and your clients. Today’s marketing supply chain consists of multiple, interconnected suppliers that an organization relies on to produce materials (print, promotional, and point-of-sale) to market their products and services. It’s astonishing, however, that 70% of businesses surveyed have no way to track or predict obsolescence within their supply chain. The last thing any client wants is a loss of control over their brand! That’s where a web-based approach is applied to fix the gap. Some of the benefits include: customer access 24/7, increased print accuracy, reduced customer service workloads, and enhanced volume production. Sounds like a nicely packaged offer to me.

If you want the complete list of benefits, the stats, and further insight into web-to-print solutions, view the webinar here:

How Do You Sell Web-to-Print?

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

Whatever you call it — Web-to-print, branded customer portals, print commerce — Web-to-print is now operated by 40% of U.S.-based print shops [1] and 25% of European ones [2].  We’re used to thinking about the cost savings from these solutions from a printer standpoint, but there are big ones from the client’s standpoint, too. Here are some I have listed in “State of Web-to-Print (2013).” Can you add to them?

1. Time savings.

Template-based design (or ability to customize pre-designed documents) saves time, period.

2. Reduction in fulfillment errors.

Errors cost money. Fixing them once they are out in the field costs even more. When large companies switch from manual fulfillment to Web-to-print fulfillment, the cost savings from error reduction can be substantial.

3. Reduction in duplication and errors in design.

How many of the same document are being tweaked and customized individually by different agencies, distributors, and agents, each at their own cost? What can be saved by creating one template and reducing the duplication in effort? By centralizing templates and design, MFS Investment Management, for example, saved $350,000 within the first few months of implementing W2P for its 401(k) sales proposal kits, even though its fulfillment volume rose by 58%.

4. Savings in production costs.

When Tiffin University switched its student inquiry packets from 9×12-inch folders with four to six preprinted inserts to slim, highly personalized booklets printed on demand from a W2P interface, its printing and postage costs dropped by 50%. Jobs also can be ganged, creating another path to efficiencies.

5. Savings in postage.

Printers are often able to co-mingle jobs, including those of multiple clients, achieving greater postal discounts.

6. Faster response times.

The faster follow-ups get into customers’ hands, the greater likelihood of conversion. It’s a soft savings, but an important one. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas used to take weeks to produce its fundraising materials. By developing its own a Web-to-print solution, its fundraising campaign directors now produce its donor literature (including personalizing down to the donor level) in less than 30 minutes.

7. Administrative cost savings.

One telecom and wireless services provider deployed the same solution and saved 7,500 man-hours per month and $750,000 in monthly order administrative costs.

What areas of cost savings do your customers receive?

[1] “U.S. Production Software Investment Outlook,” InfoTrends 2012

[2] “European Production Software Investment Outlook,” InfoTrends, 2012

Crystal Ball, Anyone??

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

“It is not the strongest or most intelligent species that survive, but the ones who are most willing to adapt.”  ~Charles Darwin

I like this quote because it removes the idea that survival and success are based on natural selection, but are based on intelligence and strategy and looking at how to adapt for future circumstances – an idea that seems especially relevant for the print industry today. At one time in history, we could have said that “print changed the world” and most would agree. But recent technological innovations, shifts towards digital communications and away from paper communications, have many printers working to keep up with the rapidly transforming industry. I suspect this is where Darwin’s idea of adaptation comes into play. Printers need to anticipate the future and prepare themselves accordingly. The same way of doing business will not stand, but you don’t need me to tell you this.

Lucky for printers, they don’t have to anticipate the future on their own. A group of young, bright, and well-educated students from RIT have already done the heavy lifting. Together they researched, wrote, and published a book entitled “Print changed the world – now the world is changing print.” They imagine the print industry landscape all the way to 2022 and address a number of sectors including books, packaging, signage, technical documents, direct mail, and more.

Here are the cliff notes…

Good News for:

  • Mobile devices which enable digital distribution
  • Packaging
  • Industrial printing
  • Signage

Bad News for:

  • The Postal Service
  • Circulars and inserts
  • Periodicals

Aside from the above, there are a number of categories in which the future is mixed – certain aspects will decline while some will rise. For example, authors suspect that self-publishing and yearbook printing will be the primary mode of book printing while traditional novels and textbooks will decline. The Security sector is another mixed bag.

If you read my last blog post, you’ll see that some predictions and research contradict what is in this report. I suppose no one owns a crystal ball so predicting the future is never easy. But nonetheless, it’s best to be informed and anticipate how expected trends will impact your business. So check out the full booklet here! (Made available by Printing Impressions)

The New World Of Web-To-Print Solutions

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Traditionally, web-to-print has been all about helping customers retain brand control, get their collateral faster, get better return on investment for marketing campaigns and realize savings on printing budgets. This was done by providing a system that encompassed online ordering, tracking and collaboration of materials. Web to print is still all about those things, but it has evolved with technology and now can be used to bridge the gap across multi-channel campaigns.

Today, a web to print solutions provider can help with:

– direct mail campaigns

– personalized URLs (pURLS)

– QR Codes

– website development

– social media

– cross channel marketing

It’s important to make sure that the data your business has is used to make your messages relevant. Catchy phrases and funny graphics only go so far. You need to make sure your message fits your audience. And along the way, your audience will tell you their preferred method of communication. With multiple touches, your marketing campaign will receive a better response rate. And it all wraps up with a more relevant and personalized way to reach out to your prospects and customers than other, less integrated approaches.

Web to print is able to automate many tasks that are typically repetitive, or done manually or offline. This frees staff up to work on other responsibilities. And it can help the overall budget, by decreasing production and fulfillment costs. In fact, the affordability of web to print solutions allows smaller companies with tight budgets to still get a lot of bang for their marketing bucks and reduce wasteful spending that often happens when campaigns are conducted without the consistency and care that can be found with web to print. Web to print also allows for timely adjustments to campaigns when needed. By tracking response actions and rates, you can make better informed decisions about your strategies.

Another important aspect of web to print is the ability to retain control of branding – with online offerings and print materials. It’s easy for things to become disjointed when they are handled with various solutions.  Instead, with web to print you streamline things so you don’t have too many hands in the cookie jar, watering down your message and overall brand.

In a nutshell, web to print helps you manage not only print collateral from any location at any time, but it can be used to create a fully functional, cost-saving cross channel campaign. The benefits include customizable content, managements of digital assets, consistency in branding, budget savings and higher response rates. And who doesn’t like better ROI on campaigns?

Want a little more info on this new world? Here is a free White Paper on integrated marketing. I call it the Holy Grail. 

Pellow Predicts: 2013 Top 10 Trends for the Printing Industry

Monday, February 18th, 2013

At a Canon Oce webinar on January 23, InfoTrends Group Director Barbara Pellow presented “2013 Top 10 Trends for the Printing Industry.”

1. Digital Color is King. All bets are on digital color printing. InfoTrends research forecasts an increase from $29.6 to $39.5 billion in the retail value of  U.S. digital color from 2011 through 2016.

2. Digital Wide Format Goes Mainstream. Digital wide format printing evolves into an key component of companies’ marketing strategies, and will continue its 7% CAGR from 2011 through 2016.

3. Inkjet Accelerates Migration from Offset to Digital. New inkjet solutions offer greater speed, quality, substrate flexibility, and finishing –  as well as more  competitive pricing. Major inkjet growth expected from books, direct mail, transpromo and brochure printing.

4. Enhanced Substrates Drive Digital. Digital presses support new, high margin substrates: rugged synthetics; pressure sensitive stocks; specialty media; pre-scored, ready-to-print dimensional stock; new photobook media, and others.

5. Web-to-Print Manages Marketing Supply Chains. Companies spend billions for producing, shipping, storing, and handling literature. PSPs will optimize the marketing supply chain  – offering online print-on-demand collateral catalogues.

6. Content Reigns. Fifty-four percent of B2B firms increase spending on content marketing. PSP’s cultivate “thought leadership” offering content that educates, entertains and motivates.

7. Hyper-Personalization Drives Digital Print. 2013 is the “Year of Hyper-Personalization” – when marketing materials address more relevant, compelling needs of the consumer. Examples: mailers with personalized map directions and printed materials with PURLs linked to pre-approved applications.

8. Trigger-Based Marketing Meets Customer Preferences. Consumers expect real-time, two-way communications, through mobile devices, websites, and social media. PSPs customers will adopt marketing automation technology, e.g., from Market Sprocket, Hubspot, Orange Soda and Hootsuite.

9. Mobile Marketing Changes Communications. PSPs add mobile marketing solutions to the portfolio: mobile codes printed on packaging, POS, and brochures;  “opt-in mobile messaging” to mobile devices; Augmented Reality – digital graphics coded onto physical objects – revealing information or entertainment via mobile devices.

10. Direct Mail and Social Media Converge. PSPs support customers with social media marketing tools from Ducky, Hootsuite, SpreadFast, and others. Campaigns integrating direct mail with social media lift responses for both.

Graph Expo Software Trends Revisited

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Back in August, I published an article on the main WhatTheyThink site that highlighted my top five software trends to watch at Graph Expo. In general, this year’s show was an indication that solutions are just as (if not more) important as speeds and feeds, and software is top-of-mind for print businesses looking to succeed in the face of still-challenging times. Now that Graph Expo is over and I’ve had some time to reflect, I’d like to revisit the trends I outlined and see how they matched up with what was at the show.

1. Integration, Automation for Print and Beyond

As Cary Sherburne reported in her Graph Expo retrospective, production automation is a critical technology that will help drive efficiency and scalability in print businesses. Collaboration among different vendors to help their customers meet their goals is happening at a greater rate than in the past, as evidenced by many of the larger OEM vendors showcasing partner solutions and integrations at their booths. Hybrid Software, which specializes in providing software technology that integrates disparate information and production systems, had a consistently packed booth. Enfocus also generated a lot of interest with the new release of its Switch automation tool. Regarding the “beyond” part of this trend, the inaugural marketing pavilion that featured a variety of marketing-related solution vendors exhibiting also generated a significant amount of traffic despite its somewhat undesirable location toward the back of the show floor.

2. The Next Wave of Web Enablement

There were a number of developments and even some new entrants at Graph Expo related to the Web services space. As I mentioned in my original post, I was anticipating the launch of a new print eCommerce solution from Keen Systems. I was able to grab a pre-show briefing/demo, and the solution definitely has some potential; it also won a “Worth-a-look” award, which is great for a first-time exhibitor. Another company that has been around for a few years but just started exhibiting again was PrintNow, which offers three easy-to-understand software packages that service providers can leverage. Aleyant Systems, creators of the Pressero system, debuted their updated online interactive design tool, which was rebuilt on HTML5 instead of Adobe Flex/Flash for broader device support. EFI also previewed the latest version of its Digital StoreFront product, which included a revamped interface and ordering workflow. All in all, the future of Web enablement is shaping up quite nicely, and was on display at Graph Expo 2011.

3. Taking a Fresh Look at Print MIS

While production automation was one of the critical technologies outlined in Cary’s piece, MIS was the top critical technology, and there was plenty of activity related to MIS at Graph Expo this year. While EFI’s dominance in this space was certainly apparent, there were plenty of developments from other players. Heidelberg highlighted its Prinect Business Manager based on its CERM acquisition; the company plans to begin initial implementations of the solution in October or November. Technique received a great deal of attention at the show because of its new mobile application (iTechnique), which provides sales reps and managers with access to information such as customer profiles, active jobs, and the ability to submit new proposals. Avanti Systems highlighted its recent integration with Ultimate Impostrip, as well as its Customer Relationship Management capabilities. Finally, the very recent merger of vendors printLEADER and PrintPoint resulted in shared booth space and a showcase of how their products work together. With a renewed focus on operational optimization, MIS continues to be a key enabler, and printers are taking note.

4. Harnessing the Cloud

As I mentioned in my last post, utilizing the cloud results in easier implementations, reduction in software costs, and provides scalability as needs change. For print businesses to be more agile and make changes or shift directions as the market requires, flexibility and scalability are key factors. Many vendors were offering different flavors of cloud computing at Graph Expo. We already mentioned Keen, which is a true multi-tenant, cloud-based service. Many other vendors are taking the approach of leveraging virtualization, enabling customers to deploy software with less hardware footprint and greater efficiency. Kodak mentioned that it enabled virtualization with its Prinergy workflow suite earlier this year, and many customers have taken the opportunity to optimize their deployments.

5. Getting Serious About Mobile

While this trend was listed as number five on my list, I really think that mobile made a huge splash at Graph Expo and the issue of mobility will become a focal point for both vendors and service providers in the near future. I counted at least a dozen different mobile-related product announcements and features at Graph Expo, and I fully expect more to take shape between now and drupa. Some of these developments are around mobile marketing, including the ability to make print more interactive. Other developments are around the concept of mobile production management. My colleague, Barb Pellow, went into many of these announcements in further detail in one of her recent articles. It will be interesting to see how these applications are adopted by service providers and what benefits they provide.

Overall, Graph Expo was pretty great this year, and I think many of the software trends I highlighted were fairly prominent themes at the show. These are just my own views, though. What did you see at Graph Expo that really stood out to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“Opening Up” the Printing Industry

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

It’s no secret that proprietary technology powers the printing industry. Over the years, there have been several significant milestones that work toward “opening up” systems that power printing, such as the introduction and adoption of JDF & JMF, the standardization of PDF, and the growing presence of open interfaces to connect disparate systems together. Despite these developments, I bet there are still plenty of prepress operators (and managers) out there that become incensed when they try opening up a client’s InDesign CS5 file when they only have CS4 installed. There is a great (and somewhat ironic) story from the Social Science Resource Council about their experience publishing a report on software piracy and having to deal with multiple Adobe Creative Suite versions.

Despite these issues, it’s my view that the proprietary nature that many companies operate in have contributed to research, development, and advancement in the industry as a whole. Still, my belief is that there is a place in this industry for open, collaborative projects that can be accessed and contributed to by anyone that help move the industry forward. In 2007, while I was still at RIT, an initiative called the Open Publishing Lab, or OPL, was started in the university’s School of Print Media to address these issues. According to its Website, the OPL’s mission comprises three “E’s”:

  • Extend existing publishing platforms
  • Enable new publishing products and business models
  • Empower individuals and communities to easily tell their stories as never before

All projects conducted and released by the Open Publishing Lab are “open source,” meaning that each project is released freely to the public, including the base source code, to help meet the OPL’s aforementioned goals.

I was not really involved with the OPL while I was at RIT, although I support its mission and principles, especially because one of its core functions is connecting print-focused students with IT-focused students to collaborate on systems-based projects. It has done some great work to date including Page2Pub, a tool that enables content aggregation from the Web into an EPUB eBook for reading and printing, along with Innovation News, a platform used for the rapid collection, preparation, and production of news stories for print and electronic output. The most recent effort by the OPL is Drop2Print, the details of which were released last week in a research monograph by RIT’s Printing Industry Center. From the monograph’s executive summary:

The challenge of connecting customers (end users) to print service providers that can best meet their needs is mirrored by the challenge that many smaller print service providers face in making potential customers aware of their services. Lack of a commonvocabulary and the communication of job requirements (customer) and servicesavailable (print service providers) further complicate the process.

The goal of this research project was to create a prototype and model for a simple, easy-to-use tool for end users to discover the specific print service providers that meet their requirements for production and fulfillment. The resulting prototype, Drop2Print, provides an easy-to-use desktop application that leverages the technical specifications of an end user’s PDF document to simplify the discovery of appropriate print service providers. This desktop application is linked to an online database that allows the Drop2Print application to determine the print service providers in a specific location that are able to meet the specifications of the print job.

In other words, Drop2Print is designed to be an easy, interactive way for potential print buyers to find print service providers that meet their specific printing needs. Drop2Print is just one example of distributed production print solutions that have been launched in recent years. We’ve seen similar types of models come into existence in the marketplace, such as HubCast and more recently, QuarkPromote. We’ve also seen large outsourcing management organizations like InnerWorkings leverage this type of model in the enterprise. What I like about the Drop2Print model is that it’s simple, it scales to organizations of all sizes, and it’s open.

Drop2Print still needs to be developed out further, and there is a high-level road map included in the research monograph of what’s in store. Regardless, it’s an important and well-done exercise in looking at the industry, defining a need, and working to develop a solution to meet that need. Best of all, it’s developed and documented in a completely open and transparent way, helping it serve as an educational tool for the industry that can be built upon by a broader community. I think the industry needs more of this type of open collaboration, and it’s great to see the OPL engaging in activities that work toward that goal.

An Economic View from a Different Perspective

Monday, December 6th, 2010

For this post, I’m offering my own unscientific perspectives based on a unique window I get to peek into through – my experience actively consulting with or for organizations of all sizes and in all sectors of the industry. This includes everyone from pulp and paper mills to paper merchants to printers to print brokers and finally, print buyers.

My travels take me from coast to coast and north to south here in North America working with over 100 clients in 200 locations per year. From ten-employee in-plants to billion dollar corporations, there are common themes that seem from my perspective to permeate every facet of the paper and print-space.

Necessity may be the Mother of invention, but it’s also the Mother of reduction, the Mother of consolidation and ultimately, the Mother of efficiency. The past few years of recessionary behavior has proven to be a Petri dish of sorts that prove this hypothesis.

Common to every nearly enterprise is the realization that certain functions have had to be reduced or eliminated in order to survive. On the M&A level this means economy of scale and centralization of management, marketing, accounting and human resource functions. Within the same organization, lower level elimination of redundant or non-value added positions has become the norm. I’ve walked in the door of many a facility where “ring the bell/buzzer/phone” for front desk service is now in force where before, the duty of the receptionist was just that; to receive.

If there is a front desk person it is frequently a CSR or AR/AP employee whose new workspace happens to be visibly at the front door of the establishment. The same goes with many other positions where value is perceived as being intangible and can therefore be eliminated and delegated internally to the wearers of many hats who are any enterprise’s new survivor class.

The other trend I’ve seen is that along with staff reduction coinciding with the amount of work coming through the door, where say a full 3 shift operation has been forced down to 2, a new and interesting problem has arisen. When the workload is steady, which is a lowered expectation these days, the available labor pool is being tailored to be able to handle the volume, however now there seems to be more of an optimistic trend among print buyers and advertisers.

It’s what I call the “loosening of the purse-strings syndrome.” As the economy and consumer confidence levels elevate slightly, print buyers are a bit more confident and optimistic. Over the past six to twelve months, my clients, generically now have the problem of not having labor available for those spikes in volume when they occur. In a way this is a good problem to have, since they now feel like they have weathered the economic storm and are now emerging as a more efficient enterprise through all their tribulations.

In some markets an interesting phenomenon is taking place. Where similar facilities with similar capabilities and equipment have either survived or failed, there is a glut of skilled labor. In some cases these spikes are handled by employees working for more than one company-  not that this hasn’t always happened to some degree. It just seems that now there are a lot more skilled operators willing and/or able to be engaged on-call. The problem here is that this is usually more of a mature labor pool, so with regard to longevity, an arrangement such as this is not self-sustaining. No one seems to want to be so optimistic as to ramp back up to former levels, so this conundrum will continue for the foreseeable future.

I don’t pretend to be an economist. I’ll leave that job to Dr. Joe. That said, I do ask the same basic questions wherever I go. How’s business? Have you had layoffs or reductions in the past year and if so, by how much? Have things stabilized? Are you bringing staff back on? Are your customers a bit more optimistic? Are you?

Of course the answers vary, but on average they are: tolerable; yes; yes; yes; yes; yes. It is encouraging if anything, that there is a pervasive optimism out there. In my book optimism equals confidence. Confidence equals risk-taking, albeit cautiously, risk-taking equals spending. Spending of course raises the economic tide overall, and a rising tide lifts all boats.

So ultimately in the printing industry, especially in the areas of growth such as digital printing and integrated media, I’d like to believe that because of all this spending on infrastructure, equipment and new labor, i.e. emerging skill sets, are about to take a quantum leap based on the demand for printing in our brave new world. A renaissance if you will.

To move forward and be the cause of change, mills, merchants, printers and brokers must again refocus their marketing efforts on a now more optimistic print-buying public, who will have a bit more money to spend as long as they are convinced of the ROI once they have been educated, again, by their vendors of the benefits of print.

So, in the end, you can talk about GDP, unemployment, print shipments and the calculated risks of either doing or not doing something to change the game all day long. All I’m saying to sum this all up is that anecdotally, we seem to collectively be climbing out of a casualty-ridden hole, a bit wiser, a bit stronger, but non-the-less gun-shy. In many cases the casualties have been necessary. It got rid of some of the low-ballers to hopefully create a more level playing field where the survivors can compete fairly on a level playing field, charge a fair price and continue to continue on now that the ball is rolling again.

What do you think?

Vic Barkin

Software-as-a-Service in the Printing Industry

Monday, November 8th, 2010

There has been a lot written recently about changes in printing technology and the transformation of the printing industry, but I have seen little written about one of the other key drivers impacting our industry – software, and more specifically, SAAS or Software-as-a-Service.

As print technology has gotten “better, faster and cheaper” it has caused a shift in the types of companies that are offering specific services along the Marketing Services Value Chain.  Service providers are trying to both demonstrate value to customers through broader offerings and also want to get more volume onto new, more flexible print equipment. Many times, new software is considered when purchasing new printing equipment – perhaps composition software or content management software or web-2-print technology- but, even after acquiring the printer and the software, you still have to invest time and money to develop applications on the new platform – or do you?

There are many SAAS solutions available on the market today specifically geared to getting new print applications up and running fast, without direct investment in the underlying software. While many service providers have jumped on the SAAS band-wagon for delivering white-labeled e-presentment or archiving solutions, few have leveraged SAAS to broaden their print capabilities or offer Transpromo solutions. Below are just a few of the independent  SAAS solutions available on the market today:

There are also hosted solutions for fulfillment management, various vertical market statement and confirmation applications and integrated marketing solutions available. The applications and software represented by these platforms would cost a million, or many millions, to replicate – but are typically offered at a very reasonable monthly subscription cost that grows with the number of applications and volume of production used.

In many cases, the key benefit of these solutions to service providers trying to transition to new markets is that they offer the ability to tap into expertise and services as opposed to simply software. Having great power tools (particularly rented ones) doesn’t make you a master carpenter any more than having the top software makes you a programmer – or a vertical business expert. Access to proven platforms, customizable applications ready-to-run, expert consulting support and a price based on actual usage seems like a great way to broaden services without breaking the bank.

If you haven’t considered SAAS yet, why not? If you have, what has your experience been?

Is There a Synergy With Web-to-Print and Digital Printing?

Friday, June 18th, 2010

In the most recent NAPL State of the Industry report, when the question was asked, “Which of the following do you expect to grow fastest over the next 3 years,” the number one response was Digital Variable Data Printing. While variable data printing will increase the effectiveness of pieces sent, another way to increase the value of the work is by automating the ordering and transaction process using web-to-print solutions.

Web-to-print is a group of technologies that allow the customer to work with the print provider in a faster and more convenient way. Web-to-print allows a printing customer to create, edit, monitor and approve computer-based online work during the ordering and manufacturing process. It can include online storefronts or catalogs to facilitate the ordering and reordering process.

Web-to-print systems are also expanding to handle variable data printing and distribution of other marketing materials such as presentations, seminars, logo items, and even email and other electronic media. This change is driven by enterprise clients seeking a single repository/tool to manage all marketing efforts including print. The second highest response in our State of the Industry report was web-to-print. In fact, web-to-print has skyrocketed in the listings from ninth place with 19% in 2006 to 41% this year.

And there may be a synergy created when a web-to-print solution is combined with a digital press. A report by InfoTrends stated that volumes of color digitally printed pages increase after implementing a web-to-print solution. The increase was different based on the speed of the device but for the fastest devices it was about 25%.

In seminars I discuss my experiences with clients that show that web-to-print increases your value and often increases volumes. But in a recent seminar a conversation was started with people in the audience who said that they were not seeing increases in volume with their web-to print-solutions. Now to be thorough this would require more in-depth research into which web-to-print services they had implemented (shopping cart) and how fast and user friendly was the service.

But lets take an informal poll. If you have a shopping cart or ordering type of service, what do you think? Has your web-to-print solution increased your digital printing volumes?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.