Click here to print

Web-to-print has been around as an idea for more than a decade. The earliest utterance is said to date back to a blog by web designer Jim Frew in 1999. But if the technology’s early promises left people thinking the days of a salesman’s hand­shake or an estimator’s price matrix were over, this was just another internet bubble. The shift to ordering and specifying print directly over the internet in a fully auto­mated way has been a long time coming. And while web-to-print has steadily gained traction among forward-thinking European and US printers, there’s a perception Australians have been slower than some to switch on to its promises.

Pent Net business development manager Glen Cheetham agrees the uptake in web-to-print hasn’t lived up to the predictions – to a point. “We have a lot of corporate and label guys using it, but the general commercial printers are taking it a little more slow.”

Cheetham says that when Pent Net arrived in Australia eight years ago, there was an expectation we would be further along the web-to-print path than we are now. But things are changing. “There is a lot more interest in it now, especially over the past 12 months.” He says general commercial guys, including smaller firms and copy centres are getting involved.

The number of local printers with a web-to-print strategy has increased in tandem with a growing array of services that fall under the web-to-print umbrella.

We are in the age of web 2.0, with software developers and end-users approaching the web collaboratively. For print, the future is short, customised, variable runs, ordered, even laid-out by your online clients. It’s a fertile environment for web-to-print to flourish.

But what web-to-print actually means is not sharply defined. Conceptually, it can be as broad as reader feedback determining content in a personalised niche magazine you print, as described by Océ Australia marketing manager Herbert Kieleithner, or as narrow as printing an online order for 500 business cards. Cheetham mentions the remote proofing module of Pent Net, which while an example of a print process using the web, is on the outside of the accepted definition of web-to-print (specifically the ability to order online).

Technologically, it can be as straight­forward as loading off-the-shelf web-to-print software from your vendor of choice, or as exacting as several weeks spent integrating a customised solution into your production regime.

To some printers, it’s merely an artwork upload service for their customers, or online quoting. On that definition, about one in three of Australia’s printing business are already into web-to-print. To others, it’s about providing broader web access and moving into digital asset management. A fully integrated approach could mean a 100% lights out process from mouse click to the printed page landing in the delivery.

American arrival
Online ordering is a lure, especially to smaller customers, and this is the strategy behind multinational outfit Vistaprint. The US company arrived on our shores to set up its Asia Pacific operations in Australia this year. These comprise a Sydney marketing office and a production hub in Melbourne. Vistaprint chief executive Robert Keane and Asia-Pacific plant manager Mike Ewing launched construction of the printing plant at Derrimut in Melbourne’s western suburbs on 21 September.

But look closely. For a print operation chasing the ‘high street’ market, its greenfield location does not suggest walk-in traffic. The key is a friendly, intuitive website where ordering is almost a no-brainer. Vistaprint also uses the net proactively, looking for new customers by trawling web advertising then approaching advertisers with proposals for targeted online and printed promotions.

Vistaprint has sites in the Netherlands and Canada and employs roughly 2,200 people. It operates 22 localised websites, delivering to more than 120 countries. It caters to small, no-fuss customers who want to be just mouse clicks away from buying and taking delivery. Its average job order, including shipping, is a tiny $US34.56. Think McPrint.

While we’re in Melbourne’s west, let’s visit a well-known local printer who recently told ProPrint about extending into ‘virtual warehousing’ and page-building through a custom-designed design, art and pre-press centre. The pages it builds are sometimes printed elsewhere, but before long, that print is more likely to follow through the doors.

A digital asset management system enables the company, which did not want to be named, to archive clients’ digital resources – photographs and artwork (although the strategy can also include audio and video) – in a web accessible form. The company’s maxim is that if you hold your customers’ digital assets, you hold their attention. Think of the benefits you can offer brand managers in security, recovery, brand consistency, and mailing costs. These are great marketing tools for gaining all of a customer’s business.

Sydney-based PrintPortal is a web-to-print pioneer in Australia. It specialises in direct mail, cross-media marketing and web-to-print, with work produced on HP Indigos and a Xerox iGen3. Customers range from corporates to car dealerships to sports clubs. The business invites online artwork submission and job quoting. Managing director Lucas Eyre founded PrintPortal four years ago after a stint as Fuji Xerox Australia’s production colour specialist, where he talked cross-media software to customers. The Marrickville company’s web-to-print offering is based on RedTie. PrintPortal was the UK developer’s first Australian customer. RedTie is a UK print success story. It started life as a homegrown tool at Northampton print shop CCS Digital and has grown to be a standalone company with ties to leading vendors. Its system comes in two flavours: RedTie Template, which enables online ordering of marketing collateral and printed materials; and RedTie Quotation, for quoting, uploads and tracking.

Secret recipe
PrintPortal has also armed its iGen with XMPie (standing for cross-media personalisation), a suite of VDP tools sold by Fuji Xerox. Eyre says he runs XMPie’s Personal Effects software, blended with “some of our own little secrets”. In full implementation, Personal Effects enables server-class production power for high-level VDP, personalised email and websites, an online store where customers can assemble their own VDP and email campaigns, and scalable solutions for multi-channelling across print, web, mobile and video.

RedTie recently burst into the American market and had Ipex buzzing with announcements of an imminent expansion in Australia, where it already has a circle of customers and a sales channel. Its products are also offered by Currie Group’s HP Indigo division.

RedTie founder Marian Stefani says: “Transacting with the Google generation means buyers have changed and the print industry has to give these buyers the means to interact with them via the web. Brand control, print on demand, less waste – these are all attractive to a customer, as is ease of doing business.”

Fuji Xerox Australia offers its FreeFlow Web Services as an end-to-end online solution within its FreeFlow digital workflow. But additionally, personalised online ordering applications, such as the XMPie range, really “make” the web-to-print proposition, argues Mark Williams, FXA’s marketing manager, production & creative software solutions.

Pent Net’s Online Storefront offers a range of services, such as online job quotes, print on-demand, reorders, variable data and inventory management, as well as approval and monitoring features for clients. Director Peter Ludwig says clients include Geon, Hally Labels, Pemara, Hutamaki, Australian Envelopes, Sony Music, Hardie Wines, Corporate Express and AB Note. He has detected a degree of wariness among printers about web-to-print and finds “it is the client that is driving the printer not the printer training the client”.

Getting along
Part of this reticence relates to how well a system will integrate into the business, especially the MIS. Ludwig believes in dovetailing Online StoreFront with a printer’s existing MIS, rather than reinventing the wheel. “We realise every business is unique and has specific needs that relate to their business or their clients. As we develop the software ourselves, our clients can customise and change the look and feel, as well as pricing, options and so on. If this is not sufficient, we can specifically design software to their needs.”

HP Indigo markets two software products in Australia that manage one-on-one multimedia campaigns, says Currie director Phillip Rennell. LookWho’s­Clicking, from HP partner MindFire, creates, manages and tracks PURLs, VIP landing pages and mass-media landing pages, as well as automating email responses. On the print side, there is SmartStream Director, part of HP’s SmartStream workflow, for online submission, print and fulfilment.

David Giffin, EFI’s technical sales specialist for its web-to-print product, Digital StoreFront, says web access is vital in a 24/7 world. “In today’s competitive business environment, customers demand around-the-clock access. Some 78% of four-colour jobs are less than 5,000 pages, 22% of print jobs require 24-hour turnaround. And 30% of digital colour is versioned or personalised.”

EFI partners with Ricoh in Australasia to provide distribution and support for Digital StoreFront. Kathy Wilson, general manager of Production and Business Solutions for Ricoh Australia, lists the production benefits of web-to-print – standardising digital file submissions, streamlining multiple submission points, such as email, fax and courier, and keeping clients in the loop on their job’s progress.

Konica Minolta product manager Grant Thomas wants to see Australian web-to-print vendors do more to meet printers’ individual integration needs, “rather than rebuilding their operations around a complete software package not evolving around MIS, which most printers are resisting”. Printgroove, the vendor’s workflow offering, includes web-to-print functionality that can accept input in any format, including text, graphics, photos, presentations and multimedia, and is customised to handle a flexible number of printing steps.

Kodak’s business services manager Michael Smedley says Insite StoreFront offers an online portal for ordering, pricing and payment, as well as customised branding and VDP. Insite StoreFront is sold by Kodak and by Heidelberg ANZ through the vendors’ dealership agreement.

Case study – Picpress

Commercial printers aren’t alone in seeing the opportunities on the web. Melbourne photographer Michael Warshall offers web-to-print through PicPress. Only two-and-a-half years old, the business took the Currie Group Graphics Award at this year’s National Print awards.

Warshall says PicPress is a natural progression from the professional photography he has been providing clients for three decades. PicPress was started by a number of photo labs pooling their resources in an e-commerce hub. “All of our work comes to us online,” he says. “Our labs were involved in e-commerce web fulfilment for years.

“We’re offering the quality that our customers have come to expect from a photo album of a major
life-cycle event, like a wedding, but with the utility of a photobook,” explains Warshall.

To achieve this, PicPress selected an HP Indigo 5500, which Warshall describes as the first digital press that, when tuned, can match silver-halide quality. “We’re printing down to six picolitre droplets,” he explains. Additionally, the company has developed an in-house skills base in binding – with case making, saddle stitching, PUR and lamination. The ordering technology at PicPress comprises an engine from US online photography business DigiLabs and internally developed software, including a ‘shopping cart’ interface running on the PicPress website. “It’s basic, simple and consumer focused,” says Warshall. “The customer simply downloads the free software from our website and it links them to our print engine 24 hours a day. It’s simple click-and-drag, and you can design books, calendars, postcards. The software converts that into a PDF file, which is print-ready and goes straight to the printer.”

He found other off-the-shelf systems were not user-friendly and required too many skills for the market PicPress was pursuing. “We wanted an interface that basically anybody can handle as they sit in front of their computer.”

Warshall sees the PicPress product sharing the market with operations like AsukaBook and Momento. PicPress offers quality well above that produced by the mass merchants or online services using dye-sub printing in the chain stores and small shopping centre labs. But he sees these lower-end services providing an advance guard by educating the market. “Australia is lagging behind North America and Europe, but only slightly. Many more consumers need to understand what a photobook is, but then it will take off. Web-to-print has enormous potential in Australia.”

In fact, Warshall believes anything this attractive to a customer is a revolution waiting to happen. “Customers don’t have to rush their books into print. They can sit at home in bed and design their layout, add pictures, and then when they’re ready, they can order the printing. Most want one or two copies of their book.”

While the web-to-print gurus will say that repeatability is the key to running a cost-effective online outfit, PicPress has proven that a basic, uncluttered and straightforward layout/ordering process can more than make up for the economies that larger runs bring. In other words, the repeatability is in
the online component and colour management, not in the actual print generation, which can comfortably stay in that popular ‘one or two’ bracket.

Warshall finds web-to-print is far more efficient than storefront printing. “It’s more convenient for the customer, it’s faster, it’s automatic, everything is pre-paid and we have no debtors.”

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