Web 2 Print For Small Printers
by Peter Kohn Pro Print Nov 7, 2011
Some printers believe W2P is just for the big boys but there is scope for the small players to carve out an online niche
Online retailing has been a blessing for everyone from the behemoths of Amazon and eBay to tiny mail-order businesses, which have found a new lease on life thought electronic ordering. Major printing groups and print management companies have well-established online portals for their blue-chip customers. So is web-to-print (W2P) an exercise in scale for the muscular end of the industry, or can a small guy get in on the ground floor?Systems integrator Bruce Manderson runs Fuse IT, a Brisbane outfit that packages transactional print programs, including those of local vendor Online Print Solutions (OPS), into Oracle and SAP-based IT systems. Fuse IT’s clients are in the printing industry, mainly print management companies, that want links with customers and other providers.Upstream customers include large corporations, such as Flight Centre’s 1,600 stores, Queensland Rail’s 600 outlets, and OneSteel, with an effective user base of 3,000 Australia-wide. OPS also sells direct, but Fuse IT comes in where there is that demand for higher-end integration.The workflow is simple and effective. The client logs into the OPS system, orders the print, and goes through the checkout. The order drops into the Fuse IT portal, which updates the printing company’s MIS. The job order is ticketed, a PDF is downloaded and the job is printed, invoiced, and docketed for delivery. Customers generally don’t know they are using the Fuse IT engine, which is a ‘white label’ solution that carries the print company’s branding.Manderson finds print management companies are a natural fit for online ordering, but what about SMEs? Following some quick maths, Manderson says that for a print company to claim a grubstake in W2P would require a minimal outlay of $20,000 for some base ordering software from a developer like OPS, another $20,000 to integrate the product into its workflow, and a few thousand more for a server. “You would want to be somewhere in the area of a $3 million-a-year business to consider it,” he says.In Manderson’s experience, small sheetfed operations don’t tend to have ambitious IT budgets, but that is not to say you need to be huge to offer some kind of W2P interface. Buying the off-the-shelf system is one thing; it starts to get curly when it comes to plugging W2P into a management information system (MIS). Some 10% of Fuse IT’s customers integrate their W2P with their MIS; the rest “struggle with that extra step”.Photographer Michael Warshall is founder and director of Picpress, a Melbourne photography business with a reputation for professional quality. At the Melbourne leg of Visual Impact Image Expo in September, it won a GASAA Printovation Award for reproducing the work of an Australian adventure photographer.Picpress operates a W2P model for photobooks through allied business NuLab. Warshall doesn’t believe web ordering is necessarily a big man’s game. That said, NuLab has the benefit of scale: it is a strategic alliance of several photographers.The online photobook market might be the domain of Harvey Norman and Officeworks, but Warshall is convinced that SMEs can provide a quality dimension that the chain giants can’t match. In fact, the McPrint market may have seeded the ground for smaller outfits. Where the big brands have established a market appetite for these services, there is a gap opening up for ‘pro-sumers’ who want a premium services. Warshall’s company has spent the past 12 months wooing this burgeoning B2C market.Integration plays a major role. PicPress stayed away from off-the-shelf W2P products. Its ordering system is based on a DigiLabs engine from the US, coupled with in-house shopping cart software. Photobooks are printed on an HP Indigo 5500 and finished and bound in-house.“The customer downloads the software, which links them to the print engine 24/7. The software itself is simple click-and-drag for designing books, postcards, basically anything. The software automatically converts that into a PDF file, which is print-ready when it arrives here, and goes to print,” says Warshall.West Australians Suzanne and Tyler Crosbie approached W2P photobooks from a different angle, but they’ve also seen success. In fact, their business, My Reflections, was shortlisted in the Telstra WA Business Awards last year. Neither were professional photographers; Suzanne worked in account management for a printing company and for a wedding album maker, Tyler is an IT programmer. In 2006, when photobooks were emerging, they founded My Reflections in Rockingham, with a staff of three (a customer service rep is on the payroll), selling their house to raise capital.Tyler wrote his own layout and W2P software, dodging the burden of shelling out for pricey alternatives. Their micro-business rested on keeping overheads low, says Suzanne.My Reflections says its B2C market comprises both ‘pro-sumers’ and home consumers. The greatest challenge has been competing with the price points on offer from groups like Harvey Norman and Big W, says Suzanne.“We emphasise quality, but that’s hard to convey online. So even though we’re number one or two on Google with our keywords [My Reflections], we find most of our business comes from referrals.”Unlike B2C chains that ask customers to upload original files using programs like Snapfish, the Crosbies’ Photobook Designer software is more like Momento and AlbumWorks, in which customers download the software and perform layouts offline using templates. They can add embellishments via .png files, any text they want, then preview their work, hit ‘order’, and the finished artwork uploads to My Reflections’ server as PDFs.For a time, there were plans to license the software and for ancillary services like digitising analogue originals (old prints and slides), says Suzanne.Files are printed on an HP Indigo 7200, which replaced a Xerox, giving the Crosbies the quality to differentiate their service. Finished and bound photobooks are dispatched by Air Express to anywhere in Australia.