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VDP: Web-to-Print In the Real World

October 2007 By Heidi Tolliver-Nigro
EARLIER THIS year, The Industry Measure, an industry research firm, sent uncomfortable ripples throughout the printing industry when it released a report stating that adoption of Web-to-print had stalled among print providers. While clearly, Web-to-print has not stalled among corporate users—in fact, adoption in this marketplace is accelerating—the fact that the momentum has largely (if not entirely) switched sides has raised a lot of questions.

According to “Web-to-Print: A Service Provider’s Perspective” (The Industry Measure, 2007), approximately one-quarter of print providers now offer some kind of Web-to-print solution, whether as a static online store, for creating customized/personalized documents, or for creation and dissemination of advertising. Despite the flurry of activity among Web-to-print vendors, this percentage is nearly unchanged from one year ago, and other indicators (such as planned investment, where only 6 percent plan to purchase one of these systems in the next 12 months) may be surprising to some.

These findings have lead many to speculate about the reasons for this “stall out,” but the most interesting speculation comes from printers themselves. What are printers saying? While Web-to-print offers many clear benefits, printers’ answers reveal a flip-side to these applications that is less frequently discussed. Here is what many printers say behind the scenes.

First, it’s important to define what we’re talking about. At its simplest, Web-to-print is merely a technology for driving printing from the Web. Therefore, any discussion about Web-to-print must be tightly defined. Otherwise, it’s like having a discussion about “vehicles.” What kind of vehicle do you want to talk about? Family sedans? Construction trucks? Fire engines? Golf carts?

In the commercial printing industry, Web-to-print is largely seen as comprising three separate sub-categories:

• Static literature fulfillment (online store), whether a public storefront (like VistaPrint) or requiring registration (like corporate users);

• Customized or versioned literature; and

• Personalized one-to-one documents, whether printed in volumes or as one-offs (like sales followups).

Even this narrowed definition, however, leaves room for tremendous variation. This has been part of the challenge. Let’s look at the most common issues that, according to printers, are impacting their decision to invest or not invest in Web-to-print.

The sheer scope of Web-to-print, and the variability with which printers must contend, is a major hurdle to investment.

What is the extent of the functionality that users require? How much flexibility must printers build into the system to accommodate future, as well as current, needs? What if their client base changes? What is the balance between anticipating future needs and what they can afford to invest now? What if printers need additional capabilities down the road, but because they already sunk so much into their existing system, they can’t afford to expand or upgrade?

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