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Hamilton--Are We Ready for E-Commerce?

October 1999
With the trade show season in full swing, I thought it'd be fun to discuss the latest rage now "e-merging" in our industry: e-commerce. Anyone who attended Seybold or who headed to GRAPH EXPO 99 this month will be hard pressed to avoid the presence of Internet firms that plan to revolutionize our old-fashioned game of smearing ink on smashed trees.

First of all, let me be clear: I think these guys are on the right track—far more so than the "e-tailers" who think they are going to crush the "bricks-and-mortar" folks like an ant. Business-to-business supply chain management is ripe for the picking, even if it's not new.

Remember EDI, which stands for electronic data interchange? EDI never took off because the supporting infrastructure wasn't there, and the proprietary nature of accounting systems made it all but impossible for anyone other than the largest firms to link up with their major suppliers to perform transactions.

Racing for Market Share
Well, between the Web, Java and good ol' American ingenuity, many of the impediments are quickly going by the wayside. Companies such as Collabria, ImageX, Impresse, Noosh and TriPort Technologies are now racing to gain the market share that many believe to be the critical success factor for Web-based companies—or at least a successful IPO. Backed by significant venture capital, they are building electronic storefronts that will enable printers, their customers and suppliers to link up, reduce cycle time and, according to the marketing materials, integrate their operations.

The real question is not whether the technology is ready for prime time; in my estimation, it's more of a question of whether the market is ready for it. More specifically, which types of printing and prepress services are best suited to e-commerce?

And while the primary emphasis (currently) seems to be on facilitating the transaction between the content creator and the pro-ducer/printer, the relationship between printers and their suppliers may be even more amenable to e-commerce. For example, with paper running upwards of 40 percent of many jobs' cost, the ability to purchase paper on-line (only after a client submits the purchase order) would be a considerable benefit for many printers.

The same is true of ink, plates, film, chemistry and other consumables, though to a lesser extent. Although the e-commerce firms are fully aware of this, the size of this market is dwarfed by print buying and, economics being what they are, they are after the big prize.

 

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