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McIlroy--Where Are We Going On the Web?

September 1998
Take a moment and ask yourself this question: What impact will the World Wide Web have on the printing industry in the next five years?

I'm going to guess what answer you gave. You're probably thinking that the impact will not be large. You're not denying that the Internet will influence many other industries, but there's just not much evidence that it's going to have a big impact on print.

That's certainly what I've been thinking—up until now.

The impact of the World Wide Web on printers has indeed been very slight thus far. In the last two years, about half of all printing companies have created Web sites (according to a PIA survey—and my own observations). Probably 75 percent or more of these firms have sales over $5 million, while perhaps only a quarter or fewer are quick printers. You get the picture.

These Web sites are little more than "brochureware." They comprise the online equivalent of the "capabilities brochure" of yore, and have about as much value. Every printing company feels it should have a Web site—just like every printing company feels it should have a capabilities brochure—even though this site doesn't really achieve anything. It was created more because it's embarrassing in omission, rather than out of any real expectation of benefit.

Site Unseen
Not many people bother to go to these sites because there's really no reason to visit. The "helpful tips" sections are mostly retreads of tired old trade articles from years ago. The "About Our Company" pages are dull and superficial. Need I go on?

A few customers use these sites for files transfers, and every now and again an inquiry is received from a new prospect. Most of the inquiries are a waste of time—they're either from novices who require too much handholding to be profitable, or they're from bottom feeders looking to get the lowest possible print price.

But while the printing industry remains unaffected by the Web, the same is not true about several other industries. According to Dell Chairman and CEO Michael Dell, who addressed his annual meeting in July, sales of Dell computer systems on the Internet grew year-to-year from $1 million per day to $6 million per day. That's over $2 billion in annual sales, roughly one-third of Dell's total. Also, Amazon.com has become a fast-growing book retailer in America, and one of the largest.

So obviously some industries have been affected enormously by the Internet. How can we categorize them? One factor is that high-tech products appear to be amenable to Web marketing, partially because the audience for these products is technologically sophisticated and willing to buy over the Internet.

 

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