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Printer Websites -- No Flash, Just Substance

October 2003
By Erik Cagle

Senior Editor

The evolution of the commercial printer Website has been an interesting journey.

Initially, many printers bought into the "me, too" mentality of Internet accessibility. The catch phrase of 1997 may have been, "We have an Internet presence, as well." To not have a "presence" was to sneer in the face of technology—your thinking was inside the box and your paradigm certainly wasn't shifting anytime soon. It just wasn't proactive, darn it!

If being techno hip wasn't bad enough, the Website took a narcissistic turn for the worse. Who needs substance when you have flash (make that Flash)? Home page greetings, "intros," consumed time and, in some cases, shut would-be visitors out. Incredibly, some visitors would even be told that their computer didn't possess the proper software to view a particular site. It was the virtual velvet rope.

So much for progress.

Fortunately, the commercial printer Website of 2003 is more and more becoming an animal of practicality. And while the printer site may never be a strong medium for e-commerce (small and quick printers peddling business cards and the like, notwithstanding), its function as a production tool is practically growing on a daily basis. For one example, check out this month's cover story on Courier Corp. and its Fastpath production system.

According to Pam Conover of Conover Associates and an associate consultant for the National Association for Printing Leadership (NAPL), large-scale printer Websites have become a greater asset because of their production workflow capabilities. She doesn't see e-commerce as an ideal fit, however.

"At the very minimum, a Website can serve as an advertisement for a company," she says. "Now, for a majority of larger printers, they have FTP (file transfer protocol) so that the site is used to exchange information and track jobs.

"As for the e-commerce aspect, the larger the commercial printer is, the chance of buying online from them is less," she notes. "Usually, larger printers run more complicated jobs. Many companies do have quote forms to fill out, but they're too laborious. I don't think many customers are using quote forms on Websites, since it's easier just to fax or e-mail them a form."

According to Conover, sites essentially act as marketing tools, and it is up to live people to step in and close the deal.

Cyber Clones

Many of the leading printers in the United States have sites that are basically identical in form and function, with a few wrinkles here and there for originality. But many others trip over their own feet by not paying attention to details, or even neglecting the site. Conover offers the following points that the ideal site should incorporate:
 

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