IT USED to be that, when a printer had a “Web-facing customer interface,” it was primarily offering file upload and transfer. Maybe online estimating, ordering and job tracking. Perhaps some digital asset management but, beyond the basic interface, there was little going on behind the scenes. Affordable, off-the-shelf tools were simply too limited. The flexible, robust solutions—not to mention customer-specific solutions—necessary for developing the kinds of Web-to-print applications we know today were reserved for larger print shops that could afford custom builds.

Over the past several years, however, the playing field has changed dramatically. Software providers have developed Web-to-print solutions offering a wide variety of services and fitting into an array of business models at a broad range of cost, flexibility and robustness. This software is now driving true Web-to-print, from online storefronts to customizable templates for corporate document management and branding to direct mailings using rules-driven, 1:1 personalization.

For vendors, the rush to provide robust Web-to-print applications software has meant that the barriers to entry have dropped. Printers and trade shops can now get into the Web-to-print market for less than $10,000. For small shops, ASP solutions minimize additional infrastructure investments and make these solutions even more affordable.

Among the vendors offering Web-to-print solutions are Pageflex, XMPie, Printable, EFI (Printer- Site Fulfillment, PrinterSite Exchange), MindFire, PagePath (MyOrderDesk) and PressSense (iWay Prime, as well as Océ’s Prisma Web and part of Xerox Corp.’s Web Services 5). Solutions vary from basic online storefronts to more flexible, customizable template solutions. Some software vendors offer additional modules for add-ons such as variable data printing, database management and integration, personalized URLs and workflow management. Entry-level prices range from less than $10,000 to $50,000 or more.

Numbers Game
Just how many printers have gotten into this market? According to “Digital Printing 2006: Printers,” a special report released this summer by TrendWatch, 9 percent of commercial printers and trade shops now offer some kind of Web-to-print solution for static printing, such as business cards, letterhead and sales materials. This rises to 24 percent of digital printers, defined as shops with direct imaging (DI) or toner-based digital color presses. When it comes to “highly customizable/personalizable brochures, newsletters, follow-up mailers and other print jobs used for targeted marketing,” the percentage of graphic arts firms overall nearly doubles, to 15 percent, rising to 33 percent of digital printers.

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