Web-to-Print : Finding the Right SolutionSeptember 2010 By Julie Shaffer
Do a quick Web search for the phrase "Web-to-print" and you'll be served up several million citations. Refine to "Web-to-print solutions" and the list narrows to a mere 110,000! Don't worry, there are not that many solutions on the market (thank goodness), but there are dozens of viable solutions. And trying to figure out which is the best fit for your printing operation can be a daunting task.
The first step is to determine what you want to accomplish with a print e-commerce offering. Think of it as a needs assessment for your shop, but, more importantly, for your customers. Would it make your clients' lives easier to be able to order print projects on a self-service basis (that's ultimately what most consumer-based, e-commerce stores offer)? Do you want to offer templates for common products, like business cards or stationery and allow them to customize orders via a browser interface? How about special projects, like event posters or meeting binders with inserted tabs, or offering online design via a browser interface?
You might provide document management with pick-and-pack of stored pieces. Maybe you want to help manage personalized marketing campaigns and interface with your organization's database or CRM system. The list of what a shop can offer via a Web storefront is limited less by what the vendors offer than by your customers' needs.
Sorting It All Out
We can put the things that can be accomplished with a Web portal into several big buckets that make this easier. While many of the vendors would like their solutions to be all things to all people, and there is crossover between them, the business models for Web-to-print portals tend to fall into the following categories:
Print Procurement: This would be the e-commerce-style store, where users can buy print or related products. These storefronts may allow for ad-hoc upload of client files (with or without a preflight component) or customization of pre-loaded templates. Many offer instant quotes and a shopping cart interface for payment, with credit card and sales tax support.
Online "do-it-yourself" book publishers like Lulu.com and business-to-consumer sites like PrintingforLess.com fall into this category, as do sites selling specific printed products, like labels or buttons. Most Web-to-print solutions offer a storefront-style user interface, so it is hard to narrow down potential vendors in this category.
Marketing/Brand Management: While these, too, are typically e-commerce storefronts, the distinction in this category is that they are built and branded for a specific organization or purpose, not the print service provider. Brand management means just that; sites usually provide templates in which artwork, with color and usage, is managed, helping marketing departments manage their brand more easily than could be done otherwise.