McIlroy--Where Are We Going On the Web?
They would, that is, if what they were buying was a commodity product. The problem is that most printing is still a custom-manufactured product. With a wide variety of trim sizes, substrates, inks and bindings, there is no such thing as an average printed piece.
This is why the three most interesting Web-based print services—each taking a different approach—are focusing on two categories of product they consider commoditized: letterhead and business cards (with some attention to "product data sheets" as a potential third commodity category).
iPrint is a quick print store on the Web. It's happy to take first-time customers right off the street, and process a $25 order. ImageX is looking at larger repeat customers. Neither one actually does any printing, instead farming the mundane manufacturing out to a host of contract printers.
The third player is Digital-Net, which offers a custom software system to existing printers that, in turn, creates the infrastructure for printers to provide the same kind of services that iPrint and ImageX are trying to offer on a broader scale.
I believe that most printing is purchased today because of strong relationships between printers (mostly via their sales reps) and customers. These relationships are necessary to facilitate the flow of custom-manufactured product.
For printing to be bought on the Web the customer has to be willing to view it as a manufactured product, with the assumption that the product will be delivered on-time, on-budget and as-requested, without extensive human interaction.
I continue to imagine that a new breed of print buyers will team up with a new generation of print manufacturers, and take advantage of the efficiencies and cost savings that the Web affords. But compared to computer buyers and book buyers, this new breed remains a tiny minority of today's market.