Website Tools -- More Than E-brochures
By Erik Cagle
There was a time, not all that long ago, when just being on the World Wide Web was hip enough for the commercial printing industry.
The term "Web presence" was bandied about freely by printers in the period of roughly 1998 to 2001. The Internet was little more than an opportunity to showcase a company's brochure electronically, and most of the old guard only viewed this medium as a complementary driver for the brick-and-mortar business component.
Clearly, though, the "me, too" syndrome has given way to a more progressive school of thought on not only driving more commerce and new customers via a printer's Website, but enhancing the cradle-to-grave lifespan of jobs with current clients. And we're not just talking about ordering business cards online.
Baltimore-based Vertis Inc., which specializes in targeted advertising, media and marketing services, acts as a printing and related services conduit between marketers and their consumer clients. Among its Web-based offerings are remote proofing system capabilities, along with an advertising delivery solution.
From Print to Web
The latter, Inserts2online, turns a customer's printed retail advertising piece into an electronic shopping solution for the customer's Website or a third-party e-shopping environment. With little to no intervention on the client's behalf, Vertis transforms printed advertisements into e-commerce vehicles.
"We can essentially duplicate the distribution dynamics of the print program via the Web," notes Jeffrey Robison, business development director for Vertis' digital solutions group. "It allows us to render the advertising content on a store-centric model, which means via a store locator on the customer's Website. The user is then taken to versioned content that's applicable to their store or their market."
By utilizing the version recaps—a mapping to the final print files—Vertis can render the content to the Web, according to Robison. Java Server Page (JSP) is used to manage the content on the print PDFs, to add pricing and product breakouts and to create shopping lists.
While remote proofing had been done at Clifton, NJ-based Sandy Alexander for about five years, it wasn't color accurate, according to Michael Graff, senior executive vice president. One of the early adopters of RealTimeProof technology (now part of Matchprint Virtual), the company used it with clients on an as-needed basis. Due to the lack of color accuracy and the newness of the technology, many customers were not comfortable using it. And when it was used, Sandy Alexander needed to send out a complementary color proof to reinforce the young technology.
The company turned the remote online proofing corner in 2004 when it climbed on board with Kodak Polychrome Graphics and its Matchprint Virtual proofing system. Sandy Alexander passed on earlier CRT-based versions and decided the LCD flat panel best fit its objectives.
"We beta tested it for the second half of last year, and we contracted with them for an actual production run process," Graff notes. "We've been online with this beta for six to eight months and we love it. Any customer that we've demonstrated this with has either subscribed to it or I've ended up putting a system into their location."
Among the Sandy Alexander customers that have opted for the latter include a well-known car manufacturer, a large agency and a pharmaceutical firm.
"It gives us the ability to go to a completely automated front end," Graff says. "Clients can drop a file onto our Website and we are able to RIP, compose and turn a proof back to them quickly. I demonstrated a four-page brochure—from when the client dropped it in on our Website until it came back to them on a Matchprint Virtual program—in 96 seconds."
A good old-fashioned customer challenge enabled a newer solution from Englewood, CO-based Cenveo Inc. to showcase its capabilities. Actually, the concept of providing an online print-on-demand (POD) ordering solution had existed in different forms within the consolidator's chain, but until a year ago the offerings remained fragmented and inconsistent. But with the help of IT specialist Vanick Group, Cenveo was able to tie in the best of its solutions and the concept of eCENergy was born.
The eCENergy program has three tiers: a basic four-51 level for online ordering, a medium level featuring POD and design-on-demand (DOD) capabilities, as well as a top-level offering that incorporates the POD/DOD offerings and fully integrates them into Cenveo's fulfillment centers throughout the United States.
Smith & Nephew, one of the first customers to leverage the solution, found it had been wasting $300,000 worth of unused printed collateral per year. The eCENergy solution has reduced the Smith & Nephew scrap to a degree that has allowed the company to cut costs by 40 percent. The lion's share is still printed via lithography, but the balance is churned out POD, according to Keith Larson, executive vice president of sales for Cenveo. The cost per piece may actually be higher, but the overall tab is considerably lower.
Tackling Run Lengths
"In the past, procurement officers have made decisions on what to buy by lowest unit price," Larson notes. "Everyone is looking for the right run length to get the best unit price. A lot of product gets produced and some of it sits in the warehouse, then at the end of the year much of that product is thrown away because it has become outdated or obsolete."
In addition to having some printed collateral spoil on the vine, Smith & Nephew found itself contacting numerous vendors (for envelopes, labels and commercial printing) to fulfill what was ultimately a single need. Thus, Cenveo was able to line its customer's ducks in a row and get a grip on the spoilage issue.
The ramping-up time for the various eCENergy levels ranges from two to three weeks for the basic, up to two to three months for the high end with the fulfillment centers. "It's not something that should scare people," Larson says. "It's a great system that we can replicate pretty quickly at a reasonable cost to the customer."
Meanwhile, Fry Communications, in Mechanicsburg, PA, recently launched a pair of Web-based solutions to provide greater print production enhancements for its customers: Fry Ready Page and Fry ReADy Ad Portal.
Ready Page is an automated page submission system that allows publishers to submit, via their Web browser, plate-ready page files into live production 24/7. The pages can be set up to automatically preflight, normalize and create a virtual proof upon submission. As a result, publishers reap quicker feedback on file validation, proof availability and page approvals.
"The busiest people are the ones who especially love Ready Page, because it minimizes the amount of time they are spending getting their files ready for the printer," notes Elizabeth Bellis, communications coordinator for Fry. "They also love knowing that 99.99 percent of the time, their files will be problem-free, so they can move on to their next project."
The ReADy Ad Portal enables the processing of supplied PDF or PostScript advertising files through the preproduction cycle. The system is based on a custom Web advertising portal, a preflight system that provides links to e-mail and database systems, along with a simple job ticketing system for tracking of the ads as they are processed and delivered.
The Ad Portal interface has the look and feel of the publisher's Website or branding strategy. It allows publishers to submit and preflight ads using a standard Web browser.
"We've found that one of the biggest benefits of the Ad Portal is the time our customers save in not needing to inspect good ads," Bellis says. "Some customers' publications contain over 100 finished ads. If 80 percent of the files are fine, and it takes 10 minutes to open and check each ad, we're looking at saving 13 hours right from the get go."
Most of the aforementioned solutions were developed only within the past year, further proof that, going forward, the Web offers more opportunity than harm for commercial printers.