How to Succeed in E-Business
An outbreak of online print solution providers offers an opportunity for convenienceas well as the potential for confusion
By Eric Fiedler
Just five years ago, electronic commerce was an obscure, futuristic idea. Today, it is everywhere. Five years from now, we may wonder how we ever did business without it.
In two years alone, approximately 30 start-up print e-commerce services have been launched or have announced their intention to launch.Services vary significantly, but the most prominent ones provide collaborative tools to facilitate project management between printers and print buyers.
Generally, the services enable printers and print buyers to interact through a secure Web site and exchange information about specific print projects.A print buyer can post detailed requirements of a print project in an organized form and then make the project available to selected vendors for competitive bidding.Once a project is awarded, some services feature additional communication and workflow tools to facilitate job processing.
The benefits of such a system are nearly endless. "Print production is a complex process with countless variables for each project," said Ray Roper, president and CEO of Printing Industries of America, headquartered in Alexandria, Va.
"When implemented based on a common set of standards and guidelines, print e-commerce could potentially revolutionize how print is purchasedbenefiting print buying firms, printers and the suppliers to printing firms." Roper said. "On the other hand, poorly designed business models will benefit no one and will likely impair the ability of the industry to effectively implement e-commerce."
Excitement about e-commerce runs deep within most segments of the industry. "I think we are in the first quartile of a revolution," said Brooks Warner, director of sales and marketing for Web Graphics, Glens Falls, N.Y.
Warner's enthusiasm stems from the success of his company's e-commerce solution, the Web Internet Ordering System (WIOS). Web Graphics claims that the system eliminates the need for paperwork and processing, reduces order processing time, ends ordering and printing errors and gives customers the advantage of ordering anytime from anywhere.
However, the myriad e-commerce start-ups trying to woo new customers with the latest in e-commerce technology inevitably causes some confusion. "The information is bouncing around," said Warner. "There are lots of rumors and scare tactics and lots of misinformation."
Warner added that he doesn't feel the commotion will settle down anytime soon. "It might even be speeding up," he noted.
In order for the disturbance to calm, print manufacturers, buyers and distributors must research the market and make decisions about which solutions they want to offer and with whom they want to partner.
Despite the confusion, most e-commerce companies claim to be experiencing almost unheard of growth rates. One such company is New York-headquartered 58k.com, which provides an online bidding service meant to introduce printers and buyers.
Robb attributed the success of his company's system to its simplicity. "We bring printers sales, and we bring buyers good pricing and new relationships," he said. "It's not a difficult system to sell."
Although Robb said response has been overwhelmingly positive, he has met some resistance to his product. "Some feel that we potentially will commoditize the industry," he said. "But I believe that forms, labels, envelopes and digital printing already are commoditized to some extent."
While Robb claimed most print jobs can be sold through his system, he admitted that some do not apply. "We we view ourselves as a source for at least 50 percent of any print buyer's needs," he said. He added that very high-end jobs and extreme short runssuch as annual reports or 50 church bulletinswould not benefit from the bidding system.