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Between global trends and local strengths: Further developments in online printing

Mainstream service providers, innovation leaders, artisans and packaging manufacturers provide a breath of fresh air in the web-to-print landscape.

It is often said that the Internet has democratized access to information, products and services: social media has a reputation for stimulating interaction between brands, retailers and consumers; Amazon has convinced shoppers of all ages that online shopping is safe, convenient and rewarding. And the digital purchase of print products - although they are complex - also opens up many opportunities for individual customization and creative design.
The first modest projects for the online sale of print products were already in the 1990s. It was only in the last decade, however, that a considerable turnover was achieved. Today, major players are setting ever higher standards in service and investment and are disproportionately expanding their product range, service offerings and geographical reach. The Internet is a powerful, interactive channel and must be understood, used and promoted accordingly. If companies want to find their own recipe for success and take advantage of the digital growth potential in the medium to long term, it is important to first analyze the market, best practices and also the actions of the most important providers:

1) Industry leaders as role models
On average, companies in the USA and Germany are larger than elsewhere - and the USA and Germany are undoubtedly also the Western countries where the concept of business consolidation and concentration has been best implemented. The result in the USA is a very large market under one flag and with one language. Giants like vistaprint.com with the Cimpress behind it have been enormously successful. Success factors in Germany are major technology manufacturers, trade fairs such as drupa, logistics infrastructures, skilled workers and a culture of automation. The most successful online printing companies rely on cultural and linguistic diversity, have employees all over Europe, provide a customer service infrastructure in the various native languages and sometimes even open national subsidiaries. Good examples are onlineprinters.com, flyeralarm.com and unitedprint.com. "Four key factors in the online printing market are especially beneficial to our company," says Michael Fries, Managing Director of Onlineprinters GmbH. "First of all, there is still a large number of customers who are switching from slower and more expensive procurement processes to faster online orders. Another element of success is the increasing internationality of our activities. We are also shifting our focus more and more from printing to e-commerce in order to offer excellent customer service at reasonable prices. Then we have integrated processes and centralized purchasing - which is useful for us and our subsidiaries". The German company, which was founded in 1984 as a traditional printing company, now employs over 1,400 people. The development of Onlineprinters shows how much a favorable geographical location and strong competition with other traditional companies in the same country can increase the quality of products and services. "We are still aiming for a double-digit annual growth rate, and we are convinced that the transformation from small, decentralized print service providers to large, industrial e-commerce models will continue for many years to come. As far as we are concerned, we are also expanding our product range: We offer gadgets, textile applications and other products that help our customers achieve their marketing goals. In the end, that's what helps us succeed too."
2) Interdisciplinary linking thanks to online printing: craftsmanship meets design
If selling online is tantamount to democratisation, it is likely that all printing companies can benefit equally from this business opportunity - surprisingly even those that do not have their own production capacity, sometimes not even machines. The only mandatory prerequisite for success is to leave the generalist offer behind in order to build something special. Most forward-looking entrepreneurs have understood this. The American platform mycreativeshop.com, for example, offers a large collection of creative solutions with print production as just one element among many: The platform allows customers to create a graphic design from a fully customizable online template without the need for a designer. Once this process is complete, the project files can be downloaded and sent to the trusted print provider. "When it came to the parameters of my business idea, I found scalability, automation, and a small or almost non-existent physical warehouse to be essential," said Jason Frueh, founder and CEO of MyCreativeShop. "I knew virtually nothing about the world of design and printing at the time, but I had an inkling that the concept might work. As an alternative to the external print order, it is possible to order the desired quantity of print products directly via the platform, as Jason Frueh explains: "A small percentage of users also order the print from us. However, the percentage of total sales is less than 25 percent. Print production is the most expensive source of income, as it involves noticeable costs". MyCreativeShop uses the powerful automated publishing infrastructure of CHILI publish. This lean, scalable model allows the American company to serve customers around the world while remaining relatively small. Another example of local companies is the Italian provider skillpress.it, which demonstrates how the art of typography can be digitized and transferred to the online world. The logic of standardization, which characterizes almost all other online providers, is broken here. Skillpress is limited to an HP Indigo 12000HD and a modern finishing department. This is where the company's particular strength lies: complete freedom in terms of format, substrate, grammage, finish and quantity. "We invest heavily in training and provide customers with comprehensive advice on paper selection, finishing options and binding methods," says CEO Maurizio Battiston. "We also produce single copies on request - each project is handled by us as if it were our only one. Many may find this stupid and uneconomical - for us it is a concept for success, and customers pay tribute to us for being the craftsmen in the online printing business, so to speak".
3) New solutions and models in the course of decoration and hyperverticalization
Even in the development of "conventional" print projects, the design of the end product plays a decisive role. For more unusual applications with materials and surfaces that have little or nothing to do with commercial printing and display graphics, it is even more important. This area is, however, to a certain extent uncharted territory. The solution developers are meeting a new demand for printing and often differentiate themselves completely from other printing service providers with their offerings. Most of them have specific experience outside the graphic arts industry; their product range extends from fabrics and wallpaper to photo paper, canvas and wrapping paper. This is the case with the American supplier spoonflower.com, motiflow.com from the Netherlands and thecolorsoup.com from Italy. The three companies differ in size and background, but all have a strong focus on textile substrates. The most important thing their platforms have in common is the ability to combine a simple print output with an unlimited selection of designs and patterns that can be searched by theme or colour and are sometimes size-scalable. The elements were created by young international designers for whom the platform opens up business opportunities and creates awareness. The open, performance-oriented approach of the platforms involves new participants and creates a spontaneous network of print infrastructure supporters. Other solution developers, such as moo.com from the UK, focus on niche applications. CEO Richard Moss shapes the company with his passion for extreme designs and the highest quality. From this, MOO is transforming the Business Card segment, which is seen as unattractive by many other vendors. "The Business Card is often the first thing that a potential customer or investor holds in their hands from a company or brand," says Amanda Champion, Marketing & Communications Manager at MOO. "With a carefully designed, high-quality card, you can differentiate yourself in a competitive market. The Business Card market is booming - the potential is evident from the fact that 600,000 new businesses are created in this area every year in the US alone.
4) Exploiting the potential of new segments: successful packaging trend
Currently, the packaging market has the highest volumes, growth rates and margins. At the same time, packaging is also the most challenging segment - apart from advertising containers and accessories. In the production of packaging, many variables have to be taken into account, such as the design of templates and die-cutting patterns. Strict quality and safety standards must also be observed and special colors must be reproduced without errors. Other important factors are reinforcements, the integration of the packaging in industrial processes, the robustness required for shipping and point-of-sale presentation, and effectiveness in consumer interaction. In this respect, there are still only a few online printing service providers that offer packaging printing. Sometimes the offer is limited to simple products with common paper grades, weights and formats. One of the pioneers in the web-to-pack field is the Italian provider Packly. The software company enables designers, agencies, small print processors or even newcomers to design, approve and order professional packaging online. "We had noticed that the packaging industry was still characterized by complex and expensive production processes, so that a large part of the market was not accessible at all", explains Giuseppe Prioriello, founder and CEO of Packly. "That's why we developed a software that gives everyone access to digital die-cutting and 3D rendering". Packly is completely web-based, but also accessible via API. Models available in a library are fully customizable in terms of size and material; your own graphic layout can be applied. An interactive 3D preview is provided at the end of the process. Users can then download the generated punch path file and place an order. Micro-orders for folding boxes can also be processed and delivered within a few days; Zünd technology is used for digital printing and punching. For medium and long runs, printing is done with sheetfed offset presses from Koenig & Bauer, and finishing is done with BOBST processing lines or a digital cutter from Highcon. Label production is a separate issue - this is also a large and highly technical market, which was mostly rather unimportant for online print service providers. They may have supplied stickers or small rolls. Unexpectedly, the CCL Group, a worldwide major supplier in the label sector, presented itself in a completely new way: With strong competence in self-adhesive labels and a processing capacity that satisfies even very demanding branded goods manufacturers, the Canadian company launched online portals such as etikett.de in Germany or etichetta.it in Italy and also took over established suppliers such as easy2name.com from Great Britain.

The driving force behind the technology
Every successful company that wants to secure its top position in the long term depends on the strategic skills of its management team and the competencies of all employees. However, new and evolving technologies will continue to be a driving force in our industry and will give new impetus to companies. Looking back at the drupa trade fairs in the years 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016, it can be seen that digital printing (and especially inkjet digital printing) has become increasingly important - in the end, this application area was even the focus of attention. It is impossible to imagine drupa 2020 without digital printing. It is therefore to be expected that attention will shift strongly towards the digital transformation and hybridization of print production processes. The strategic messages of organizers and exhibitors will increasingly focus on linking, automating and digitizing the design, procurement, preparation, finishing, postpress, inventory and logistics phases. And these are precisely the ingredients for success that are already giving a boost to online print production and the corresponding sales models - more of which will certainly have an impact.
www.drupa.com

 

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