Web to Print Defined

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Web to Print Defined

Yesterday I wrote an article for the main WhatTheyThink site titled Printer’s Survival Kit: Understand & Participate in the Digital Economy. This is free content – I hope you all read it. This post will make a lot more sense if you read the article first.

How does understanding and participating in the digital economy impact the world of web to print? Since there seems to be confusion around what web to print is, I’ll propose my definition.

Web to Print: ’web ‘tű ‘print n 1: A set of software tools specialized for print-enabling e-Commerce.

This is a very broad definition, it does not limit the target market (B2B vs. B2C), web to print tools are about enabling print to be purchased over the web. The objective of web to print solutions is to open a self-service order entry path for print buying customers. I know there are about a million other benefits, objectives, etc… Let’s keep the eye on the prize – web to print is about order entry, print buyers should be the main users of the system (too bad they rarely get involved in the purchasing decision).

My Survival Kit article defined two different economies, the economy of “atoms” – physical stuff like printed pages, and the economy of “bits” – electronic stuff like e-mail. Those of us participating in the atoms economy (print) need to first understand the bits economy, find a way to participate in it, and leverage its efficiencies to increase our productively in the atoms economy.

Web to print leverages the digital infrastructure (internet) to decrease the effort (for both buyer and seller) required to procure print. In order for print to continue to compete in the modern marketing mix, it has to be as easy to order as digital products and services. If customers can buy online advertising with a few clicks from Google, they should be able to purchase a direct mail piece from you with a few clicks! Simplicity is paramount, complexity kills. If you’re only self service option on your website is FTP today, you don’t have e-Commerce or self service.

The web-centric customer expects to serve themselves and be automatically updated regarding the status of their order. I know everyone wants to add in QR Codes, pURLS, etc… to the web to print definition – expanding your business beyond print is paramount, but first I would leverage everything about the digital economy on your core business. You still have to keep those presses running even if you’re selling cross media campaigns. You will learn a lot about e-Commerce when you enable your core business first, then move onto the next step of expanding your product set beyond ink/toner on paper. If you haven’t proven you can sell print online what makes you think you can sell cross media campaigns?


  1. Bryan Yeager on August 12, 2010 at 11:55 am

    I would generally agree with this definition, at least as a way to start the conversation and get people on the same page as to what we’re referring to. The definition that we at InfoTrends have used for Web-to-print is a “Web-based application that facilitates commerce, collaboration, and customer service interaction between those who buy print products and those who sell them”. Perhaps “a set software tools” is a better choice, as there can typically be multiple components to Web-to-print (e.g., software to create variable data templates that are hosted on a storefront).

  2. Jennifer Matt on August 12, 2010 at 12:38 pm


    I know I’m leaving details out but its in the service of simplifying the concept to its core. I hate hearing people say, “we don’t even know what it means anymore” as a way of avoiding the conversation. The web is simultaneously our biggest opportunity and our biggest threat – avoiding any conversation about it would be a huge mistake.

    Thanks for you added input and thanks for everything InfoTrends has done to help clarify the web to print market.


  3. Henry Freedman on August 13, 2010 at 11:29 am

    Suggest you go to USPTO.gov and look at patent 4,839,829. This patent is the pioneering work that defined web to prnt and what has become JDF over 20 years ago. It defines a requestor transmitting a printed work to a printing company and recveiving comminications back with a price, the download and automatic setup of the production process and communications back and forth therefor.

    The patent is written for the average person since that is what a jury is comprosed of so it is easy to read.

  4. Jennifer Matt on August 16, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Henry – you’re right the patent is written in general language – so general I can’t see where the unique IP is, sounds like its trying to patent the concept of two computers talking to each other about print. I’m not a big fan of process patents as I think its nearly impossible to really know whose idea it was or who got to the patent office first? In the new world of web 2.0 ideas are cheap – its the execution of the ideas that make real companies, provide real value, to real customers. Thankfully there’s no patent protection on solid execution – that’s just really hard work.

    My definition of web to print is for my blog readers to know how I’m using the term.

  5. John Cassidy on August 22, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    I agree with the definition. I also feel that if we printers want to stay in the game and add the cross media campaigns, be recognized as a Market Service Provider or any of the other big terms our associations are introducing to us we should embrace the concept. I have owned and operated my firm for 20 years and have seen a lot of changes. What I don’t like about WTP is it takes the relationship out of equation and presents our “Custom Manufacturing” businesses (as defined by SCDOR) as commodities thus reducing the value of what we do and offer. I understand like it or not philosophy. I’m just venting. Thankfully my little firm is still growing and we are offering WTP to our clients and prospects just not trying to compete with the Vxxxa Prints out there.

    Thank you for adding to the industry I appreciate your efforts.

    John Cassidy
    Duplicates INK

  6. Jennifer Matt on August 24, 2010 at 1:14 pm


    I understand the frustration of Ecommerce taking the “relationship out” of the equation. The point I bring up is that we have all been trained to use ATM’s instead of going into the bank. Does the convenience of the ATM make us less loyal to the bank?

    Relationship is critical and always will be but part of the relationship is providing your customers in a manner that saves them time and money. Every print transaction is not the same – many of the transactions are better suited for a self-service Ecommerce transaction (better for you economically) and better for your customer because of convenience.

    I don’t think web to print commoditizes the products, I think it provides automated transparency and ease of use to the customer – actually providing more value.

    You’re using the same infrastructure (internet) as VistaPrint but you’re not a stranger to your customers.

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