Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?


Hi, everyone.

This question is for those of you who are W2P users/deployers. We read a lot of case studies about the "hot" W2P applications, which are really the applications that software and digital press vendors are pushing, that industry analysts have a personal interest in, and so on. But they aren't necessarily the bread-and-butter applications that printers are profiting from day in and day out.

So my question is this: What ARE the bread-and-butter applications? How are you ACTUALLY using W2P? (Or is it the capability there, but the customer demand just isn't?)

The industry chatter is that things like offering customizable/personalizable documents through W2P are really the way to profitability because they have the highest margins. Is that really true? These apps also have the highest investment and maintenance costs. So are they really the most profitable? Or are the apps that are less flashy, with lower margins, really the more profitable because the investment is so much lower?

I would just love to hear a wide variety of opinions on this subject.


Heidi Tolliver-Nigro


Well-known member
Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

I can only speak as I see it in the UK.

Prior to dtp we all employed salesman to bring in orders and artwork., during the last few years things have changed. Clients no longer require to see salesman for each order prefering to build relationships with customer services teams. The salesman now has been replaced, usually by a senior director who does the original deal. Print Managemnt companies have also taken alot of work and when we deal with them we have one point of contact.

The commercial print market seems unsure as to where it will get its future business from. We have certainly seen reports of how slow the UK is on the uptake of Web2Print compared to Europe - but when challenged the printers who have web 2 print and are not in a niche market get less than 10% of their work from it.

My take on it is that its good if you are in a niche market or have a single source contract - otherwise I just cant see it.

Firstly if every one has it how are we going to get new clients to find us without resorting to salesman (and the cost of sales per order will be too high) and also our corporate clients want to get prices from more than one printer and they are not going to fill in multiple estimate forms.

If you are a volume printer requiring a constent flow of work I the only options that seem to be open to you are.

Print Managemnt - lots of volume but low margin

Web Estimating sites - where clients log on and can compare prices from lots of printers

Direct sales - to find them is expensive and they are at the wim of change at short notice

and perhaps web to print actiing as an ftp site

There is alot of uncertainty out there at the moment



Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

Thanks, Peter.

I'm an industry analyst. What you're saying matches the feedback from a PrintPlanet discussion earlier in the year talking about the hidden cost of installing W2P systems. One of the themes of that discussion was that, in order to get the level of functionality and security customers require for the high-margin applications (like branded customization/personalization), printers have to make much higher-than-anticipated capital and personnel investments. This requires a volume of work they can't guarantee.

And yet, The Industry Measure research indicates that 24% of U.S. printers have some kind of W2P system installed. So do the own them and not use them? Or if they are using them, what are they using them for? Seems to be a bit of a mystery.

Heidi Tolliver-Nigro


Well-known member
Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

I would think nearly all digital printers would think this as a must, as well as perhaps copy shops - its much more difficult to justify if you are a front line commercial printer.



Well-known member
Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

Speaking as an end-user Prepress operator, I think a good portion of it is hype. We installed a fairly involved, I would think expensive, W2P application to feed a few Indigo 5000 presses, and have yet to see even a promotional piece cross my desk. I've heard about client presentations, and we were "trained" a few months ago but without any real work or even in-house jobs to get to know the software, I can't see it being profitable any time soon.

The sales force gets briefed on how to present the "Hot, new Thing" to their clients just like purls <gag> and then there's no new work seen. Seems like many shops assume that simply adding the latest & greatest trend to their list of services will bring clients running, not realizing there should be a tight, targeted marketing campaign to really capture the attention of prospective work.

Ah well, I'm only paid to push buttons, what do I know? ;)


New member
Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

Steve Enstad writing from PageDNA - providers of W2P software since 1997. http://www.PageDNA.com

I agree there is a lot of hype out there. We have focused for years on making stationery products (even those with crazy typography exceptions) easy to build on our platform, and that still constitutes a large percentage of our business through our customers - who are print manufacturers and resellers. These repetitive, low dollar and high touch items are ripe for W2P.... so are datasheets, postcards, flyers....

Personally, I am a bit surprised at the prices some of our competitors charge... not to get on the soapbox too much here, but our product starts at $500 startup and $225 a month (includes one ordering portal and your first 50 live orders a month).

Last comment, more relevant to this thread: I think nothing can replace a good salesperson. Our best customers with the largest accounts - and the most novel solutions - have salespeople who are dedicated, listen well, and are not afraid at times to invest in small development fees in order to create custom integrations with large corporations that lead to recurring print revenue streams.

I would describe the attitude of some in the industry who have purchased a W2P platform but who are not yet seeing orders flowing as being like people who are "sitting on the corner with their mouth open, waiting for a roasted duck to fly in".

In other words, these solutions facilitate sales and creation of systems for recurring order streams, but NOTHING can or will replace a good salesperson and the relationships they cultivate in the field. Many of our largest projects came to fruition because a sales person was willing to look at a bigger picture than just a print order - eg, finding situations where we could automate a process currently taking up the time of several employees at the corporation...

In short: If you can solve the headaches for your customers, the business will come... and will grow.



Edited by: Steven Enstad on Jan 8, 2008 11:21 AM
Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

Hello, hope the info below is of some value?

Web to print as we see it in our business is not a "canned" technology that is applied to as many customers as possible, rather, we see it as a open ended solution to offer to those clients who can benefit from it.

Thus, we don't utilize a specific tool to do it, but rather develop our web to print capability around the needs of our customers. Suffice to say that our web to print offerings of 2007 was a far cry from that of 2002 and 2003, and we keep developing our tools and expanding them as demands change.

Our bread and butter tools, you could say, are Apache/IIS, PHP/ASP, MySQL/SQLServer and our web servers and the solutions we develop to run on it. We dont shy away from providing custom built from scratch WTP solutions to fill client's needs either, because whatever we build now we can use later...

In my humble opinion, Web To Print and its tools are things that each player will have to define for their market of choice.

In terms of popularity, I believe that a "canned" tool applied without prejudice stands less of a chance to be popular than something that is targeted to solve a specific problem. Things that make problems go away are normally popular (we all like not having tooth ache, but the "dentist" package is a bit much for must of us....)

Hope that makes sense.


Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

My View is all solutions out today were designed for one function; to be a print management system or a web to print solution. They then try to bolt together 2 systems that work well, but do not meet current users need. No one has been able to make the 2 work fully and be long time or never in the current forms. It takes to long to maintain the information, to easy to have errors and to long to hand enter into print systems.

Worse is all the current solutions want to "own" their part of the pie and let others in but only on their terms. JDF promised to open all this and make that system fully work together. It has failed to do that as "open" has been a one way street. That to me is the great disappointment of the JDF movement. Each vendor wants in to the other end and for them to be "open" but will not fully open theirs... Vista Print and others have made it work, it can and is being done.

I would think both sides should be forming partnerships that are open and benefit both- real soon.

Until we have true "workstations on the web" that are fully integrated with all PDF file transfer and other web to print functions, this will all fail to deliery profits for printers. Many claim to be doing all this, but all fall sort in the real world.


Well-known member
Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

At the franchise of certain un named quick printer I used to work for, they made all of the franchises run a Web-to-print. We ran into several problems with it. One being the people in our community did not trust it. The second being that it tried to compress the customers files and make them into PDFs. And then the third was the implementation time.

About the first problem, we had customers that thought when they were redirected to myorderdesk they had entered a different site. Even after it was changed so that it all looked like the rest of the site we still had complaints about it being bulky and awkward. Not to mention when you get THAT customer that knows enough to make a mess. When that customer enters things in and puts in specs they will be wrong. It was just easier to do via salesperson, phone call etc. Plus it makes the customer feel like they are being paid attention to and not that someone who works for them is trying to automate them.

Second problem was the goofy compression that the said W2P software used. Sometimes it would work like a champ other times it blew. When it was messed up someone would have to contact the customer, explain what happened and either get them to ftp (if they understood that) or go pick up a disk.

And finally the third problem, for as little use as "we" got from the program it took a lot of time to set up. Said franchise had a few of us flown to Texas to train on the software and explain in two days. (Which is really not enough training) Then if it is used properly with shells and setups and all of that so a customer can view their files it could take months to get all of the information entered in. And thats on your clock, sales people tend to forget to mention that part when making a sale.

So not beat a bush, but in the end unless your working with horribly long distances, its overall better to talk to the customer get a feel for what they want and print exactly what they want. Myself I believe in the next 5-10 years it will be much better than what it currently is due to more people will be computer savvy but they will still not know how to build a file correctly... but at least by then hopefully the people like my former employer will have worked the bugs out so when they come knocking on my door I know it will work .

Dustin Andrews


Registered Users
Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

I can happily tell you what kind of printers do make money on [web-to-print|www.zetaprints.com] .

1. those servicing *niche markets* with direct access to customers, e.g. real estate, special invitations, event posters
2. those servicing *corporate accounts* (mainly business cards, letterheads, small brochures, cards of all kinds, etc.)
3. those servicing *franchise chains* with exclusive relationships with the master franchises (some do well without)

*Web-to-print is a tool.* Unless you are prepared to put $$$ into sales channels, you are wasting your time.
The sales channels can be a good old salesman, search engine optimisation or partner sites with the right traffic, if you don't already own the market. Web-to-print *won't do the sales for you*, but it will help a lot. Online advertising will make a dent in your budget and bring no business, except for very-very niche markets with no real competition and very low CPC.

Don't bother about web-to-print *if you don't want to grow.* Investing time and money in buying, setting up, supporting, upgrading, etc. for the sake of taking a lame order once a week isn't worth it. Go for SaaS to begin with.

Buying a solution is going to *cost you* few times what you pay the vendor. Just think where their interest sits - in selling you more licenses, training and consulting. "Our pricing starts at ..." Ask them where it ends :)

*Taking on VistaPrint* and other established players is not gonna work. VistaPrint spends 30% of its revenue on customer acquisition. They have more money than you. You can't match that.

Our *most successful printers* didn't get their big daily volumes overnight. They started small with one or 2 customers. Then they added more templates, more customers, growing over time. Now they have their customers both hooked and locked in.
For the whole time, we've seen only 1 printer loosing a corporate account.

*Investment required* for web-to-print:
1. time to build your templates
2. sales to get business
3. outstanding service to keep business

When we have an inquiry from a printer, the first question is "What market are you going to service and with what products?".
Tell me what market you have in mind and I'll tell you if it's worth trying.


New member
Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

We currently use PageDNA as our primary provider for W2P applications and have experienced significant results in our sales effort.

We have an incredible synergy going on with our customers due to the fact that we come across as a solutions provider that can say "yes we can" instead of the every day printing company that uses low end solutions. We have beat out many competitors in this arena, most importantly larger corporations that require security testing and accountability of solutions which were not possible with other options.

While revenue from our Portals do not reflect the overall effect, we have grown a Fortune 500 account over 400% by simply implementing a W2P solution. Many accounts we were prospecting for years that we thought were impenetrable have now come on board due largely to our W2P capabilities.

We have tried many other solutions in the past and no one has been able to offer the customized solutions of PageDNA. We highly recommend http://www.pagedna.com.

I'm glad to speak with anyone candidly about W2P solutions we may have used.



Edited by: Hal Grunwell on Jan 8, 2008 9:24 PM

Edited by: Hal Grunwell on Jan 8, 2008 9:26 PM


New member
Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

We are a user of W2P, and see it as a strategic necessity for not just growth, but survival. Since none of us are going to complete with Vista Print, and in particular the small to mid-size companies usually struggle to generate NEW business and sustain growth, W2P can actually be a savior if used correctly. The other thing it does real well is promote customer loyalty. Unless you sell something proprietary, you are selling commodity. W2P helps you lock in customers because you can solve problems for them that are not just simply price related.

Unless you are a large company that can build your own solution (or even if you are), some "bread and butter" solutions offer some very cost effective tools that can be easily leveraged by your existing sales staff to lock on existing clients, extend the amount of business you do for them, and also provide an easy to sell problem solver to new clients.

With a committment to W2P we have increased our volume and margins with several of our existing customers and locked them into annual contracts. We have made our salespeople more effective by enabling them to be difference makers to their customers. And we have lowered our cost of customer acquisition and made order processing more efficient.

Our main tool is Printsmith Site which integrates directly with Printsmith. It also includes the use of XmPie. New to our fold is Printersite Exchange (or Digital Store Front). Just on site, one of our clients has offered to negotiate an annual contract for all of their digital business (work we never did before) on top of the commercial offset and custom digital work we already provide, because of what they saw with DSF.

Here's some simple numbers we look at. With a typical salesperson that an under 5 million dollar company typically has, that's getting paid 50-75K a year, you would need to sell $175,000 to $250,000 just to break even. With Printsmith Site, our existing salespeople just need to sell an addtional $1000 per month. With a product like DSF, that number is only about $2000.

I was recently part of a discussion with someone who has had incredible success by committing to W2P, using Printsmith Site. It was very clear that while the volume was under $100,000 per year in terms of orders through the system, it protected almost $1 million in business by locking in the customers.

A few final comments:

The products we produce via W2P tend to be very high margin. This is so because there is little admin required, and they are not price sensitive commodity in our customers mind. Its about service and convenience.

After looking at many of the providers, including iWay, Four51, and a few others, we feel that EFI offers the most compelling library of products. They are committed to long term W2P development, have the resources to build the right tools, and they are all about integration. To be honest, our partnership with them has been one of the most profitable decisions we have made, and continues be the most helpful in terms of assisting our growth.


Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

Dustin -- how long ago were you working for this nameless quick print franchise? Was your experience with the software being unpredictable, awkward, and hard to use a recent one? Or several years ago? I'm wondering if the software vendor has had a chance to correct those issues or whether it's still this hard to use. Do you know if your former employer is still using the same software?


Heidi Tolliver-Nigro


Well-known member
Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

We are also big fans of PageDNA. I would highly recommend them for anyone interested in web-to-print. Highly customizable, you can make it do nearly anything you want from layout through delivery. Also their support staff is second to none.

We have used another system in the past, and have found PageDNA allows us to do it all "in-house" without having to rely on outside programming to accomplish what we need.

I will say that there is a bit of a learning curve, and it may not be for the faint of heart, especially in the beginning stages - although they do stick with you every step of the way.

Our customers love us for it.



Well-known member
Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

We set up a web to print solution at the web site http://www.photoalbum.com/

The project is a development that we have about 6 man years invested so far. It includes the website developed in Ruby on Rails, a browser based freestyle design tool developed for Flash, a Graphics Server for preprocessing uploaded files and creating production ready PDF files of user designs, a PrintTalk/JDF interface to our production print partners, and several MySQL databases to tie it all together.

The project went live in November - beta of course. We have a growing number of users building scrapbooks which are being transmitted to the print partner, printed, and shipped. The books start at 20 pages and the largest so far has been 66 pages. These are HIGHLY complex designs with tons of elements and transparency and layering and text and graphics and.... well have a look at a scrapbook and you'll get the idea.

As we started up our print partner had to change their workflow a bit because they were rejecting transparency in their existing automated workflow. Virtually every scrapbook we create has transparency - most have it on every page. After working with them and proving to them that their workflow would indeed work with these files just fine - now we are in production.

It has been a really interesting project and we have lots of plans for next steps. We are still ironing out bits and pieces and frankly we need to work on the general site design - we are more programmers than designers. But we think this is a very good example of one right way for Web-to-Print to work.

David Lewis

Lucid Dream Software, Inc.
Re: Web-to-Print Applications: Profitable, Not Popular?

*VERY Profitable.*

As a provider of web to print solutions, we see that those +who know how to market, but have a poorly built web to print technology+ have a hard time making conversions from visitors to buyers.

Those who have great applications, but don't know how to market, have a Rolls Royce on center blocks.

Those who have both, *marketing and software* end up winning online with volume and profits. And that's why we see more and more printers migrating from other w2p applications to our technology as we enable those who know how to market with a web to print technology that allows for higher conversions, higher profitability, repeat sales, increased book marking, returned customers and referrals.

These are the keys to being profitable:
-have a great product
-have great price points
-differentiate yourself
-make it easy for customers to buy from you
-no human touch points once the order is placed
-give customers a reason to come back
-make it easy for customers to find you

And any one that’s saying that you can’t make money, hasn’t seen Vista, Mimeo, Lulu, Professorprint, Printingforless, allbusinesscards, modernpostcard and many others that are doing millions of dollars online.

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