A 2021 study of North American print service providers (PSPs), conducted by Keypoint Intelligence, provides some intriguing clues on the state of the web-to-print software market. There is a fair amount of resistance to web-to-print solutions, often for good, sensible reasons. The major themes can be boiled down to four points surrounding automation, job submission, web-to-print use, and a desire to increase sales.
Overall, the PSPs that responded to Keypoint Intelligence’s survey reported a low level of workflow automation. About 40% of respondents reported using all or mostly manual processes. About half had some level of automation, but there were still manual processes present throughout their operations.
Figure 1: Level of Workflow Automation
Elsewhere in the study, respondents revealed that the two highest areas of workflow automation activity were prepress and job onboarding, with accounting and job tracking not far behind.
Although the biggest workflow issue among PSPs is dealing with a large number of jobs per month, the use of e-mail for job submission is widespread. Job submission by e-mail continues to be the most common—and most preferred—method of job submission. According to Keypoint Intelligence’s survey, e-mail was also the top method for order placement, followed by phone! The study also showed that e-mail orders required an average of 2.2 follow-up messages. As a percentage of orders placed, e-mail job submission accounted for 35% of all jobs, followed by direct sales (16%). Web-to-print job submissions accounted for only 16% of orders placed.
39% of survey respondents did not own web-to-print software. Of those non-owners, 18% were considering a purchase.
Figure 2: Web-to-Print Software Ownership
Interestingly, smaller PSPs are less likely to own web-to-print software than their larger competitors.
When asked what percentage of their total number of jobs were submitted through web-to-print tools, 27% of respondents said none were. Another 26% put this figure at less than 10%, which is remarkably low. The bottom line is that not many of today’s print jobs are being submitted via web-to-print interfaces. Even so, optimism about the future abounds. As survey respondents suggest, is it possible that web-to-print use will exceed 30% in the next two years? Although some increase is certain, this growth is extremely unlikely. The web-to-print market has not been known to surge that dramatically in such a short timeframe, and this is unlikely to change in the next two years. Hope does spring eternal, though, because implementation and adoption struggles of the past are easily forgotten when considering the future.
When asked about the biggest business threats they experienced in 2021, survey participants cited difficulty maintaining or increasing sales as their top issue, followed by pandemic-related disruptions and concerns about reduced print spending. Major operational issues like maintaining cash flow, employee retention, hiring, exit plans, and bankruptcy garnered smaller numbers, but they are still clearly on the minds of these respondents.
Figure 3: Threats to BusinessIf respondents see issues in maintaining or increasing sales as their #1 business threat, why might a PSP who doesn’t already have web-to-print software consider such a purchase? The top reason reported by survey respondents relates to the sales process—they want to improve the customer’s ordering experience. The next most important reason was inward-facing: to increase efficiency in onboarding customer orders into their print management information systems (print MIS) and workflow tools. Gaining new customers through a public-facing portal was the third most important reason for considering a web-to-print software purchase.
What are we to conclude from this study? First, the relatively low levels of web-to-print adoption and usage remind us that print job submission can be extremely complex. Automating all portions of that process may not be feasible. Print buyers want assurances that things will go right, but making these promises often requires a series of e-mail, phone, or chat messages. The challenge is even larger for smaller PSPs that may lack the scale, budget, or motivation to make web-to-print software investments. They might also find that by providing their staff with the proper tools for price estimates and onboarding, the job submission process need not be put in the hands of the customer.
Perhaps the best recommendation I can offer print service providers is to focus first on in-house tools that simplify job submission for staff and only then look to more inventive ways of working with outward-facing tools that the customer can use as desired.
Source: Jim Hamilton, Consultant Emeritus at Keypoint Intelligence
Author bio: Jim Hamilton of Green Harbor Publications is an industry analyst, market researcher, writer, and public speaker. For many years, he was the Group Director in charge of Keypoint Intelligence’s Production Digital Printing & Publishing consulting services. He has a BA in German from Amherst College and a Master’s in Printing Technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology.