Open Source Web to Print Data

Typically, when investing in a Web to Print technology, even an affordable Saas-based technology, you are buying into a system that is completely “closed” in that the only human resources that can support your technology investment is the company familiar with it. Once you decide to stop paying that support fee, or if that group disappears or stops supporting their technology, your data, your templates, order history and your time investment alone is at risk of disappearing altogether. There is virtually no-where that can accommodate your data and your product templates. The portals that house them as well also run the risk of disappearing. When you tie your open source Web to Print data / WordPress website, even if you discontinue the use of your web to print plug-in, the set up of your product catalog and information remains with you thereafter. The value goes far beyond your initial investment – and certainly further than the investment that closed systems can offer.

Again, to put things in perspective, there are certainly some things that open-source systems can not do. And you have to rely on some of the more proprietary systems out there. At that point you want to make sure you are speaking to the right people. If they are forward thinking enough, then they will have provisions for you and/or they will get their technology there eventually. But for now, those looking for the best of both worlds better do some homework.

WordPress Usage Statistics

While on the subject of statistics, there are close to 1 Billion websites on the internet. WordPress powers close to 100 Million of them. That being the case, anyone with a bit of proficiency can now go to WordPress (or any of the other website & e-commerce platforms) and set up their own website, integrate an e-commerce plug-in with the payment and shipping gateways of their choice – and be off to the races to make some money online. That was not so do-able in the print industry until most recently. Now, even printers can set up their WordPress websites and find Web to Print technologies that can be embedded and appended within their website within minutes.

Whereas in the past, someone had to take the risk of paying upwards of $50,000 to buy a software that would take a month to deliver which would ultimately end up as shelf-ware, (and if it didn’t, they were likely hiring a full time salary to operate the damned thing). Now, by spending a couple hundred dollars and spending no more than a week or 2 you will know if the solution is worthwhile. Note the difference in savings of time, money and aggravation. Aside from the time, money and frustration savings, there is another element worth noting.

Open Source Web to Print

Having said that, where would the uninitiated go from here?   For starters, if your web initiatives were to follow the stats, and you want to create a open source Web to Print infrastructure that will be supportable in the long term, you want to choose a website platform that is used by the majority and has a large development base of contributors. That only guarantees that the technology will have a stronger likelihood of continuity due to the investment and adoption of the majority. Of course, important criteria would be considered as well such as technological objectives, customer convenience, efficient processes etc. But that will generally be covered anyway, if you follow the stats. Indisputably, the most popular website platform is WordPress. As of July 2015, WordPress powers at least 24.2% of the websites published on the internet (Source: http://w3techs.com/technologies/history_overview/content_management/all/y). While there are other systems for consideration such as Joomla, Drupal, CMS Made Simple, Open Cart, ZenCart, OS Commerce, PrestaShop, Shopify, Magento, Volusion and Big Commerce to name a few – WordPress dominates the open source community as the CMS of choice by over 60%. (Source: http://trends.builtwith.com/cms). To put things in perspective, a really popular and like-able website and e-commerce system is Shopify which has a user base of 165,000 users. WordPress being a popular website, blogging and e-commerce platform has 600 times more websites using its platform than Shopify. (Source: http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_management/all)


Need A Widget? Here it is!

In the past, if you wanted to add a feature to your website or change the look, it took substantial coding and customizations plus a lot of time before it could be delivered. On an open source Web to Print website platform, you can access HUNDRED or THOUSANDS of plug-ins for a less than a few hundred dollars – and plug them in INSTANTLY! Because of the broad variety of plug-ins and modules available, websites can differentiate themselves substantially as far as their offerings and presentations go, that would make the companies that they represent more memorable and differentiated.

Open Source Web to Print Expenses

The previous article: Proprietary vs. Open Source needs to be taken with a grain of salt. There are some people that delude themselves into thinking that an entire web based print conglomerate can be formed without spending a penny. That is certainly not the case as there are open source Web to Print expenses. Perhaps if you happen to be a printer who is also a programmer. Even if that were the case, you have to start judging as to where you want to invest your time and what is more worthwhile for you and your business? To sell and print? Or to program a solution that only you will use? If the answer is to program, then you may get away with spending nominal amounts. But if you ultimately need to tend to your printing business, someone then needs to tend to the programming and web development. So keep in mind, that even when utilizing open source platforms that are virtually free, there are other required expenses, such as to host, create a redundant environment, buy plug-ins for necessary widgets and of course – spend the necessary time (or money) to design, populate and publish your web site (or portal) with designs, information and products. If you are not spending the time, then someone can obviously do it for you. And that “someone” has to eat as well. That will cost money. But it will not cost the amounts of money that traditionally needed to be spent.

 

Open Source vs. Proprietary Web to Print

Open Source vs. Proprietary

Technology practices varied between the print industry and the general web population because print technology is highly technical. The culture within the larger web development community was substantially different and generally more efficient. The print technology industry, because of its highly technical nature, was generally a proprietary nature and “closed” environment, originally monopolized by companies that wished to drive value to their existing products or machines. Original Web to Print solutions were sold as enterprise solutions upward of $50,000.

General web development culture is generally more open and collaborative. For those who don’t yet know, there are collaborative “open source” communities that developers turn to supplement their development skills to accomplish development feats that would otherwise take a substantial amount of time if ventured through trial and error. The term “open source”, as far as it applies in the software industry, denotes a software development culture in which original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. Indeed, developers can now access code libraries and development kits that evolved over years – propelling their web projects to completion in weeks or months when taking the likes of the traditional technology providers years and years (if at all).

Having been involved with Web to Print for over a decade and a half, attending trade shows and visiting production centers, I still experience a light shock when I take a brief look at some of the expensive systems in the market, old and new, and find that they do not have much more to them to warrant their price tag except for maybe over-architecture and a heavy infrastructure to support. Given the inefficiency of the technologies, I am not surprised when companies such as iWay / Press-Sense, HiFlex and BlueTree disappear – no longer to be supported. Considering the monies invested, would have thought that the technological advancements could have been afforded.

Despite the self-destruction of these proprietary Web to Print systems, these 2 cultures have been converging over the years to the point that it has proliferated within the industry to give the more established players food for thought. Whereas more established print companies and conglomerates turn to the big established names to provide big enterprise solutions to help achieve their online objectives, the smaller and more nimble print shops and brokers (where owners are often sellers and operators) have blazed a different path to achieve similar objectives.

As an amusing side point, at times I get approached by small shops or print brokers that will browse through some of our client websites. Some will remark, “oh, I like that website. That must be a large company.”, not knowing that the website belongs to a print broker just like them.

Certainly for some, proprietary systems did the job they were supposed to do by being first in the market and hopefully allowed some to generate money and repeat business over their competitors. And certainly, having a Web to Print solution has become almost a requirement in winning repeat business. Traditional enterprise solutions such as those available through EFI (Digital Store Front – PrintSmith), Marcom (formerly Printable), OPS, Pageflex and even Racad Tech’s ePOWER Online (GOePOWER.com) – involve massive development initiatives that cover nearly every aspect of web development required in order to create a web to print system. Accounts, e-commerce, payment integrations, shipping integrations, product catalogs, PDF rendering, variable data integration, hierarchy permissions, production backends, file routing, order status updates, QR codes, impositioning, product groupings, reporting and the list goes on and on.

Modern Web to print Technologies no longer require large teams of developers to create these massive solutions. Why? Because the entire open source world has THOUSANDS or MILLIONS of developers working for YOU doing all the general work that every enterprise solution was once doing for themselves. These days, any person wanting a website with e-commerce widgets can do some basic browsing and discover that the platforms that power most of the websites in the world today, are all FREE. That is to say that all the basic Web to Print functionalities can be found somewhere in the open source world without the need of investing large sums of money. In so far as Web to Print is the medium of facilitating print ordering through the web, what was once the domain of the select few has become accessible to every print infrastructure no matter how small.

I remember sitting in the offices of Konica Minolta in Canada as they were having a brain picking session when they compared their closed PDF driver solutions, that only worked with their machines, with Racad Tech’s GoPrint2 Drivers that accomplished the same – were easy to set up and worked with any solution – for only $50 per month. They were amazed and laughing at their own technology.

Web to Print as an Investment

In explaining the dynamics of successful business, a successful businessman taught his young son a basic principle in making wise investments. 1 – Buy low, sell high. 2 – Invest in what will make you the greatest return over the longest period of time. With that in mind, we will venture off in to the world of Web to Print technology and how we should be approaching Web to Print as an investment.

To put things in perspective however, we will give some brief background of the evolution of web-based print initiatives over the years and compare it with where we are at today.

Finding the Right Web to Print Technology

Finding the Right Web to Print Technology:

I often recommend that people in search of such technologies be cautious of which technologies they invest in.  Often, the amount of years a Web to Print development company has been around is reassurance that your investment in technology is safe.  However, I have seen all too often people getting stuck on a Web to Print platform with a company that refuses to upgrade – in all likelihood due to the rapid pace in which technology is advancing and the development low development standards that company employed in earlier years to get a solution to market.

Our next Web to Print articles will outline some of the considerations to be aware of when reviewing potential Web to Print technologies for the uninitiated, or even Web to Print modules to supplement pre-existing systems.

 

Modularized Web to Print

Modularized Web to Print


Taking It All Apart

Most web to print technology providers will not have all of the above. They may claim to have it all but very few do.  They often specialize in one or some of the above.  They may license or partner with other companies that have other technologies to supplement their own.  This fact may be insignificant if all you are looking for is a limited scope of features to address a very specific set of requirements.  However it is worth keeping in mind especially if you are looking to scale up and expand your offering to include other components at a future point in time that will require a smooth and streamlined workflow.

This will be discussed further in our next article.  More to come on that.

 

Putting It All Together

There are a few serious and established contenders supplying Web to Print technologies for the industry that have assembled these features together so that you can invest in robust technology and have all the necessary tools available to you to accommodate multiple scenarios to win print business from prospective buyers.

The forward thinking technology providers will trail-blaze new and innovative solutions that will allow their print clients to expand their offering.  Indeed Web to Print has been expanding its capabilities and services over the years to become more convenient and easier to use.  It has allowed people to become more efficient and streamlined and it has even expanded the offer beyond just print.

Many of my clients and their colleagues have openly expressed that they are reinventing themselves to go beyond offering print. Instead they are evolving their businesses to be a marketing service providers or trusted business centers. By implementing our ever evolving Web to Print shop technologies, print vendors are no longer just a corner store print shop.  They are solution and convenience providers for SMBs.

 

Print Buying Order Management

Order Management, E-Commerce & Reporting

If you want to get into Web to Print, minimally you need to have an E-Commerce system with your online solution. You want to change your payment practices so that you minimize the need to chase your invoiced customers and have your customer prepay. An E-Commerce system is the perfect way to introduce prepayment. With a standard E-Commerce system you can manage your orders, keep history of them and generate reports.

Print Buying Order Management 

The more sophisticated solutions within the online printing space, offer many convenient features such as hierarchy permissions so that organizations that wish to adhere to a mandated budget or to quality control standards can approve orders at the management level before going to print.  These features have also been extended on some online printing systems so that larger production plants can include print brokers within their hierarchy.  These systems can become quite powerful especially if they include a lot of data to generate reports and integrations with accounting suites and/or print management systems.

 

Variable Data Printing & Marketing

Variable Data Printing & Marketing 

To a large degree, variable data is an extension of the above.  What Web to Print VDP does, is allow any portal visitor or consumer to select a product from an established product library or catalog, and modify the elements within the template allowing originality, creativity, and furthermore uniqueness.  Variable components could be text fields such as names, addresses, phone numbers, extensions emails or even graphics and images.  Aside from the possibility of changing the templates manually one at a time, some systems can allow for database uploads, whereby the data within the spreadsheet will determine what variable will be changed within a printed piece.  If your data indicates the exact gender and demographic of your list, then VDP systems can determine what messaging and imagery will appear on the printed piece to make it more appealing for the gender and demographic receiving the piece.  These capabilities are also applied beyond print into digital marketing such as email, sms texts, personalized url’s, etc., so that all forms of communication to a specific recipient is extremely targeted and particularly impactful.  VDP has been successfully applied to direct mail marketing, customer relationship management, advertising, invoicing and accounting.

More advanced VDP features will add impressive template libraries and image personalization capabilities where personalization takes place within the imagery such as seeing your name as a tattoo on someone’s body or spray painted on a monument.  The solutions may also include client-driven mailing services,  mailing automation, list buying and data cleansing services.