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Some See New Opportunity in the New Paper Trail
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E-printing is starting to play a major role in how many
companies do business. Instead of going through a long
process to get materials such as fliers and brochures
printed, businesses are turning to e-printers like
VistaPrint Ltd. to get the job done. Today we'll learn more
about e-printing and how it might save your company some
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Some See Opportunity In the New Paper Trail
By PUI-WING TAM
For Sharon Katz, producing fliers and postcards
for her company used to be a time-consuming and
complex job. First she had to bat around ideas
with a designer and sort through the finished
proposals. After that came another round of
discussions with her printing company.
Then Ms. Katz discovered VistaPrint Ltd., an online
printing company that allows consumers to design
and print everything from business cards to broch-
ures through the Internet.
These days, she can create marketing materials
herself within minutes: She chooses a template for
the document on VistaPrint's Web site, plugs in
her own artwork and text, then clicks to place the
order. Within three business days, she says,
VistaPrint sends the completed job -- usually
several hundred pieces or so -- right to her
"I'm a one-person marketing department, so I don't
have the resources or money" to deal with
complicated printing processes, says Ms. Katz,
director of marketing at Mt. Vernon Mortgage Corp.
in Weymouth, Mass. "Now I can place a print order
in under 10 minutes, and I don't have to deal with
other printers and designers."
Printing has long been a fragmented process,
requiring customers to shuttle back and forth
between independent designers and print shops to
get the job done. Now a growing number of
businesses and consumers are turning to online
printers as a one-stop shop -- where they can
easily design and order everything from annual
reports to letterhead stationery. And thanks to
low overhead and new technology, the online print-
ers can offer lower prices and quicker turnaround
times than traditional outfits.
The surging interest in e-printers is roiling the
$126 billion U.S. printing industry. According to
research firm InfoTrends/CAP Ventures, print jobs
that move through the Internet made up 12.5% of
the total U.S. printing market last year. Charlie
Corr, a group director at InfoTrends, projects e-
printing will grow at a rate of 19% a year through
Robert Keane, VistaPrint's chief executive, says
the Bermuda-based company generates about $30
million in revenue a quarter. The company went
public in late September -- underwritten by invest-
ment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc. -- and has seen
its stock price more than double from the offering
price of $12.
Its competitors are also posting strong numbers.
Privately held Mimeo Inc., based in New York, says
it generated $15 million in revenue in 2004, up
70% from 2003. IPrint Systems Inc., Redwood City,
Calif., says it has one million customers and its
revenue is rising 65% a year, though the private
company declined to disclose underlying figures.
Perhaps the best measure of e-printing's success
is that traditional printers are taking steps
online as well. For instance, FedEx Corp.'s FedEx
Kinko's unit now provides online ordering. There
are no design services available, as with purely
online printers. But you can upload a fully
completed document to FedEx Kinko's site and then
walk through the entire order process, choosing
the type of paper and binding, for example, in a
matter of minutes. Customers can arrange for the
order to be shipped to their own address or picked
up at a FedEx Kinko's store.
"It's a dynamic market, and a lot of local printers
are also moving into our direction," acknowledges
Letty Swank, iPrint's chief executive.
Times weren't always so rosy for e-printing
companies. Online printers flooded the Web during
the dot-com boom, and many disappeared during the
bust. The market was too crowded for so many
competitors to survive, and even the biggest names
were scattershot in their marketing: They tried to
target businesses of all sizes instead of focusing
on the niches that needed them most.
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VistaPrint, for instance, was founded in 1999, and
raised about $10 million in venture capital. But
by late 2000 the money was running out. In early
2001, VistaPrint embarked on a major restructuring,
selling off a piece of its business in Europe and
laying off 40 of its 60 employees, says Mr. Keane,
the chief executive.
Now "it's a much healthier market," InfoTrends'
Mr. Corr says. And the companies that survived the
shakeout have taken a number of steps to revitalize
their business plans. Many e-printing companies
have narrowed their focus to concentrate on
particular customer segments, such as small to
medium-size businesses, that are typically not
well-served by commercial printers. VistaPrint and
iPrint, for example, target companies with just
one or two employees, such as those run by entre-
preneurs. Mimeo focuses on midsize to larger
In addition, many e-printers have improved their
software and processes so they are able to aggre-
gate orders -- and use the volume to lower their
prices and attract new customers.
At VistaPrint, for instance, the average size of a
print order is $30. But VistaPrint's proprietary
software automatically adds these tiny orders
together to create one giant print run, allowing
the company to print many small orders at once for
a low cost. Traditional printers typically can
print just one job at a time -- resetting the
printing press each time for a different job --
for a higher cost.
VistaPrint, which owns production facilities in
Windsor, Ontario, and in the Netherlands, usually
charges 25% to 50% less for an order than a local
printer, says Mr. Keane.
Easy design is also a big selling point for e-
printers. VistaPrint, for example, offers thousands
of online templates from which customers can choose,
to create everything from presentation folders to
greeting cards. Each template can be customized
with graphics, fonts and colors, among other
Mimeo, meanwhile, has created software that can be
embedded into a user's Microsoft Word program. So
you call up the company's templates in the word
processor, plug your own information into them,
and then upload them directly to the Mimeo Web
site to order prints. IPrint offers similar
customization services, and prints on items such
as rubber stamps and mugs.
Along with such do-it-yourself offerings, many
printers now provide free design services by phone.
Many traditional printers don't offer in-house
design, forcing their consumers to turn to special-
ized -- and pricey -- designers.
VistaPrint, for example, says it can design most
products with a phone consultation of 30 minutes
or less. The VistaPrint designer questions the
customer about the product and plugs the answers
into a template, which the client can check online
in real time.
Some customers have mixed feelings about the
service. Jeff Coveney, president of Boston Movie
Tours, which takes visitors to spots in Boston
where films or TV series were shot, discovered
VistaPrint late last year. He says he worked with
VistaPrint's designers to come up with a brochure,
a free service that would have cost at least
several thousand dollars elsewhere. Within a few
weeks, VistaPrint sent him 2,000 tailored market-
ing pieces for less than $500.
Mr. Coveney says that dealing with VistaPrint's
designers was very different from dealing with an
independent designer, who typically pays more
attention and does more customization work.
VistaPrint's design "wasn't the quality of an ad
agency," he says. "The experience took a little
getting used to."
In the end, though, he says he's happy with the
work. "I plan to use VistaPrint again in the
spring when I'm going to redo a few pieces," says
Mr. Coveney. "They served my needs."
PUI-WING TAM is a Staff Reporter of The Wall Street
DID YOU KNOW?
Here are a few words of caution regarding Web site
* Don't ever forget that the site is a sales tool
first and not some place to show "cool" stuff that
does not contribute to your sales and advertising
* Snazzy design is important, but not as important
as providing the information that your clients want.
* Make your site easy to follow and user friendly.
* Anything you put on your site can also be viewed
by your competition. Don't put it out there unless
you want it found.
* Keep page download times at 28.8 kbps speeds to
under 20 seconds at most, if at all possible.
So what did you think about this issue? Drop me a line and let
me know at email@example.com
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