31 July 2018 Digital Printing Technologies

Online: where the rules are different

Online printing is growing and growing fast. It has an impact on all printers, whether they choose to take part or not.

Online printing has enjoyed a good year. If the regular printing industry continued to suffer problems from over capacity and tighter margins, online print has cocked a snook at this.

Investment has continued: two Screen TruepressJet 520 HD presses at Route 1; additional capacity for Solopress and for Quinns; double digit growth for Where The Trade Buys. This is without the growing volumes of print that online portals are handling for smaller printers alongside their traditional business. And the volumes are no longer just about business cards, single and double-sided flyers.

The likes of Printed Easy are focusing on stitched and bound products and in the exact numbers that the customer wants. Where The Trade Buys is offering a broader range of finishing, including varnishes, laser cutting and foils. Custom Gateway has a huge range of promotional products in the portfolio that can be sold through affiliates to complete a product launch or store opening or other event.

This has also brought a shift in focus as far as customers are concerned. Other printers remain the sweet spot for most. The online companies can offer either the ultra commoditised print at prices that a commercial printer cannot match. It makes business sense to outsource these low value products and fill production capacity with higher value jobs that can require a high service element. Alternately the online market can enable the printer to offer services and products that are beyond in-house capacity.

The business plan is about gathering as many orders for similar products as possible and then optimising production, ganging jobs on an offset press, grouping the same materials and charging more for same day or next day delivery. There has been a strong focus on ease of use and customer experience. All online businesses recognise there is a percentage that drop off before reaching the check out. The faster the customer hits this point, the more likely he or she is to complete the transaction.

For the printer there is a need to build a complete system, linking the web portal to the prepress workflow and digital press and to the MIS and equally to the outsourced print partner via an API.

Infigo’s Catfish is becoming this sort of platform. Managing director Douglas Gibson says: “We are also, as the digital landscape evolves, constantly adapting our products to fit in with the change, helping our clients to boost growth in a changing industry. We think collaboration is the key to being adaptable in the market, which is why we have several key partnerships with organisations such as HP, Tharsten and TrustPilot to help us provide the best possible service for our customers.”

But while the UK market is still growing, it is becoming a battleground for German and European printers that are working in more mature markets. The share of online in central European markets is reckoned to be close to 20%, double that of the UK market, though definitive data is hard to come by. Brexit or not, the UK is an opportunity. Onlineprinters has substantial private equity backing and has added other businesses to follow the acquisition of Solopress around 15 months ago.

Solopress managing director Aron Priest says the market is becoming more aggressive. “You can’t dabble in online printing. You have to be committed,” he says. This is going to result in further consolidation for those that cannot invest to keep up.

Quinns took the chance to buy the ‘almost new’ Speedmaster that Stones had installed a few months before its demise. Solopress has moved into a third factory installed a further B2 Speedmaster and is now taking on a fourth factory with room for two more B2 Speedmaster. Further expansion is on the cards.

“The demand is driving this,” says Priest. “We have increased our litho, digital and finishing capacity. We have disaster recovery in place and have taken on 60 new people to bring us to 2895 in Southend.”

The big decision now is whether Solopress has sufficient B2 capacity to cope with the fast response printing that has been the company’s trademark and can choose a B1 press with the potential for greater production efficiency, at least on press. The company is cautious not to throw away the foundations for its success, limited touch points and straightforward production, now including stitched and perfect bound brochures and roller banners.

There are an awful lot of roller banners. “We are the cheapest in the UK for roller banners,” says Priest.

Being the cheapest will always be important in the world of online printing. Comparisons can be complicated by turnaround times and the selection of materials, 135gsm rather than 150gsm for example. Equally important are the online reviews, a negative comment can be very bad for business. This is more an internet business that happens to print than a print business that happens to be online. The rules are different.

Gareth Ward

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Solopress has moved into a third factory installed a further B2 Speedmaster and is now taking on a fourth factory with room for two more B2 Speedmasters. Further expansion is on the cards. “The demand is driving this,” says managing director Aron Priest.

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