This new video “OVER THE SKYPE” is the opportunity for us to interview one of the best consultants on Web-to-print, Ludovic Martin. During this interview, Ludovic shares his vision on the evolution of the online printing market and the economic changes taking place in Web-to-print. He gives advice on how to stop making Web-to-print a concern for “traditional” printers. He discusses the discreet but increasingly visible arrival of marketplaces such as Amazon or Alibaba on the online printing market and why it may be relevant to take advantage of these “market” platforms for certain products. He answers the difficulties of approaching the B2C market, but also the markets that still need to be conquered and developed in Web-to-print, particularly via personalisation such as packaging, textiles, etc. He discusses the services that are so important to accompany a Web-to-print order. And finally, he gives us his crush of the week on a recent Web-to-print initiative that he particularly impressed us with.

Cette nouvelle vidéo « OVER THE SKYPE » est l’opportunité pour nous d’interviewer l’un des meilleurs consultants sur le Web-to-print, Ludovic Martin. Durant cette interview, Ludovic nous partage sa vision sur l’évolution du marché de l’impression en ligne et les mutations économiques en cours dans le Web-to-print. Il donne des conseils sur comment ne plus faire du Web-to-Print un sujet d’inquiétude pour les imprimeurs « traditionnels ». Il revient sur l’arrivée discrète, mais de plus en plus visible des places de marché comme Amazon ou Alibaba sur ce marché de l’impression en ligne et pourquoi il peut être pertinent de profiter de ces plateformes « marché » sur certains produits… Il répond sur les difficultés à aborder le marché B2C, mais également sur les marchés qui restent encore à conquérir et à développer dans le Web-to-print notamment via personnalisation comme le packaging, le textile … Il s’arrête sur les services si importants qui doivent accompagner une commande Web-to-print. Et enfin, il nous donne son coup de cœur de la semaine sur une initiative récente dans le Web-to-print qu’il l’a particulièrement épatée.

Hello everyone and welcome back to Inkish’s “Over The Skype”.
France, which today is a little bit special because I have Ludovic Martin as my guest. I won’t hide the fact that for me it’s a great joy, knowing that I consider Ludovic Martin as one of the best web-to-print consultants. We’re on first-name terms because I’ve known Ludovic for a few years now. Ludovic, could you say a few words about yourself? And above all, don’t hesitate to take your time to present your blog, your platform that you named “Print.Watch”, which is full of information, advice, recommendations, tips and tricks, but also feature articles. I’ll leave it up to you.
Hello Yves, I’m also delighted to be present at this interview. We’ve known each other for a long time thanks to this blog which has been a way to get to know each other. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve been in online printing and web-to-print for almost 20 years now. I started to take an interest in it as a graphic designer. I was looking for solutions to automate this link between web and print in the early 2000s and, at the time, I was able to start working with people who had the first Indigo presses and see a convergence between them. On the one hand, websites, digital presses… and then the work of a graphic designer, at the time under QuarkXpress, where we did a lot of repetitive tasks. And I figured there was something to explore, so I continued my career in this field and as a project manager. And then, from 2009, I turned more towards e-commerce, developing online print sales platforms. I joined Exaprint in 2012 as marketing director until 2017 and so I took part in a large part of this great adventure which has been one of the flagships of online printing in France. And since 2017, not only have I been an independent consultant in online printing and web-to-print, but I also support SMEs in other business sectors that want to digitalize or accelerate their positioning in online sales. So, in parallel, for 11 years now, I have been running a blog on what interests me. In fact, the idea – I think it’s the same for you, we’re always looking for information, for what’s being done, to understand things, we read a lot … And I was thinking that it’s useful for other people too, what I see, what interests me, what I learn and so on. So I started this blog by sharing this information. And then, little by little, a lot of people started to follow me, to react, to incite me to publish in-depth articles or analyses. It’s something I continue to do today on the blog, on the meetings… The objective is to share my vision of the market – I’m not saying it’s the right vision, but in any case, it’s the perception I have of it – and to cross-reference it with what’s happening in other sectors of activity as well. Because often – and I think this is not unique to printing, but we tend in our profession to look at the people around us, and it’s good to step back and see what’s going on in other completely different sectors of activity, where you can find sources of inspiration. From time to time, I also try to share analyses on the behaviour of players on the market, on what’s happening, to try to explain to the smaller structures and SMEs that make up the French industrial fabric in the printing industry what’s happening, so that they become actors of this change and not just suffer it. My perception is that over the past few years, for many, online printing and the web have been more undergone than really taken over. There’s a new change taking place today, and I’m really convinced that the local printer has a role to play. However, it needs to completely rethink itself. And here we’re also getting back to things that are close to your heart, around 4.0 printing and others. It’s now, and you mustn’t let the train go by because it’s the last train in the station! And it’s gotten a lot faster with the Covid. And if we don’t realise that, if we don’t move, there’s a risk, at worst, of disappearing, or else we’ll just remain a sub-contractor producer who’s going to get his prices imposed by others. And I think that French printing companies are great companies with great stories and that they have another role to play today.
That’s why I won’t hesitate, when this video is published, to put a link to your blog. Printers often have questions and there are some very nice answers on your blog and in your articles, which is a source not to be forgotten, especially for VSEs and SMEs. Now, let’s come back a little bit to the online printing sector and I would have liked to have your opinion on the sector today. Is it different from what it was yesterday – even though yesterday is only twenty years old? Can you give us your vision of things? Yes, I think that, concretely, we are in the third age of online printing. As you say, it’s twenty years old, even a little more, almost 25 years old today. I think that the initiator, if we go back to Robert Keane and Tony Rafferty… in my opinion, it’s in the years 1995-1996, so it’s starting to date. And if you compare it to e-commerce, outside of the web, outside of these structures, you have to say that at that time – at that time, Google and Amazon didn’t exist. That puts things into perspective. Facebook, I think Zuckerberg wasn’t even born! So it’s starting to be a bit of an old industry. So, nothing to do with the seniority of the printing industry in general, but in e-commerce, it’s part of the prehistory of e-commerce. For me, we’re in the third stage, the third phase. The first phase was people saying “I have a need, I’ve found something, I’m launching a site and I’m leaning against a manufacturing workshop”. So, basically, there was a site, a manufacturing workshop, which was internalized or not, but often it developed like that, with a rather limited product catalogue. In the beginning it was business cards, flyers and that was about it. For me, it lasted until 2008-2010. From then on, we started to see new models emerge, simply because this first phase was reaching its limits in the development of the product offer; when you produce yourself, you can’t have all the machines for all types of formats and so on. And then, at the same time, because there were bottlenecks, i.e. at a certain point, the sites were developing strongly. As soon as ADSL developed with online payment, it exploded and a single site couldn’t cope with that. In fact, from that point on, we started to see slightly different models appear, structures that started to say “we’re going to make mega factories” – which started to appear in Germany with production lines dedicated to one format, one type of finish and very large quantities, or other people who said, “We’re going to use networks of subcontractors across the country, each with their own speciality, and then, just like the Internet, this network, we’re going to dispatch production flows to that network, which makes us much more scalable, we can absorb much more of the workload. “So there were these two big models and, in the middle of 2010, notably with Cimpress, we went even further with the mass customisation platform, a sort of meta-factory capable of supplying a lot of brands. And so that was the second phase. And I think that today we are reaching a third stage where e-commerce and entry points are multiplied. In other words, we must not think that doing web-to-print is just having a website that generates orders. It can come from mobile applications that allow you to order personalised photo albums, personalised cards and so on, it can come from your voice speaker connected to Amazon, it can come from one of your key account customers who has his ERP and who will say “me, my buyers, I want them to be able to push orders to you directly without having to retype or send you an Excel file or e-mails”. So the entry points are multiplied, which was not the case a few years ago. Today, B to B buyers want digital, and even more so after this crisis, with the confinement where everyone worked remotely and digitally and where order taking was done online. Then new things appear – we’ll come back to this a little later, new buying behaviours or other things, and so behind it all lies the need to reinvent ourselves as producers. Because you have to be able to get orders from a lot of different points, your own website, platforms or whatever, and be able to process them behind it. So, I think that today, we may be moving from big supermarkets, which was a bit like the 2010’s, to smaller, more agile, more adaptable networks of stores, a bit more anchored in the territory, but with digital connections. It’s a new era in consumption, as we have in retail.
Precisely then, with all these opportunities that you have highlighted very well, today, web-to-print is very often a cause for concern for traditional printers, often synonymous with lower prices and aggressive competition. What could, especially in the current context, make them change their minds?
It is certain that the price, especially on “B to C” sales to the end customer, is a determining factor. It’s a major axis of communication, but I still draw the attention of the people I talk to and the customers to two things. Price is not everything. It’s one of the elements in the marketing mix, but it’s not the only element, and you also have to take into account the customer’s feelings and opinions. I invite you to look at the consumer opinions of sites that have very low prices. In general, the old adage that you get what you pay for is proving to be true. I think that the customer today-and that’s why we’re coming out of this second phase-has become acculturated to the codes of online printing and to permanent low prices. He understood a little bit what was behind it, there are social costs, there is an after-sales service that is not always great, these are often “fabless” platforms, which do not produce… The customer understood that, the buyer knows that, and I think they are looking for something else. That doesn’t mean you can do anything with prices. You have to be at the right price and, above all, you have to reposition the price in a marketing mix. Saying “Okay, price is one thing, I’m not the cheapest on the market, but I produce. I have a history, I have a local foothold, I have an exceptional quality of service, I’m a specialist in that. “And in the end, you’ll see that the customer who is only looking for the price won’t get it, but in any case, he’s a zapping customer, so there’s no loyalty, there’s nothing to build up with him, apart from making a move. But you know that in business, it’s rarely profitable. On the other hand, you will have customers who will look for a partner in time, who will look for reliability, who will look for meaning. And then, if you manage to have a balanced offer with a fair price in relation to this mix, I think that there are really customers to find and a relationship of trust to create over time. So it’s certain that behind the feeling of “oh dear, but on the web, prices are broken…” In fact, what I often detect is something a little bit different, is that prices are normalized. And often in the printing industry, I think that there is a price culture that is a little bit in the customer’s head, either by will or rather because the overall price and the pricing approach have not always been industrialized. Systematically, we redo an estimate, we redo an analysis, whereas we do the same work all the time. The difficulty is that in web-to-print, you have to create price grids, you have to standardize your prices or make discount grids. I think that always scares printers a bit, because they think it’s a big job, and they think “my client, to whom I was selling at 100, tomorrow he’s going to see him at 70, and he’s going to yell at me”. But you have to rationalize your prices and you have to make them legible, accept that they are transparent and public, but above all, you have to tell and build a story around them. Should they also be afraid of the unobtrusive arrival of marketplaces such as Amazon or Alibaba on the online printing market – although this is being talked about more and more?
So, afraid of it, I guess not. We have to get away from the fears of the printers, who, in my opinion, have a lot of fear factors today. We have to take them into account, we have to project ourselves, but we mustn’t let that paralyze us. We have to know it, we have to understand it. I think that Aliexpress is clearly a threat because the operators on it are mostly Chinese, and it is difficult, as a European operator, to refer to it. Even the operating codes are not very simple for European operators. And Amazon, yes, clearly, it’s growing. It’s more around the personalized object, the “print on demand”. But of course, it’s spilling over into the printing industry, it’s spilling over into the photo album market or the personalized photo object market… You want to make a mug with the photo of your grandchildren to give to your grandparents… Well, today it’s possible on Amazon and, as a result, the market for personalised advertising or promotional objects has been turned upside down. It is an operator of which we must be aware, and above all, we must be aware that, in general, when he arrives on a market, he completely changes the rules in place and the way things work, he “trustees” the first place. But at the same time, it’s a great opportunity because Amazon, the bulk of their business, is a platform for merchants who sell their products themselves through this channel. So if I go back to my image as a salesman, the big operators we have on the market today Flyeralarm, Onlineprinters, Vistaprint, etc. are supermarkets. Amazon is a market, so anyone who wants to open his stall and sell his products at the price he wants, comes in quotes. This means that for a printer, potentially, it may be easier to go and sell a product on a market where it is very effective or which meets a need than to go into a supermarket where we know that sometimes the referencing conditions are not simple and that the mechanics are heavier. So Amazon, for me, is more of an opportunity on certain products. I don’t think I’ll see for a long time the possibility of buying brochures, catalogues or things like that. But you have to keep in mind that there’s an Amazon that we know in the general public for everyday purchases, and there’s also the Amazon Business, which is aimed at SMEs with payment at 30 days, administrative mandates and so on. And here, for example, it means that to sell a roll up, there is no problem to do it on Amazon. Selling posters, selling business cards, POS or things like that, it’s quite possible. And on top of that, Amazon integrates, for a fairly low cost, a web-to-print editor that’s basic, but still does the job. So, for me, it can be a good way to test the market a little bit and test its internal organization. So it should be seen more as an opportunity and a sign that time is changing in the world of online printing with these new players.
Yes, if only to test…

Yes, it is. I know a few printers on very specific products who have made great opportunities, who have used it to capture new customers. So I’m very aware of the limits of the social model, of what’s behind Amazon and the hegemony that’s open to criticism, but from an e-commerce point of view, it’s still a school, like Xerox was a sales school. There are companies like that that have led the way in marketing and commerce and other areas, and being a merchant at Amazon is a school for learning how to sell online. Because there’s a rigor, there’s guidelines, there’s a whole bunch of things, and I think it’s a good way to get into the Internet sales market. Thank you for that very good advice, Ludovic. So, still to bounce back on this question, I was wondering: is the “B to C” market still affordable, especially when you see the hyper competition that there can be in this market where acquisition costs are increasingly high? Even the biggest ones you mentioned Vistaprint, Onlineprinters, etc. are worried about this surge in acquisition costs. What can you tell us about this? Let’s say that if we go into “B to C” just to make acquisitions and like the big leaders today, clearly, it’s a failure guaranteed in advance. Because this model, for me, is outdated. The model that consists of a price war on the one hand, so that the only vector of activity is a low price – the business card at 5 euros or something like that, and at the same time, an acquisition investment that is almost exclusively oriented towards Google AdWords, cannot work, because, on the one hand, we have lower sales prices, therefore lower margins, and on the other hand, we have higher acquisition costs because it’s an auction system; the more advertisers there are, the more Google raises prices. You don’t have to leave HEC to understand that the economic model is simply not viable. So, today, we must not think that we can do like so-and-so by wanting to reproduce their model and do like them, with the same revenues. It will not work. Besides, they are leaders who have been around for a long time. And beyond that, I also think that often the mistake that many printers make when they launch themselves into web-to-print is that they say to themselves “this site will only allow me to acquire new customers”. No, you already have to think about your existing customers because you often think about new customers, you tell yourself that you’re going to find them, you’re going to feed them. So there are already a lot of customers that you have on hand at home who turn away from you because you don’t have a website. So they go elsewhere simply because they want to be able to place their order on Saturdays at 10pm, because that’s the only time of the week when they’re a bit quiet, and at that time, your sales representative is not available, nor your quotation service. They have half an hour to place their order, so if you open a website and you say to these people “now you have a new channel of relationship with our company”, with the same level of service, then you have the ability to win back or develop your existing customers, which is always much more interesting than acquiring new ones. You must never forget that a satisfied customer will talk about you around him, and therefore it will also be a vector of attraction. So I think that yes, we can do “B to C” if we have a marketing mix that is relevant and if we think on a more local scale. We shouldn’t immediately have excessive ambitions by telling ourselves that we’re going to conquer Europe or something else… On the other hand, if we are agile, if we think about a very specific population and specific products, there are still many things to be done, clearly.
Thank you, Ludovic. Speaking of these sites, in your opinion, what markets does web-to-print still have to conquer? We are seeing the appearance of packaging, which was limited until a while ago, textiles… which seems to me to be only in its infancy, even if we are seeing some extraordinary things. What can you tell us about it? So, yes, packaging is clearly one of the sectors that many studies indicate is really entering its digitalization phase, where other sectors of the printing industry are much more mature. There is great potential and, on top of that, it benefits from the development of e-commerce in general, which is a big consumer of packaging. So there’s really a lot to be done. I also think that everything that is personalization, whether it’s textiles, objects, etc.-we see laser engraving, etc.-there are a lot of things that are being done. And this is a market that is huge, in which there is a lot of potential. We see very interesting things, structures like Printful, for example. They thought they would target a community, which is the one of shops on Shopify or others, by offering a back office, all the production management and shipping. These are people who have reinvented a slightly different model of printers, and I think it’s very interesting around this personalization of the object. I also think that large print runs are still somewhat excluded from the web-to-print market. And we are seeing new generations of machines, especially in digital, we see that nowadays, technos are becoming mature and have a tendency to push towards larger print runs and to go scratch on more traditional technos. That means that behind, in web-to-print, you’re going to have to follow and adapt to that. And so it also opens up new possibilities, because these are new markets, more towards “B to B”. Afterwards, on 3D printing, I’m less of an expert, so I’m still wondering about that. I don’t see it in “B to C”, but more in “B to B” in certain sectors of activity, to manufacture parts on demand or things like that. I don’t have the keys to this market, which is quite specific, but in my opinion, it’s still at the trial and error stage, with the industrialisation of machines and technologies. But at some point, it will change. I was very impressed, especially during this period of uncertainty, how some online printers, thanks in particular to 3D printing, were able to offer alternatives. I thought there was probably something to scratch.

Yes, we know, for example, that in the automotive or other industries, there are certain used parts and parts made to order? In the world of automobile collection, there are renowned manufacturers who today are able to reissue parts from very old cars thanks to 3D printing machining. This suggests that there are things that are going to happen, even if I think it will be a little later, but it’s certainly worth watching. So we’ve talked about markets… It’s true that the product is important, but in addition to the product ordered, what services – we’re also talking more and more about the customer experience that an e-commerce site must offer – must a web-to-print site offer today?
It’s a set. Earlier, we were talking about price and, like price, we have to think about the overall approach to what we offer to customers. It’s like a store, it starts with the parking lot, the outside signs, the window, the reception of people, the way the store is run, its cleanliness… And then, once you’ve paid, the quality of delivery and after-sales service is really a whole. A lot of sites tend to focus on the window and on the flashing signage that says “come to my place, it’s cheaper” and forget a little bit about what’s going on behind it. And here again, I think that the strength of local printers is the way they listen to the customer, the knowledge, the service; they spend all their time trying to get the best out of the situation. Once again, as we saw during the Covid period, the people who did the job were the local printers. They went the extra mile for their customers, they were inventive, they served them, etc. They were the ones who did the job. It’s like the small local producers or the grocers, they’re the ones who were there. And that quality of service is the DNA of a printer and a printer’s shopkeeper. We really have to take that into account. That means you have to look at it from a digital perspective. We have to have the tools that allow us to respond well to clients, whether they complain on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram or on a form or by SMS, we have to take those tools into account. Then, internally, you have to adapt your teams so that you integrate the importance of the web channel and that everyone is involved. I think it’s really something that’s key today to think about customer service, and not just the brand and the price. The quality of the product that is delivered, the quality of the service, the friendliness of the people you’re going to get on the phone and their ability to find solutions are all key elements. And if on the other hand, you have an interesting product, you deliver quickly and you’re in a territory, you have a combination that will make it work. So you really have to integrate it. And that’s why I insist on that in podcasts or in the interventions I do in companies by saying “watch out : an e-commerce project isn’t just the project of the web department or the marketing department or the manager; it’s a company project that will transform the whole company, including HR, because we’re going to have to recruit new people, invoicing, because we’re going to manage new types of invoices, orders, etc., shipping, let’s not talk about it, but it’s a project that can take your company very far if it’s done well. » That’s great. Ludovic, after all that advice, one last question. Can you share with us a recent initiative that you discovered in web-to-print, whether in Europe or elsewhere in the world, and that you find remarkable or interesting? Without a doubt… an initiative that doesn’t come from the printing press – even more fun is Mailchimp, a platform for sending advertising e-mails. Roughly speaking, we’ll say that probably one out of every four e-mails you receive in your mailbox with a promotion or something else is generated by Mailchimp. It’s a company that has grown over the years by working a lot on something very fun and easy to set up. And recently, it’s these people, after having developed on what are called marketing automatisms – for example, to redirect someone who has put an article in a basket, but who hasn’t finalized the order by triggering automatic e-mails – and after having spent years saying to stop sending paper and making e-mails, who have launched as a magical support for customer relations the printed and personalized postcard in variable data. I thought it was fantastic, because it’s the illustration… For me, digital marketing is the Big Mac of marketing. It’s easy to do, it’s easy to consume, but it doesn’t have a lifespan: as soon as it’s consumed, it’s immediately forgotten. And today, our societies are overloaded with digital marketing, our mailboxes are full of it, search engines are overflowing with ads in every direction, to the point that we don’t see them anymore… We’ve lost the sense of practical things and now we realize that, in the end, giving an object to someone, a printed object with a nice message, has weight. And even economically, it’s less expensive than other digital media. And incidentally, in spite of everything we’ve been reading for years, the environmental impact is probably less. So I think it’s a good example of this constant reinvention and the fact that print, when it’s rethought and when it’s used at the right time in the customer relationship, it’s extremely effective. And that, I think, should inspire printers in the construction of their commercial discourse. It’s not waiting for the customer to ask them for print, but suggesting print at the right time by saying “here is your customer journey today, where you do this and that in marketing operations, well at such and such a time, where you do for example Google AdWords or e-mail reminders, it’s not profitable, it’s not efficient. If you were to incorporate personalised print at that time, whether it’s by mail, whether it’s by parcel asylum or whatever, it would be much more efficient. And that’s something the customers can hear and that means it’s a different approach from the printer. So that’s really the example that I’ve taken from the past months and things that are coming together. What’s interesting is that there are quite a few solution publishers who are following in Mailchimp’s footsteps by offering automated solutions to e-commerce operators. Excellent! Thank you, Ludovic, for that perspective. (…) I don’t know how to thank you yet.

With great pleasure!

This is not the last time. We’ll still have the opportunity to contact you to get your point of view and your analyses on this changing environment – and we’re always eager for your good advice. Once again, I invite all enthusiasts, experts and professionals in the VSE/SME sector to check out all the elements that you can post on your blog “Print.Watch” which will be linked to the video. Ludovic, see you soon!

Thanks Yves!

Really, it’s been a great joy! See you soon, Ludovic!

Thank you, Yves. Bye bye!

Web-to-Print is also about understanding the ...

31 Jan 2023