Print Portal Cuts Middleman

January 17, 2003
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SOUTHFIELD — It’s a Web portal that really works.

In just its second year of virtual existence, printwire.org had more than $100 million worth of printing orders quoted, produced and sold within its cyber confines last year.

All deals went directly from buyer to seller. No middlemen were involved and, more importantly, no commissions were charged.

“This is a tool that is free for print buyers to use to convey specifications to their preferred vendor list by using the Internet,” said Nick Wagner.

Printwire.org is the brainchild of the Printing Industries of Michigan (PIM), a statewide trade association headquartered in Southfield and affiliated with the Printing Industries of America. PIM has about 250 members, with 15 of those in West Michigan. Wagner is the organization’s president.

Wagner told the Business Journal that DaimlerChrysler uses printwire.org. Since the automaker began listing its projects online, the firm has narrowed its preferred vendor list by at least 15 percent. In turn, the turnaround time for orders has been lessened and the costs have been lowered.

All DaimlerChrysler does is log on and fill out a standard request-for-quote form, which has all the information that a printer needs to bid on a project. The automaker than e-mails the form to every printer on its list or to selected printers from its list, whichever best fits the particular job. Printers receiving the e-mail then respond to the order.

“It’s not an auction site. It’s not blasted out to the world,” said Wagner.

The reason for that is buyers don’t want their print orders open for general inspection. Items such as an annual report require some discretion. Besides, not all printers can produce a four-color, expensive-looking report to a firm’s exact specifications.

Wagner said DaimlerChrysler, just one of many buyers that used the portal last year, has to put orders up for a competitive bid. Before the firm began using printwire.org, more than a dozen sheets of paper were generated for every order. Now, Wagner said, a single sheet is produced for each order, dramatically cutting the backlog of paper for the automaker.

“The system tells buyers all along that printers have responded to the quote number and all the quotes are on one page. As soon as the buyer accepts one, that printer gets a default acceptance message,” said Wagner. “The others get an e-mail message that says, ‘Sorry you were not successful on this RFQ number.’”

PIM plans to expand printwire.org in the near future to allow a printer to become a print buyer, meaning a printer could subcontract a portion of a job to another printer through the portal. For instance, say a printer bids on an order that requires perfect binding. The printer could open a list of firms that do that process and contract with one through printwire.org.

“So he can send that portion out to his vendor. It comes back referenced by that RFQ number and he can plug that number into his quote,” said Wagner.

Printers don’t have to join PIM to get access to the portal. But PIM members do get a discount rate of $1,250 a year for unlimited use of it. That rate is low compared to what some commercial dotcoms charge. Those fees can run between 2 percent and 5 percent of the total value of the printing orders on their sites.

“Those models are set up to extract millions of dollars from the print process. In this case, once a printer comes on and pays the fee, if an ad agency wants to use the printer as a vendor, the agency doesn’t pay anything and the printer doesn’t pay any more because he already paid the fee for this year,” said Wagner.

“Once you’re on for one print buyer, you’re on for all of them. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing $100,000 or $100 million through the site, it’s still the same fee.”

Internet Communications Inc. of Waterford Township designed the site, while Level 3 Communications of Southfield is the portal’s host.

No guarantees are made once a printer joins printwire.org. A printer still has to sell its work to buyers on the site, but the portal does make it cheaper to do that. Printers can contact PIM at (248) 354-9200 for more information about printwire.org or a print buyer can get a printer listed on the site.

Printwire.org turned two years old on Jan. 5. But the portal has certainly matured rather quickly in that short time.

“In the last 12 months, I think we’ve processed over $100 million worth of print through printwire,” said Wagner. “It is an exciting program.”           

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