Waiting for Darwin
"Four to five percent of the industry uses e-procurement," says Michalisko. "Commercial printing is a $113 billion-a-year industry. Buyers consistently say they want the personal touch, but at the same time, 80 percent say that there are huge benefits to using online procurement with job specifications, management and communications packaged together. The hurdle is getting them to take the first step."
According to CAP Ventures, only 17 percent of print is currently procured via processes that are at least partly Internet-enabled. This number is expected to triple within two years, and grow to 80 percent by 2005.
Overcoming the obstacles
In order for the book industry to evolve into an e-procurement transaction model, there must be pressure. One possible source of pressure is the rise of e-books and electronic publishing. As content providers increasingly publish and sell wares online, book printers may find their presses less busy. Rising paper prices may also shrink profits, therefore, increased communication efficiency to fill open press time is a competitive advantage.
The e-commerce model's most serious obstacle is the complexity involved in book manufacturing. E-procurement and project management solutions are unable to deal with many of these complexities, but they are laying the foundation. Many of them have united to establish a job definition format (JDF) and defined standards for print procurement and e-commerce in the form of the PrintTalk initiative.
In contrast, Schaer disagrees with the idea that books are just too complex, claiming that software already exists to make these jobs feasible. According to Schaer, printCafe.com specializes in complex jobs: "Our print management systems and specification tool is customized for just that. When there is specification and quoting involved, you need sophisticated tools and streamlining to make it happen."
As far as relationships go, no one is suggesting that e-commerce facilitators would or should break long-standing ties. On the contrary, Gibbons argues that project management and collaboration augments relationships by improving communication. He adds that price will not enter into the equation as much as book printers believe. "We recognize that the book industry is unique," he explains. "The transaction fee as it is applied to the commercial printing market does not really apply to the book market. We have a number of different scenarios that do not require a transaction fee."