The Web-to-Print Connection

Remember when the word convergence used to mean the combining of television and the web in something like WebTV meets TiVo? While hype about convergence has been replaced by divergence, a few web organizations are moving toward a more traditional approach print publishing. Putting ink to paper is a time-honored way to reach a target market that provides several advantages for web-only content and commerce sites.

Publishing content in both print and web media has been done for years. Computer publications from CMP to Ziff Davis were on the web early, as were newspapers, such as the Raleigh News and Observer, and Time-Warner magazines. Later, web-only publications, such as Salon, thought that eliminating the cost of printing and distributing paper-based versions would make it easier to make a profit. It turns out that both the revenues and expenses of web-only publications are different from the revenues and expenses of print publications.

The same thing has happened to product marketers who assumed that eliminating the cost of producing and mailing color catalogs and direct mail pieces would allow them to turn a profit sooner. However, the recent problems with a number of high-traffic sites show there is more to successful e-commerce than eliminating paper.

The recent trend of web-only publications to launch print versions of their brands indicates that convergence may not be dead after all just coming to life in ways we didn’t expect.

Yahoo Internet Life was one of the first print magazines to carry the brand of a web site, but a number of others have appeared or are being planned. In addition, content online companies are merging with companies that have print operations, such as the AOL/Time-Warner combination. Then, there are hybrid mergers like the acquisition of ZDNet by CNET that’s worth about $1.6 billion.

One of the more fascinating aspects of this move toward print is that people who won’t pay for online content will pay for content in print form. So, for web sites looking to monetize their traffic and content, selling subscriptions to the print version may be a viable option.

Product marketers have also been integrating print materials and other offline marketing activities with their web marketing to take advantages of the benefits of each medium.

For instance, one of the challenges that online apparel merchants have always faced is how to convey the color and texture of the fabric being used. Four-color process printing of product photos delivers several times the resolution and color accuracy of web-browser software. This gives traditional catalogers an advantage over online catalogs for products where color and texture are important in making a purchase decision.

Print catalogs have other advantages over the web catalogs found at most sites. For instance, when the print version of the PC Connection catalog arrives, I take a quick scan of the products in whatever group I’ve been thinking about buying. Like most print catalogs, I can quickly see several products and descriptions on 1 two-page spread.

Of course, the web shines over paper catalogs when it comes to interactivity and personalization. In addition, customer relationship management tools allow marketers to test different approaches of combining print and web marketing techniques.

Some of the print marketing techniques that can be used by web sites include:

  • Use postcards or other self-mailers with URLs for web pages that build on your marketing message.
  • Create a miniature product catalog of your best-selling products, leading the reader to the web site that contains the entire product line.
  • Publish a print newsletter of short product-usage tips and techniques with URLs of the full articles on the web site.

While convergence was initially expected to integrate television with the web, the integrated use of text and photographs in web and print media makes more sense for Internet marketers today.

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