Confusion Is Killing Print BTB Standalones

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Add the print procurement Web site industry to the cast of troubled e-commerce players.


Trade publication e.now's inaugural e.commerce summit, an Internet printing industry convention that was scheduled for this week in Los Angeles, has been postponed until October because attendee registration fell short of expectations, said industry sources.


E.now also plans to have a four-day show in Orlando, FL, in May. Shaun Kilfoyle, group publisher at e.now, a division of Cahners Communications, said the Orlando show could be scaled back if interest doesn't warrant the entire scheduled event.


Several industry executives said the convention suffered from the problem plaguing the entire industry: Print buyers are not using the Web. And though no major players have gone out of business, most print Internet standalones appear to be hurting, creating rumors of cash struggles and mergers throughout the industry.


The Internet-only BTB print industry can generally be broken into companies that offer third-party print-procurement services and printers who use the Web to generate business for themselves. Both types of firms contend that the Internet lowers print prices.


However, Kilfoyle said print buyers are confused by the categories, and generally view the Web as a place for third-party middlemen to increase job prices. He said this viewpoint hampered his firm's convention attendance because some of the speakers were third-party online print vendors.


"I think a lot of print buyers read the convention's speaker listings and said, 'I'm not going to listen to this [expletive] about online print procurement," Kilfoyle said.


He added that his company might re-name the event and cut it to a day or two if print buyers do not show more interest in coming months.


Robin Michalisko, director of marketing for Printbid.com, Portland, OR, said his firm decided last month to pull out of sponsoring convention because "there was a lack of qualified customers that were attending the event."


Michalisko said he knew of other companies that had withdrawn on verbal commitments to sponsor the convention, although he wouldn't offer names.


"There are major industry adoption issues when it comes to the Internet," Michalisko said. "Print customers are not taking to these (e-commerce) business models, and that has really affected the ability of dot-coms to generate revenue."


58k.com, New York, a business-to-business print auction site, had signed onto sponsor the January event, and said it plans to sponsor the convention slated for October.


At the same time, Bob Rose, president of 58K, said the postponed convention showed how most online print services firms were scaling back their promotional spending in an effort to slow cash burns.


"I think a lot of the dot-com community is looking at these conventions with a lot more scrutiny than we did this time last year," he said. "This industry is challenged like a lot of dot-coms in other industries. We are challenged to make a profit."


Craig Kevghas, president of CPR Marketing Inc., Westford, MA, has done public relations work for the print industry since 1986. He said the convention's struggles were a sign of the times for print e-commerce.


"People aren't sure where the industry is going," he said. "A lot of people entered without clear business plans, and still don't have one. So they are out there muddying the waters until they find one."
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