USA Networks, Other Big Businesses Turn to Print Vendor Site ImageX.com

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ImageX.com, an online "market maker" for the offline printing industry, is expanding its duties for media giant USA Networks Inc., and its work for the media giant is not the last big relationship expected by ImageX president/CEO Rich Begert. His goal is to change the industry by matching big businesses with small players across the fragmented printing landscape.


Roughly 60,000 commercial printers operate in the United States, and most of them generate less than $2 million in annual revenue. Often, individual units of the country's largest corporations end up striking relationships with small local shops. The result is that a big company's print image - its logo, letterheads and business cards, for example - can become inconsistent. ImageX wants to end that problem through the Internet.


"We are relying on our technology for that consistency," Begert said. "[The reason] we're going to transform the entire industry is that we standardize upon a digital file format that we're going to send out to the vendor community. Also recognize that these [small print shops] have different equipment in their shop, so we ... tweak that file specifically for the shop that we're sending it to."


ImageX, Bellevue, WA, sets up intranet sites for business customers. Each company gets its own site filled with its custom-printed goods - i.e., letterhead, logos and marketing materials. The employees of that business can independently access the catalog through their PCs and order what they need such as new sets of business cards. They see a proof online of the product before ordering, and they can make modifications to materials as well.


Print shops - some owned by ImageX but most of them independent - receive the orders, turn out the goods, and ImageX manages fulfillment and delivery. The company takes in a small amount of revenue from site-related service fees, but, for the most part, ImageX makes money by providing the materials themselves.


The company was expected this month to announce a relationship with USA Networks, New York, the holdings of which include Ticketmaster, CitySearch and USA Broadcasting. The media conglomerate's biggest printing priority was for its USA Films unit, which just released its first full-length motion picture. ImageX took an order for collateral material on Friday and delivered it before the film opened the following Monday, Begert said.


"It was one of those hurry up and get it done yesterday [jobs]," he said.


Amazon.com, Nielsen Media Research, Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette and Merck & Co. are among ImageX's current clients.


The company's client roster has increased considerably of late, but ImageX has yet to make a quarterly profit. The company opened its virtual doors in October 1997 and went public in late August of this year.


Though ImageX specializes in linking far-flung Fortune 1,000 enterprises with small print shops, Begert resists the term "broker" as a way to describe the company.


"The reality is that we are taking accountability for that product. Whether or not we're producing it in our own facilities or we're outsourcing it through one of our vendors, the customer's really ambivalent to that. We're taking full responsibility as their total print supplier," he said.


And the company is expanding its online horizons as well. This month, ImageX closed its acquisition of online print materials auction site PrintBid.com. It also picked up PaperDeals.com, a virtual seller of print supplies.
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