The value proposition for site visitors, according to Earthtone co-founder and CEO Nader Alaghband, is choice. "The quick-printing business is dominated by FedEx/Kinkos, Staples and OfficeMax, but they still only represent 15 percent of the total market," said Alaghband. His goal is for Earthtone to represent the other 85 percent the 15,000 local mom-and-pop printing shops so a business owner in need of printing can see the widest possible array of prices and services with just a few clicks.
For print shops who join the network, Earthtone is handling the search engine optimization (SEO) required to push Earthtone.net to the top of the list should someone search for printing services in a given area.
The company also provides the technology needed for smaller printers not only to be found, but also to accept jobs submitted electronically online like the big guys. "Our business seeks to put the enablers to compete with FedEx/Kinkos in the hands of the small print shop," explained Alaghband.
To use the service, a business owner would create an account and then upload the file to be printed. Earthtone then instantly matches the job parameters with a member print shop that can handle it. The site visitor can then select the quote that best matches their criteria (be it price, "green" printers, high-quality printers and so on) and pay online, at which point the file is transmitted to the chosen print shop. The customer is charged a small service fee (typically a couple of dollars) to help defray the PayPal and other costs Earthtone incurs.
Alaghband reports that Earthtone's main thrust is to match local businesses in need of printing with local printers, especially given that for more complex jobs some face time may be required. But a user is certainly free to pick a remote print shop and have the job shipped if that's a better fit, and the site integrates with FedEx's shipping service. The Earthtone service could also work for mobile users who find themselves in an unfamiliar city and need a quick-print job done in a hurry.
Earthtone currently has more than 1,100 independent printers in its network, though geographic coverage in the U.S. right now is limited to the Northeast. Alaghband and his team are planning a phased rollout; his goal is to have the network active in 25 states by the end of 2009.
Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.
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