Have you ever heard about ” physical API “? It can be defined briefly as follow: Application Programming Interface (API) of this kind establishes a link between the virtual and the physical worlds. In doing so the API ensures that products are made or sent. Online print service providers are one of the most regular customers applying a Physical API business model. And these are mostly start-ups that don’t come from the print industry
APIs have already been described as the new infrastructure for the Internet. In fact, APIs combine the functionalities of an online service with those of another (offline or physical) service. Familiar online store examples include the integration of a payment service provider or API-access to picture databases, such as 123RF or Fotolia. From the Internet service choices, customers can sees this add-on service API-integrated into the front-end/user interface. API interfaces (SOAP, REST) are practically standard, meaning that an individual provider of solutions for frequently-sought-after functions and services does not need to reinvent the wheel or can upgrade their own service by adding extras that dovetail with what they already provide.
Physical APIs, which involves a physical product being made or moved from A to B, is applied widely in three industry sectors: logistics, manufacturing and print products.
In the logistics sector all the major shipping logistics firms, such as DHL, Hermes or dpd, have their own API-interfaces, but there are also multi-carrier solutions, such as Shipcloud or LetMeShip, which can be integrated into all established e-commerce systems.
Additive manufacturing (also known as 3D-print) is also included in the manufacturing sector. Here even the design-engineering of electronic components via API is feasible – followed up by actual manufacturing, as in the case of Macrofab. Major additive manufacturers such as Sculpteo or Shapeways rate APIs as key components of their business models. Examples of such companies from Germany include the jewelry distributor Juwelo TV and its parent company Elumeo, which pursue a mass-customization strategy via an API that allows clients to customize their pieces of jewelry when ordering. The products are then actually manufactured in Thailand.
Web-to-Print service providers, accounting for a major portion of the Physical APIs, currently still exist. Here are a number of such API-based businesses at beyond-print: for example CanvasPop (USA), whose API-based photo product business can be docked on to other online stores. Because the API print intermediaries Pwinty (UK) and Peecho (Netherlands) have no their own printing presses, they decide outsource fulfillment instead, i.e. actual printing, to companies like Cewe or RPI Print. After all Mimeo (USA) has operated a German branch for several months now and offers its document printing, management and distribution solution, Mimeo Connect for API-based integration purposes. Latvian start-up incubator, Draugiem Group, and its API-based print fulfilment service for online stores, Printful are also mentioned in this paper, Printful is now planning for second branch in Central Europe to complement its California facility.
And then, there are some information that have not been written, for example, an ex-Amazon and an ex-Microsoft employees go to their bank with their start-up idea and are given a loan to purchase their first digital printing press. Their business idea involves making the sending of printed products, such as postcards, direct mail, letters etc. as easy as the sending of e-mails. Their company was established in 2013, called Lob, is based in the USA, and focuses solely on the Physical API model. Until now, company has now also added products like T-shirts and other promotional items to their range.
” Any Physical APIs originating from German-speaking countries? Fat chance and frankly a wasted opportunity “ – Bernd Zipper
Of the more than 80 Physical API applications marketed by print service providers, there are still a number of fascinating solutions that I could mention. London-based Kite offers standard print products such as posters, photo prints or stickers using API-integration – and from the very beginning has focused on mobile Internet integration. QiQ, also from the UK, is now an established API-partner for printed mailshots. The UK seems in general to be the center of European Physical API developments. Even the well-known UK-based online print business, Moo, offers API-integration.
The things mentioned above are something that can hardly be seen on the German-speaking web-to-print landscape. Besides the photo book segment, there’s valuable little happening in these parts. None of the well-known major online print providers and hardly any of the smaller market players in German-speaking regions has a Physical API service online. There are nevertheless a number of fulfilment partners in this part of the world, but there’s scarcely anybody generating their own business ideas.