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Office printer market analysis

According to industry analysts Gartner, the average business spends 3 per cent of its annual revenues on printing documents throughout the entire organisation. This is not an insignificant number – many businesses would see this as a healthy profit margin, so it is surprising that many companies do not have any kind of strategy for even measuring their print costs, never mind controlling them. The humble laser printer lies at the heart of most companies document production, it is a device so ubiquitous that it has become thought of as little more than another office commodity. This, perhaps, is why few people ever give much thought to them or question whether their organisation is make the most efficient and cost effective use of their laser printers.

The world of office printing is suddenly becoming a lot more complicated, and the monochrome laser printer is no longer guaranteed a place on the team. These days businesses have a lot of new options available to them in terms of document production, and printer vendors are having to find ways to add value to their offerings. So what’s changed? For a start, multi-function printers have started to seriously shake things up. Julio Vial, quarterly research manager at IDC explains “People are now printing more than copying. For example, in the past if people wanted to send a message round the office they made some copies of it, but now they email it and everybody prints their own copy.” This meant that copier vendors had to find a way of competing with printer manufacturers, and they did this by connecting their devices to the network and allowing them to do the same job as a printer.

Players such as Canon and Xerox who have traditionally been strong in the photocopier sector have added print and fax capability to their devices, and this has made many users realise that they can do away with their laser printers and consolidate all of their document functions into a single, easily managed MFP. Cost per click is a concept long established in the copier market which transferred well to the printing arena – businesses like their costs to be predictable, so knowing exactly how much they will pay for their document output is a big plus.

The printer manufacturers responded by adding copy capability to their devices. In most cases this was simply a matter of bolting a scanner onto an existing printer engine, and the advantage of this has been that they are able to bring MFPs to market with the kind of reliability, connectivity and manageability that people have come to expect from workgroup laser printers. Market leader Hewlett-Packard has launched an assault on the copier market with a range of MFPs selling for a fraction of the price of conventional photocopiers.

So the copier vendors and the printer vendors are both trying to take market share from one another by introducing different kinds of MFP and extolling the virtues of convergence and consolidation. But while both camps continue to bang the MFP drum, the single function laser printer is likely to remain the dominant document printer in the office environment for years to come. Vial said “The future is not going to be about just printers, or copiers, or MFPs. It is very difficult to say who is going to win here, but certainly the vendor who has all the products, the mono printers, the colour printers and the MFPs will be in the best position.”

While MFPs have certainly shaken up the single function printer market a little, the biggest disruption to the status quo has come from the widespread introduction of colour laser printers. Thanks largely to aggressively low pricing, colour laser printers have been more successful than even the manufacturers had dared hope, nearly every vendor we spoke to said that colour sales had exceeded their expectations over the past twelve months. According to analyst Context (www.contextworld.com) in 2004 the UK saw 17.5 per cent year on year growth across the entire laser printer market, but shipments of colour printers surged by 60.4 percent while the mono printer market grew by11 per cent, significantly lower but still more than respectable by the standards of most businesses.

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