epsonby Larry Trevarthen, Epson America

The office printer market is just over 30 years old, so it is ready for a fundamental evolution. As with every industry, there is a moment when the forces that fueled its initial growth give way to technologies and business models that drive future developments. Automobiles, televisions and personal computers have all seen growth as they evolved to hybrids, high-definition displays and tablets, respectively. In each of these cases, the new technologies better met the changing needs of users while also providing new revenue growth for resellers and dealers.

The office printer market has very well-defined and stable requirements from end users, IT managers and resellers. From an end-user viewpoint, printers need to be affordable, offer exceptional print quality and be robust enough to meet the needs of a busy workgroup. From an IT manager perspective, the printer needs to integrate seamlessly into the network environment, be secure, reliable and easy to manage. And for a reseller, the printer needs to be profitable from a hardware, supplies and service perspective. 

For the last 30 years, laser printing technology has met these needs of office users, IT managers and commercial resellers. Scalable from personal desktop models to fully functional copy machines, laser printers and copiers have set the standard for print quality, paper handling and reliability. And in the process, they’ve provided commercial resellers with a steady and predictable revenue source. 

As laser printers reach the peak of their development cycle, substantial engine design changes that dramatically reduce costs will not be found. The laser printer engine is complex, and after more than 30 years of development it is highly optimized. Already today, laser printer manufacturers are subsidizing the printer costs with supplies costs in many areas. When the printer market looks for growth from less expensive color pages, the laser printer will not be able to meet these needs. 

Inkjet Technology is the Disrupter

Ink technology provides the fundamental technology shift that will change the commercial market in the near future. Inkjet printers today are marketed widely as having lower operating costs than comparable laser printers because inkjet engines are less complex. With fewer parts than their laser printer counterparts, inkjet engines are comparatively less expensive, which provides the ability to get to those lower operating costs. This is the reason that once inkjet printers enter a market in a systematic manner, they always have an impact. 

Inkjet printing is the standard in consumer printing of course, but it is also the de facto standard in wide-format printing, where 93 percent of wide-format device shipments were inkjet in 2015, according to research firm IDC. Ink is rapidly becoming the standard in production printing as well. According to IDC’s “U.S. Production Page Volume Forecast, 2016–2020,” inkjet printing is projected to jump to 149 billion pages, or 41 percent of total pages by 2020, up from just 22 percent in 2015, with ink accounting for 149 billion pages. 

And in the office market, IDC’s numbers show that in 2015 ink accounted for 48 percent of office shipments; by 2020 it is likely to surpass 60 percent of total shipments, with most of the growth coming from workgroup color printers and MFPs. This growth will come from MPS and lower-cost color solutions, especially in the SMB market. 

MPS, the SMB and Inkjet

The value proposition for MPS in the SMB is radically different than it is for the enterprise. In the enterprise, MPS is focused on taking cost out of the system and creating an integrated content strategy. Enterprise strategy is much more heavily focused on consolidating or eliminating printers, paper consumption and color usage. The SMB, on the other hand, seeks to save time and money, driving productivity and making color more affordable — all while reducing stress on frequently overburdened (or nonexistent) IT staff. The SMB isn’t trying to stop printing, it’s simply trying to make it more efficient for everyone involved. For these and other reasons, inkjet is the ideal match for the SMB’s MPS program.

In addition, there are many specialized vertical markets — education, houses of worship and construction, for example — where affordable color is critical but it needs to be managed. Business inkjet printers are fully compatible with all leading MPS software and therefore support the color management and billing any organization requires. In addition, since inkjet color is often lower-cost than laser, it offers these customers the ability to integrate color into their documents affordably. 

For resellers, being able to offer MPS solutions based on inkjet provides the ability to attract new customers and new revenue streams. As resellers continue to face market pricing pressure, being able to access high-quality printing solutions for lower-cost hardware and supplies is critical. And although inkjet printers often require less service than comparable laser printers, the reseller is able to increase their profit on service by providing more effective preventative maintenance calls to the end user. 

Office customers get much faster printing per dollar with inkjet printers today compared with laser printers. For inkjet, the challenge in the past has been producing a machine that is fast enough and robust enough to handle the rigorous demands of the office without compromising in areas such as print quality or equipment price. Today’s manufacturers are meeting those challenges, offering high-quality devices with disruptive print speeds.

The business inkjet printers today are fully robust workgroup printers. In addition to the print speed, MPS compatibility and operating costs mentioned above, business inkjet printers also have the print quality, paper handling, network and security management tools that are required in an office managed print environment. Designed with high-yield ink cartridges, these business inkjets can run years without having to change supplies, which provides not only operating savings but also substantial savings on supplies ordering, management and shipping costs. 

Ink’s Ultimate Value Proposition

Printing is not going away, particularly in the SMB, primarily because it’s becoming better, more cost-effective and more efficient for everyone involved thanks to the technological evolution provided by inkjet technology. For end users, that means high-speed devices that can be shared by the entire organization; manageable by industry-leading software solutions; are low-touch, utilizing high-capacity cartridges; and are low cost, particularly in color.

Resellers, likewise, need a solution that will help grow their businesses and attract new customers, and this means a device that will check off all the boxes above. For resellers, inkjet printers allow new revenue and profit streams. They can find new customers who require low-cost color solutions; they can save significantly on shipping and managing supplies for customers in an MPS agreement, and they can generate new profits by providing full print solutions while reducing their acquisition costs. 

The SMB is the segment with the most projected growth in MPS and business inkjet shipments have the highest growth projections. Targeting the SMB market with inkjet solutions is a solid business strategy. 

The channel is evolving and business inkjet is becoming a power player as we move into the new year. Now is the time to become a part of this disruptive market. 

Larry Trevarthen, Epson America

This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of The Imaging Channel