HOME Technology Nov 2007
Multifunction takeover

Sharing the same ink

The stand-alone consumer printer market is likely to continue its steady decline over the next two years, particularly in the inkjet space, where it is being obscured by rapidly maturing multifunction printers which are going for a song.

In fact if you look around for a stand-alone scanner or printer you’ll find they’re becoming difficult to find, unless you look at the high end, and even then multifunction devices are stepping into that space.


According to IDC New Zealand associate market analyst Telanches Sun, there’s little difference in performance or price across the consumer multifunction printer market. “If you look around at stand-alone devices and see you can get a multifunction device for the same price there’s really no question about what to buy.”


The main players are Hewlett Packard, Canon, Epson and Brother. A couple of years ago people might have felt that the quality of printing was being sacrificed in order to squeeze in the scanner, photocopier and fax capabilities but he believes each function is now as good as standalone devices.


While the there’s a niche area for scanners, mainly in the professional area, the only stand-alone printers today are typically A6 photo printers, aimed at printing high quality 10 x 8 or 6 x 5 photographs. Quality photos can also be achieved on most multifunction printers and the cost of sending them to a lab for processing on quality photo paper is also coming down.


In fact the cost of a multifunction printer has become so low it’s ridiculous. Brother regularly advertises machines around $80, Hewlett Packard and Epson have sub-$100 machines and Lexmark has the cheapest printer in the world at $50. “No-ones making any money off printers under $100, the key is to lure customers in to buy a particular brand in the hope they’ll spend more money on consumables such as ink cartridges and photo paper or labels,” says Sun.


Even the margin on ink cartridges which used to be particularly high has dropped in the past two years, although it can vary considerably across brands. “Try and calculate the cost of how many ink cartridges you might need over a year against what you are paying for the printer. If the printer costs $80 and you have to spend $200 in ink then that tells its own story.”


So why would you sell below margin? Well brand loyalty has something to do with it, particularly as new users upgrade to higher quality. It can also be good for bundling, particularly with companies like Hewlett-Packard and Dell who make PCs and can afford to use a package deal as incentive to get buyers on board.


Page per minute ratings (ppm) are probably more relevant for business users, where speed, efficiency and productivity are major measures. For the consumer, quality of print outs is the key, particularly if you want photographic reproduction. Has the printer got card slots so you can print without using your computer or a USB connection to go direct from your camera?

Ask the salesperson to print out a test sheet from the printer you’re looking at and compare it with others so you know what to expect. Another important factor is the warranty and the level of after sales service available in case something goes wrong.


So where’s the market heading? Multifunctional laser printer sales have gained a foothold recently but mainly at the business level; HP’s Edgeline technology can print faster than traditional copiers at less cost, providing a serious challenge to standalone photocopiers, and Ricoh’s gell technology delivers fast printing using waterproof ink and may be soon head down from the business space to the consumer clearing.


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