Office Printer Segments Most Likely to be Impacted by the Transition to Electronic Documents
At Photizo, we are often asked what office printer segments are most likely to be impacted by the transition to electronic documents. One thought is that since multifunctional printers (MFPs) are becoming the communications hub within the office and support printing, copying, and scanning (scan to PDF, Scan to Cloud, scan to email etc.), that in a way, MFP’s are much more in-line and supportive of the transition to electronic documents than single function printers (SFPs) are. Over time, as general office print and copy volumes continue to decline, the thing that changes for an MFP is that actual copies and printers decline while the percentage of documents communicated electronically increase. SFPs do not have this same luxury which is why they are much more vulnerable to the impact of electronic documents.
However, there are always exceptions. For example, for some vertical markets that have SFPs primarily used for the printing of forms, those SFPs may survive the storm. A good analogy is the situation with impact dot matrix printers. Many of us would have thought these printers would have gone the way of the daisy wheel printers from Qume and Diablo and become extinct when laser printers became mainstream. Impact dot matrix printers actually survived over the years but at much lower volumes despite new laser and inkjet technologies which offered tremendous advantages in terms of speed, print quality, and yes of course, noise level. How did they survive? One primary reason is that they are impact devices, and because of that, they can print on multipart forms which are still used in a number of industries and applications such as retail transactions, invoicing etc.
I don’t think that the situation is exactly the same for SFP’s since they are essentially a subset of a comparable MFP. So, do all SFP segments have the same vulnerability to the transition to office documents? No, the lower end mono laser SFPs are most likely the most vulnerable but not just from the transition to electronic documents but due to margin challenges and severe competition from comparable performance business inkjet printers offering essentially color at the same price point (color for free).
Most printer manufacturers are investing heavily in their MFP embedded platforms and their smart cell phone type user interfaces which include nice large displays. One goal for printer manufacturers is to have a common MFP architecture and user feel across a broad product line so they can leverage their precious and shrinking R&D budgets. Another advantage of a common, and hopefully scalable architecture, and a common SDK, is that it is much easier for Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) to develop software for not just a single product but for an entire product line. In addition, when comparing average page volumes, MFPs in general have higher page volumes than their comparable performance SFPs. Also, MFPs offer more opportunities for embedded software that a printer manufacture can sell.
What do the numbers show? Shipment history is showing us that the monochrome SFP laser printer segment shipments are declining the most, while the color MFP market is performing the best in terms of printer volumes. There are many reasons for this but certainly one is that given the movement toward more electronic documents and less printing, MFPs will continue to have value as this transition continues to happen since printing is only one of many things that this new generation of smart MFPs supports.