Digital imaging, the result of IT, software and photography converging, is a new industry where IT manufacturers are able to produce printers with a photo-quality output, almost indistinguishable from older, chemical-type photo reproduction. This, combined with the proliferation of Internet users, amateur desktop publishers and the cost of colour lasers, are factors that work in favour of inkjet printer resellers, reports Tamara Plakalo.
In the world of information technology, revolution is arguably the most frequently used four-syllable word on record. In fact, so often have different verbs and adjectives built around it passed the lips of IT spin-doctors that the word itself has been largely emptied of credibility and demoted to the status of yet another IT marketing cliche.
When it comes to colour inkjet printers, however, using the words revolution, revolutionise or revolutionary can hardly be avoided, despite the fact that the accusations stating "marketing overkill" as your crime are sure to come your way.
But, fear not! Inkjet printers are not only the home-market darlings, they're also the unchallenged kings of the overall printer market. This means that, while everything you say can and will be used against you in the court of good marketing law, mentioning revolutionary in the same sentence as inkjets won't really hurt your printer sales record, because they are among the most reliable and most attractive resale items around anyway. Yet, epithets such as reliable and attractive hardly make a product (let alone an inkjet printer) revolutionary.
So, where does the "revolution" bit come in?
Mike Pleasants, marketing manager for Epson Australia and New Zealand, suggests the emergence of the integrated digital imaging market may just be the point.
"The coming together of IT, software and photography - as they start to overlap substantially merging into this new area called digital imaging - is starting to spawn a whole new industry where IT resellers are starting to do battle with the photography market," Pleasant explains. "While digital cameras are coming down in price and improving in quality, IT manufacturers are able to produce printers with a photo-quality output, which is almost indistinguishable from older, chemical-type photo reproduction. This gives inkjet printer resellers the ability to challenge the traditional photographic shop."
In other words, it is in the convergence of the above mentioned industries and the ongoing democratisation of desktop publishing that inkjet resellers should be planting new inkjet marketing seeds.
Just think about the lucrative markets of people's private memories, of school, home and small-office photographic or Internet image-related projects, or even the world of corporate sales and marketing, and it becomes clear how far selling inkjets can take you. More importantly, now that most of the issues that used to impede the wider application of inkjets, such as print quality, networkability and running cost have been surmounted, not much should stop an inkjet reseller from saying "the sky is the limit".
Thus, it is really up to the channel to take the inkjet market that one step further and capture the likes of unsuspecting amateur photographers or those using the Internet as their image libraries as their new or "trade-up" inkjet cash cows.
"All these new markets which are opening up present opportunities for resellers," Pleasants asserts. "But what resellers need to do is think and talk more about application of their products, about solutions, rather than just a product and its technical specifications." So, where does one start?
International Data Corporation (IDC)'s newly released Annual Printer Report indicates that the inkjet printer market is steadily growing and people are prepared to pay more for quality printers than ever before. Furthermore, according to Les Champkin, IDC's printer analyst in Sydney, no downturn in the sales of inkjets has been predicted for the next five years. Add the revolutionary bit to these optimistic predictions and the fact that not much thought or effort needs to be put in to maintain the current market levels immediately crystallises in anyone's mind.
Indeed, many resellers point out that they simply "expect" to sell inkjets, come sun, rain or hail. "Selling inkjets to the home market has become an easy task," says Gary Oliver, managing director of Adelaide-based reseller Microarts Australia, who credits Epson's and Canon's inkjet marketing campaigns for raising awareness about inkjet capabilities at all levels of the printer market.
Yet, Oliver also believes the perception that inkjets are "an easy sell" may well be the veil that prevents resellers from seeing beyond the limited revenue-generating potential of the traditional inkjet clientele - families, SOHOs and medium-sized businesses.
"Inkjets are a good part of business," Oliver asserts, "but they offer skinny profit margins [usually between 6 and 12 per cent] and not a great deal of follow-on sales. That means that you have to start selling them as part of a business concept, and when I say a 'business concept', I'm not talking about selling inkjets to businesses only, but to the home market too."
Oliver's proposal carries a lot of weight if you consider that current market trends favour the use of laser printers as part of business solutions and that the business market, according to IDC, is moving away from inkjets. However, the cost of acquisition of a colour inkjet printer is significantly lesser than the cost of a monochrome, let alone a colour laser printer. And that always makes a great business proposition, regardless of how much money a company wants to spend on a printing solution.
"There are two things that drive corporates towards buying inkjets," Epson's Pleasant offers. "The first one is that inkjets do not require the same level of authority for a purchase to be approved, which means that they make an easier selling proposition than laser colour printers.
"The second is that, while they have similar output and quality, two or three high-range inkjets [priced around $900] can be bought for the price of one colour laser printer, and that means that, apart from being more affordable, they increase work productivity."
But laser printers still beat inkjets in the cost-per-page stakes, as John Fragiadakis, Lexmark's consumer printer product manager for South Asia, points out. This can be overcome by pinning down specific application needs of a specific market and selling inkjets as an ideal solution for those needs.
"A reseller who wants to sell an inkjet to a photographer needs to be able to market the printer's capabilities in manipulating photographic images," says Fragiadakis, to illustrate the point. "An accountant will obviously be more concerned with the cost-effectiveness of the proposed purchase, while a corporation will buy an inkjet as a convenience printer for its senior management."
While Mike Pleasants believes vendors need to help push the rethinking process to make laser-printer diehards consider inkjets as a viable alternative, he also thinks that as the foot soldiers of IT vendors, resellers are the people who should make consumers aware of inkjet virtues.
"We now have the speed, the connectivity and the print quality to make a colour inkjet an alternative to entry-level monochrome laser desktops," agrees Peter Leihn, market development manager for desk-jets at Hewlett-Packard. "So the most important issue is to market the right product for the right application."
Hewlett-Packard has put its money where its mouth is by organising training events for its resellers and mailing out kits that include interactive CDs to those who couldn't be reached through its training scheme. But in most cases, printer resellers will have to rely on their own marketing skills to get the message across to customers.
"The colour inkjet market is definitely starting to tread on the toes of monochrome desk-top lasers," says Epson's Pleasants, "yet their features still have to be sold, whether we're talking about selling them as tools to the business market or about selling the fun angle of printers to the home market."
What we have to accept is that both vendors and the channel will have to go through a transformation period before inkjets are actually accepted as a replacement for monochrome lasers. In the meantime, the only way to deal with the fact that the competition in the inkjet market is fierce is to become more marketing-savvy and perhaps take on the consumables market, if you haven't done so already.
The good news is that technological improvements, the proliferation of Internet users, amateur desktop publishers and the cost of colour lasers are all factors that still work in favour of inkjets.
And if nothing else, as Hugh Smith, managing director of Western Australian reseller Computercorp, points out, the inkjets won the affordability battle a long time ago.
What's new from . . . Lexmark
Lexmark 3200 Color Jetprinter
Lexmark's Color Jetprinter 3200 is targeted at the mid-range market, both for personal and professional use.
1200 x 1200 dpi (dots per inch) resolutionSpeeds of up to 6ppm (pages per minute) in black and 2.5ppm in colourUpgradeable to six-colour printing for "ultimate photorealism"Colour and black ink cartridges, both mounted and active for printing100-sheet input trayAccepts plain paper, photo paper, transparencies, envelopes and banner paperSize 208mm x 465mm x 279mmWeighs 3.34kgMultimedia printer interface that allows visual and verbal feedback on print statusInk-saver mode, Energy-Star compliantYear 2000 compliantWindows 95/98/NT 4.0 driversPrice: $349Lexmark 1100 Color JetprinterTypical usageLexmark 1100 Color Jetprinter is a home market printer.
600 x 600 dpi
Speeds of up to 3.5ppm in black and 1.5ppm in colour30 sheet input trayAccepts paper, banners, envelopes, labels and transparenciesSize 361mm x 160mm x 152mmWeight 2 kgColorSort feature for black/colour print savingsMultimedia printer interface that allows visual and verbal feedback on print statusPrice: $149Lexmark 5700 Color JetprinterTypical usageLexmark 5700 Color Jetprinter is targeted at mid- to high-end personal and pro inkjet markets.
1200 x 1200 dpi
Optional six-colour cartridge
Speeds of up to 8ppm in black and 4ppm in colourWide printheads for up to two lines per passQuickMode option for ink and time savings100-sheet input tray25-sheet label or transparency capacitySize 180mm x 425mm x 240mmWeight 3.8kgWindows 3.1, 95, NT 4.0, DOS-compatiblePrice: $449LexmarkTel (02) 9954 3299What's new from . . . EpsonEpson Stylus color 900Typical usageEpson Stylus Color 900 is targeted at the business market.
1440 x 720 dpi (dots per inch) resolutionSpeeds of up to 12ppm (pages per minute) for A4 black text page or 11.7ppm for A4 colour text page or 10ppm for A4 text and graphics pageAccepts different paper sizes, envelopes, panoramic paperUniversal Serial Bus (USB) connectivityWindows 98, iMac and Mac G3 compatibleEconomy Mode for ink and time savingsMicro Piezo printhead controls size, shape and placement of ink dropletsQuickDry feature for longer colour retentionPrice: $899Epson Stylus photo 1200Typical usageTargeted at the professional inkjet markets, especially graphic artists and professional photographers.
1440 x 720 dpi resolution
Droplet technology for better control of outputAccepts different paper sizes, banners, panoramic photographsWindows 95, 98, NT 4.0 and Macintosh compatibleUniversal Standard Bus (USB) connectionImage enhancement softwareMicro Piezo printhead for size, shape and inkjet droplets controlQuickDry featurePrice: $1099EpsonTel (02) 9903 9000What's new from . . . Hewlett-PackardHP DeskJet 1120C Professional SeriesTypical usageBusiness market, especially those printing newsletters, booklets, posters and the like.
Up to 600 dpi (dots per inch) black ink resolutionHP PhotoREr II (HP's dot control print technology) for photo-quality colour ink resolutionSpeeds of up to 6.5ppm (page per minute) for black text, 6ppm for black text with colour highlights and 4.5ppm for mixed text with colour graphicsAccepts a wide range of media150 sheets in primary trayManual feed option for thick card stock, labels and large envelopesHP ZoomSmart scaling technologies for enlargement or reduction of imagesTwo-sided printing optionWindows NT 4.0, 95 and 3.1 and DOS compatibleSize 579.1mm x 223.5mm x 380mmWeight 9.4kgHP DeskJet 695CTypical usageThis is an inexpensive printer targeted at the home market.
600 x 600 dpi black text resolution
HP Photo Ret technology for photo quality100-sheet feederSize 199mm x 436mm x 405mmWeight 5.3kgColorSmart II technology for colour printing controlA wide range of paper media, including envelopes, report covers and bannersWindows 3.1, 95, 98, NT 4.0, DOS-compatibleHP DeskJet 880CTypical usageThis printer is targeted at both home and business markets.
Up to 600 dpi in black ink resolution
HP Photo Ret II colour layering technologySpeeds of to 8ppm in black ink and 5ppm in colourPrints on a wide variety of papers, envelopes, banners and report covers100-sheet paper feedWindows 3.1, 95, 98, NT 4.0 and Macintosh-compatibleWhat's new from . . . CanonCanon BJC-255SPTypical UsageThe BJC-255SP is an entry-level printer.
Includes a black ink, a colour ink cartridge and an ink storage containerOffers a Super Economy mode that allows draft printing for colour, black and white and fluorescent inkPrints 3.4 pages per minuteHas a resolution of 720 x 360dpiCan print 2400 black and white or 600 colour pages from one cartridgeCan print plain paper, fabrics, glossy photo paper and transparenciesHas drivers for Window 3.1 and Windows 95. Windows 98 can be downloaded from Canon's Web sitePrice: $159Canon BJC-7100Typical UsageCanon's BJC-7100 is targeted at businesses, designers and SOHO users.
25 saturation levels per colour per dot
1200 x 600dpi
100,000 drops per second
Plain Paper Optimised Printing (P-Pop) which produces waterfast printoutsSix-colour PhotoRealism ink cartridgeBlack and ink optimiser cartridgeCartridge storage containerAble to print full bleed A4Feed tray able to hold 130 sheetsAccepts other media, including glossy paper and fabricPrice: $599Canon BJC-5500Typical UsageUsed by businesses and producers of posters and display material.
Accepts paper up to A2 size
Prints at 554 characters a second, six black and white pages a minute720 x 3690dpi resolutionAccepts plain, continuous form, coated, water- resistant, high-resolution and glossy paper, ransparencies, film and fabric.
Includes a black ink cartridge and four colour ink cartridgesIncludes printer drivers for DOS, Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 (Windows 98 and NT 4.0 drivers available from Canon's Web site)Includes a parallel interfaceOptional is a serial interface cardPrice: $1499CanonTel (02) 9805 2000