Colour printers are making their mark

While once colour printing was seen as a luxury, nowadays companies are treating it as the norm. And they are using colour printing in a number of innovative and exciting ways

  • E-Mail
By  Caroline Denslow Published  September 18, 2005

|~|35195body.jpg|~|The features on today’s entry-level printing solutions were found in high-end machines just a few years ago.|~|The homepage of Xerox’s website suggests: ‘Colour makes business sense’. It goes on to claim that invoices, when printed in colour, get paid 30% faster. And sales pitches are 80% more effective when presented in colour. In short, the company strongly advocates colour laser printing as a high-impact marketing tool. The exact percentages may be open to question — companies often find ingenious, if questionable, ways of trumping up numbers — but there is no doubt that the future belongs to colour. Organisations, both large and small, are increasingly turning towards colour. Shrinking price difference between monochrome and colour laser printers has further boosted the trend. The price-performance ratio has been improving exponentially. A couple of years ago, a colour laser printer cost three times as much as monochrome printer. Now, the difference is around 60%. The quality and features available in entry-level colour printers today were only to be found in expensive, high-end machines just a couple of years ago. In the past five years, price of colour laser printers have come down by a staggering 80%. So much so that Ahmad Zeidan, dealer account manager, Epson Middle East, predicts that colour laser printers will become disposable items in the next few years. “Today, cost of consumables is around 75% of the price of a machine,” he says. As a result, the market for enterprise printing solutions is growing fast, including the Middle East. Madar Research, a Dubai-based research organisation, estimates the market demand for printers in GCC countries to be around US$880 million in 2004. Saudi Arabia, with a 58% share, is the largest market, followed by the UAE with a 24% share. In unit terms, IDC estimates that printing shipments in the region grew by 33% in 2004. Madar expects the market to grow at an average of 17% in value terms every year between now and 2009. Sales and marketing functions in enterprises have been the first to latch on to colour printing. Items such as brochures and leaflets that were earlier outsourced to a traditional offset printing press are now being churned out in-house. ||**||Enterprising first|~|samsung_kang,stuartbody.jpg|~|Stuart Kang of Samsung MEA sees networks as driving the transformation of company printing needs.|~|“We see an increase in the use of colour around office printing. What we see today is that a lot of marketing is mostly dependent on print media because it’s a natural medium for people to work with,” Thomas Valjak, category manager, imaging and printing group, HP Middle East has noted in a previous interview (see IT Weekly 21-27 May 2005). Much of the growth in sales of printers can be attributed to a surge in in-house printing. And there is more to it than the plummeting cost of colour laser printers — though cost is always a big eabler. “PowerPoint presentations are making in-house colour printing more popular — with colour prints the graphics and charts become more attractive, and the presentation has greater impact,” says Stuart Kang, senior marketing manager, printer division, Samsung Middle East and Africa (MEA). Within the next two to three years, colour printers will become the norm in organisations. ||**||Moving in-house|~|hp_valjak,thomas02body.jpg|~|Colour printing is becoming the norm for businesses according to HP’s Thomas Valjiak.|~|Within corporate offices, desktop printers are giving way to multi-function devices that can print, scan, photocopy and fax. They are hooked up to corporate networks, enabling employees to access then remotely. “In-house printing gives users control over the document. They can make last minute changes,” says Dan Smith, office product manager, distributor operations, Xerox International. This flexibility is becoming more crucial by the day. Companies need to respond to changes — indeed challenges — in the marketplace on a daily rather than quarterly basis. If a competitor drops the price, a response is needed within days, not weeks. While advertising spends have remained stagnant or grown marginally, spending on below-the-line activities have shot up exponentially. In many categories the latter comprise over half of marketing budgets. However, most of these activities have a short life span of anywhere between a day to a week. Thus the content that supports such marketing initiatives — such as price or deal – also needs to be altered frequently. In-house printing allows users to print just what they need, when they need it. “To sell products a company needs to create awareness for them. You could do it with various means — radio advertising, TV advertising, sales promotions — but what we found out from a survey conducted in the US is that 60% of all small and medium businesses use colour materials for marketing purposes,” Valjak says. An emerging trend in the region according to HP has seen is for advertising agencies to print promotional materials in smaller quantities. This, according to Valjak, is driven by the fact that there are a lot of companies now that are selling their products to a more targeted audience. “That is why there are a lot of mailing campaigns being done in the region. Such activities will always require short production runs in small quantities,” says Valjak. In-house printing makes an attractive proposition in cases like these because it is a cheaper alternative to third-party print services. “A print job that has less than 5000 pages tends to be relatively expensive compared to a print job with a higher volume,” Valjak notes. Shrinking product lifecycle and rampant price erosion in certain product categories — technology products are a good example — make spending on large-volume outsourced printing a risky affair. Cell phones are a good case in point. The price of a handset could drop by as much as 50% over a period of three months. In such a situation, there is no point in printing thousands of leaflets that contain price information. ||**||Point of need|~|dell_buck,michaelbody.jpg|~|Michael Buck of Dell focuses on the trend of departmentalised printing due to its flexibility and product availability. |~|In such instances, companies tend to print as much as they need, closer to the point of need rather than print in large volumes and then go about finding a place to store it. They sit in offices eating up expensive real estate and finally have to be destroyed. Finding them in quick time too is often a challenge. Document obsolescence is a big issue now. According to Cap Ventures, nearly a fifth of printed documents are never used. This has led to average print runs falling sharply over the last few years. Cap Ventures estimates that some 80% of print jobs consist of run lengths of 5000 or less. Ease of printing too has given a fillip to in-house printing. Vendors have come up with solutions that help users design pages without having to master the page-making software. Take the case of a leaflet. A few years back, creating such a leaflet was a painful and time-consuming process. The sales or marketing department had to come up with a brief, which had to be discussed with an advertising agency. The agency then had to come up with options. A meeting had to be organised to evaluate options and give feedback. A final leaflet had to be created based on the feedback, which then had to be approved and finally sent to print. The process had delays built into it. Now, printing vendors have put much of the process in the hands of users themselves. For instance, Epson bundles software with their printers that lets users make their own leaflets. “They contain design templates. All you have to do is to pick a template, and add a picture and text,” says Zeidan. And it is not just marketing departments in big corporations that are making use of new features being offered by vendors. Smart companies, even small ones, are using such features to add some extra edge to their business. Dubai-based Thara restaurant is an example. The restaurant regularly offers ‘specials’ — dishes that are on the menu on a particular day. It is obviously not practical to get a single dish menu card printed using offset printing. Thara solved the problem by taking the process in-house. It uses menu templates that come in a CD to design the card. Once the dish is prepared, a picture is clicked using a digital camera. A brief description of the dish is prepared. Both are then bunged into a menu template and printouts taken. The same goes for Al-Andalus, a used car dealership in Dubai. Al-Andalus has managed to differentiate itself by merely presenting the information more attractively. Typically, a used car buyer checks out options at several such dealerships.He then compares prices, specifications and the condition of cars. At each counter, the dealer usually writes out these details on a piece of paper and gives it to the prospect. Not so at Al-Andalus. Salesmen at the outlet clicked a picture on the car, add specifications and price, and make a leaflet using a design template. This leaflet is handed over to the buyer. This has far more impact, and the chances of it getting lost are likely to be lower compared to a handwritten note. ||**||Colour solutions|~|xerox_smith,danbody.jpg|~|Dan Smith of Xerox sees in-house printing and traditional offset printers complementing each other.|~|“There is a growing realisation that things presented in colour stick in the mind,” says Zeidan. Epson itself uses in-house printing for its very high-end products, such as professional cameras that sell in lower numbers. “Printing in-house also offers marketeers an opportunity to customise messages to individual customers. There is an increasing need to customise,” says John Ross, general manager, Oki Printing Solutions. Often though, in-house printing is a useful complement to traditional printing. There are companies that are using a smart mix of outsourced offset and in-house printing for the same document. Smith of Xerox cites the case ofa mobile operator, for whom as much as 90% of the invoice (telephone bill) is identical across customers. Only 10% containing details such as address, amount, and other user-related information varies. Therefore, it makes sense to get the basic invoice — with static content — printed in large quantities at traditional offset press. The variable part can then be printed in-house on top of it. “In that sense, our high-end in-house printers complement traditional off-set printers,” says Smith. These top-of-the-line printers — such as iGen3 from Xerox — come equipped with the capability to pull out content from enterprise databases thus automating the entire process. Besides, printers such as iGen3 can print on paper with different textures and grammage (weight of paper) offering opportunity to print things such as invites and point-of-sale (POS) material in-house. Newer, more advanced document management solutions go beyond reducing the printing cost. They actually make the entire process of managing the workflow and printing easier. Materials can be stored electronically in a digital document repository for easy reprinting and repurposing of content. This allows those who create the content to make that content available to sales personnel, agents, franchisees and other business associates. All of them can access these documents over the internet whenever they need them and take printouts. Such an approach has advantages. For instance, it reduces costs associated with the creation, management, production, storage and distribution of printed materials. But at the same time, there is no inconsistency in the manner the corporate brand is displayed. Centralised control over content combined with distributed printing also helps companies avoid any chance of missteps when it comes to regulatory compliance, and the timeliness and currency of content. This marks a shift from ‘print and distribute’ to ‘distribute and print’. “It is driven by corporates operating in a more networked fashion,” says Kang. And as the speed, capacity and capabilities of distributed printing and copying devices — most commonly in the form of digital multifunctional devices — continues to grow, the trend is likely to accelerate. “Today, an enterprise printing landscape is most likely to centre around a digital multifunctional device which can receive jobs over the network and distribute materials electronically via fax, e-mail or network file transfer,” says Abdulrahman Almoayed, product manager, Lexmark. A few of the staff may have a networked printer with scanning capability either nearby or at the desktop. This machine is likely to have limited onboard editing and finishing capabilities, and may print anywhere from 20 to 30 pages per minute to over 100 pages per minute. It is quite likely for these printers — most of them at least — to have full colour capabilities. “Departmentalised printing is an emerging trend due to relevant product availability as well as flexible offerings,” says Michael Buck, director, imaging and printing, Dell Europe, Middle East and Africa. While the latter adds to convenience, it invariably leads to increase in printing output. As the organisation becomes decentralised, there are more branches and centres where printing gets done. And not all printing helps boost revenues. For instance, 30% of all e-mails are printed out — largely a wasteful expenditure. According to industry estimates, large enterprises are spending approximately 1-3% of their annual revenue on managing the printing, scanning, copying, and faxing and other document management devices in the organisation. Widespread availability of printers, as a result of low capital cost, has had the effect of growing the volume of printing. Trouble is no one has a handle on the real costs they are incurring. Nine out of ten companies do not track printing costs, according to a Buyers Lab research. ||**||Hidden costs|~||~||~|Sharing presentations, for instance, has become a norm, while reports are often distributed — and inevitably printed out. There is a tendency for employees to press the print command without really worrying too much about whether or not they actually need a printout. Those who have access to colour printers tend to print in colour irrespective of the type of document they are printing. In short, organisations have yet to put printing costs as a major spend that needs to be checked in the consciousness of an average employee. What also adds to the problem is that instead of being apportioned under a single, unambiguous cost head, these costs are hidden under other heads such as stationery (cost of paper), IT (cost of printer), and so on. As a result, companies are not fully aware of how much they are spending on printing solutions. Printing and copying costs are the last bastion of unaudited costs in an enterprise, according to a report published by technology research firm Gartner. It is only now that printing costs are coming under the scanner. Concepts such as TCO (total cost of ownership) are being applied to assessing printing costs. Software that helps track and control printing output — and therefore costs — are being brought in. Such software, for instance, can control who and what type of documents can be printed in colour. It can set limits by users or departments. Most vendors in the region, however, feel it is early days as far as cost management goes. At best, customers have begun talking about it. But it often means adding the cost of the machine to the cost of consumables over a certain period of time. Factors such as drum life are generally left unaccounted for. Moreover, cost control tends to stop at buying the printer. As of now, companies have latched on to colour printing in a big way. And that should help them package their business proposition more attractively. But if they are to translate better marketing into higher profits, they will have to seriously look at, and manage costs that go with in-house printing. ||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code