Phil Sargeant                               
Program Director, Imaging and Hardcopy Devices and Document Solutions, European Region
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There used to be a time when inkjets were for the home, and lasers were for the office, and the lines were pretty much clearly drawn. Then consumer markets began to contract and the main players such as HP Inc., Epson, Brother and Canon realised they needed to focus on other markets to keep their inkjet production lines going. Subsequently they introduced new ranges of business inkjets and actually began to see increased sales as their popularity began to take off. Although, some vendors such as Lexmark and Kodak decided against this plan and killed off their inkjet ranges altogether.

So as business inkjet sales are rising the battle lines between ink and laser are getting blurred especially when observing the highly competitive A4 market for the SMBs.  It is certainly a case that ink is increasing its penetration into these office markets, indeed they now count for over a third of all products being sold but on the other hand the laser manufacturers would say that two thirds of all products are still actually laser.

So which technology is the market edging towards? And which is eventually going to win?

In reality, despite the hype of the death of print, the European print market remains very substantial and so there is plenty of room for both technologies to co-exist. Some people certainly praise the values of ink whilst others can’t abide by it – and it’s vice versa for laser. In many cases it’s a love or hate scenario in a similar fashion that we see if in other technologies such as mobile phones, tablets or PC’s but the ink vendors are working hard to change perceptions.

Laser devices have been bought by all sorts and shapes of companies, whilst ink has primarily been reliant on the SMB markets, but, times are changing. Now there are new higher speed, higher specification models targeting a wider business and public sector audience who actually print most of the pages. These devices are certainly a threat to laser and there are many cases where ink has replaced laser in corporate accounts.

Ink cost issues and environmental factors have been mainly addressed and so it’s not a simple cost per page argument anymore especially as there are many ways of actually purchasing or leasing a printer or an MFP.  Choice has never been greater for the business user, but it could be said to be even more confusing with price plans and contracts now adding to the decision making process.

So who is in the best position? Well there are some vendors that have the cliché of the balanced portfolio with both ink and laser products, some appear to be veering more towards ink and others are wholly reliant on laser.  Certainly those with both are better placed to take advantage of future market developments.  Indeed, some manufacturers without ink products are certainly taking a serious look at this market.

From the vendor’s point of view in reality it’s all about the pages and the amount of money they can make from supplies as although the sales of business inkjets into offices may be increasing, the vendors and their partners need to be place them into environments that actually print.  Some laser vendors in the past have been guilty of obtaining great market shares through shipping thousands of low end laser devices, but invariably they were sold into offices where people printed few pages, so they made little money from supplies.

Although, from a customer’s point of view, it’s not simply a case of ink or laser hardware, it’s a question of the solutions, the services and the overall costs which will determine demand if inkjets are going to seriously tackle the Enterprises. The Soho markets are a little easier to engage with as requirements are simpler whilst the major SMB’s markets are getting smarter in weighing up their choices and the figures don’t lie, the amount of business inkjets being installed is a serious challenge to the traditional laser business.

If you’re interested in learning more about European Imaging and Hardcopy Devices and Document Solutions, please contact Phil Sargeant.