Printing Vendors Gear Up For Color Battle

Xerox, Oki Data Americas and Hewlett-Packard have all launched new color print technologies or offerings in the past several weeks. At the same time, they are seeking to gain or maintain mind share in the solution provider channel.

"You hear me say this every quarter, but it is worth repeating: The power of color is in the pages," said Xerox Chairman and CEO Anne Mulcahy, in a conference call with financial analysts following the company's most recent quarterly earnings report. "We are strides ahead of our competitors in this space, and you see it in our results." More than 30 billion color pages were produced on Xerox technology last year, and in the first quarter of 2007, print pages on Xerox hardware increased by 29 percent, she said.

To keep the momentum, Xerox said it has recently reached a breakthrough to allow the delivery of custom colors on the Xerox DocuTech 128, 155 and 180 Highlight Color Systems, and the technology will be available in all Xerox toner-based products. The technology, according to Xerox, will allow for the creation of more than 1,000 custom colors when it is rolled out over the next several months.

Earlier this year, Stamford, Conn.-based Xerox began a major initiative to engage solution providers, opening up its entire office product line to the channel and saying it would boost incentives for VARs as it seeks to grow its share of the SMB segment.

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Rival Oki Data, Mount Laurel, N.J., continues its focus on driving color sales, and this month will begin shipping a new MFP with HD Color. The C5550n system will open with a street price of $1,499 and is targeted at enterprises seeking to produce more color materials in-house. Oki Data is positioning the C5550n as a color offering with high-end quality for enterprises with smaller budgets.

"[Vendors'] old printers are on the street; they don't die," said Pete Busam, CEO of Decisive Business Systems, a Pennsauken, N.J.-based solution provider that works with several printer vendors. But over the past 18 months, he said, the SMB segment has begun to adopt more in-house marketing strategies and shows signs of continued strength. "Small and midsize companies are seeing the quality and cost [of color documents] are much more reasonable than they were seven or eight years ago," he said. "It's affordable."

Busam said that HP, Lexmark and Xerox have always maintained strength in the color document space, adding: "It seems like Oki Data is starting to raise its flag a little bit."

Like Xerox, Oki Data recently revamped its entire approach to the channel, launching a new ProfitOps program with higher financial incentives and more channel support.

HP, Palo Alto, Calif., has seen 19 percent growth in its color hardware business and continues to push a strategy for growing its share. Last month, HP unveiled its Print 2.0 strategy, which focuses heavily on deploying Web-based printing technologies across the Internet as well as the deployment of tools that will be integrated with HP color products. Those tools will be made available on the new Color LaserJet CP3505, the company said.