8 Printer Market Trends To Watch In 2018

Fit To Print

While the long-predicted end of office printing has yet to arrive, the print industry is going through massive changes nonetheless -- with major implications for the channel.

"We've been talking about the paperless office for about 30 years. It hasn't happened yet," said Keith Kmetz, program vice president for imaging, printing and document solutions at research firm IDC. "It's still our contention that there is no 'paperless office.' However, we have to realize that printing and copying, as it once existed in the office of the past, is changing. There is a maturity and even pending decline associated with print behavior. But this is still a mission critical task."

Top trends impacting the office printer industry include increased competition in the A3 and A4 markets, shifts toward multifunction printers and increased demand for managed print services at small and medium-sized businesses.

As part of CRN's Printer Week 2018, we've rounded up eight of the top trends to watch in the printer market.

Gradual Decline For Print

Surveys of printer usage at U.S. companies show that printing is declining slowly, and the pace will likely continue for years to come, Kmetz said. "I don't see the cliff on the horizon," he said. "The idea that it will be gradually declining and then just drop off in one particular year -- I don't know if we're ever really going to see that ... It's just kind of gradually trending. We're going to lessen our reliance on paper, but we won't eliminate it."

The main reason being: there is still a rationale for the printed page at many companies, Kmetz said. "At times you just want to put a piece of paper in front of somebody," he said. "The printed document is also a selling tool. An email with an attachment is easier to ignore than a physical document that I provide to you."

While the millennial demographic is no doubt less likely to choose to print in the office, the requirements of their job may still dictate that they need to print in many cases, Kmetz noted. "We still see that there is a paper process that is still around," he said.

Multifunction Vs. Single Function

Another shift in the office printer market is the transition away from single-function printers, and toward multi-function printers (or MFPs). MFPs bring together functionality including printing, copying, scanning and faxing -- ultimately offering greater management efficiencies and reduced costs by combining so many formerly disparate capabilities into a single package. "You don't have to manage three or four devices," Kmetz said. "And not only are managing the device, you're also managing the supplies associated with it, which are now consolidated into one device. So there's less to replenish with supplies. There's more interest in doing that." The shift to MFPs is also happening gradually, but the movement is expected to continue into the foreseeable future, he said.

A3 Competition

The massive market for A3 copiers and MFPs, which are able to handle 11- x 17-inch paper in addition to 8- x 12-inch, has long been dominated by companies including Xerox and Ricoh. But HP Inc. is pushing hard into the market, with the closing of its $1.05 billion acquisition deal for Samsung's printer business in November, which brought in a sizable portfolio of A3 devices. HP has also been launching A3 devices using its own PageWide technology.

"It's wise for [HP], because they barely had any presence in the A3 market," Kmetz said. "Now with a robust portfolio, the assumption is that they should do a whole lot better."

HP announced in April that it has onboarded 600 A3 partners to date. Xerox, meanwhile, hasn't slowed down in its A3 competitive efforts with the launch of 17 new A3 devices last year.

A4 Competition

While HP is moving into Xerox's A3 turf, Xerox, in turn, is pursuing a greater share of the HP-led A4 printer market. Xerox's major product launch last year included an array of A4 products.

"With Xerox, while they introduced the products in March of last year, it took a couple of quarters to get the whole line available," Kmetz said. "The last quarter of the last calendar year is where we saw more measurable movement."

Printer Security

Printers represent a massive potential vulnerability in many organizations' networks -- but printers receive far less attention than other endpoints when it comes to security efforts. Printer vendors such as HP Inc. are looking to raise awareness on the issue, however, with the addition of security capabilities to printers such as HP's Sure Start self-healing BIOS and runtime intrusion detection to protect memory. The printer industry is also moving toward adopting document-security measures -- to ensure that the right person gets their printed document -- such as by requiring an employee to swipe their ID badge or enter a password to retrieve a sensitive document from a printer.

Market Consolidation

In January, Fujifilm Holdings Corporation and Xerox officially announced the formation of Fuji Xerox, a joint venture that creates an $18 billion player in the print industry. The agreement involves Xerox ceding a 50.1-percent ownership stake to Fujifilm -- and follows the closure of HP Inc.'s acquisition of Samsung's print business in November. There are strong indications that the print industry consolidation will continue, as well.

"There are 14 players in the print market," HP CEO Dion Weisler told CRN in a recent interview. "In a market that's up 1 percent, down 1 percent in any given quarter -- 14 players have never survived in the history of business in that kind of market environment. So there will be natural consolidation there over the next five years."

Managed Print Services For SMBs

At this point, managed print services (or MPS) -- which optimize printer usage in order to save money and resources -- have become commonplace in large enterprises. Now, MPS is moving to smaller companies, creating new opportunities for channel partners that focus on MPS.

Parts of the small and medium-sized business marketplace "may have not yet recognized what they can do to operate more efficiently, and managing the print infrastructure may be a mechanism to do that," Kmetz said. "What we've seen over the years is a gradual downward movement into the SMB market, where companies with as few as 50 employees might benefit from MPS. Companies of that size may not really have considered it in the past. The saturation point isn't as high as what we see in large enterprises."

"Print-As-A-Service" On The Horizon?

In terms of emerging areas for the office printer market, Kmetz said he's keeping an eye on whether some of the subscription models seen at the consumer level, for services such as automatic ink delivery, might find their way into the business market. Businesses could "get print as you need it and when you need it, as opposed to the traditional transactional model," Kmetz said. "This 'as-a-service' approach that's seen across the IT landscape, does it apply to the print business too? Can you have a 'print-as-a-service' model work within the office marketplace? HP's Instant Ink worked really well for them in the consumer printing area. Where else can we take what seems to be a successful model? The next step of the progression seems to be the office market."

And in this case, the opposite path of MPS might occur: "print-as-a-service" could very well "start at the SMB level and move into the enterprise," Kmetz said. "It's still in the very infancy stage, but it's being kicked around. Everyone's gravitating toward the 'as-a-service' model."