Where Have All the Printers Gone?

I write the news section of Pivotal Resources’ “Directions” ink jet patent review publication. I just completed the March-April edition. If this hardly seems like news, bear in mind that it is meant to reflect the industry news at the time that the patents issued. The patents can’t be viewed and reviewed in real time, so to speak, so everything is a couple of months in arrears.

It has become more and more difficult to fill the allotted two pages with meaningful news. When I took on this task in 2002, the problem lay in describing the crowd of new desktop printers and MFPs briefly enough to allow room for anything else. Desktop announcements have slowed to a trickle, and now I must do far more research!

In the first four months of 2007, there were nineteen new desktop models. This rose to twenty-five in the corresponding months of 2008, but fell to fourteen last year and just ten this year. Of the ten, only one new print engine was represented, and most were barely noticeable revisions of earlier products.

The desktop market is obviously mature, both in terms of technology and of shipments. In fact, worldwide shipments of desktop ink jet devices fell by 15 percent, from more than 27 million in the fourth quarter of 2007 to 23 million in the corresponding quarter of 2009.

Though the desktop market is mature, IT Strategies estimate that 85% of the revenue generated by ink jet technology is still derived from desktop devices. Investment enabled and justified by this sector is a major feature of the ink jet landscape. This investment allowed the various suppliers to enter other markets, ranging from large-format printing to photo kiosks to commercial printing. Investment in ink jet by the market leaders is clearly falling rapidly.

Memjet-based desktop products are expected to join the entrenched competitors within the next few quarters. The arrival of those products will generate new buzz around home printing. It will be interesting to see whether the arrival of Memjet can help to revitalize the market and kindle new investment.