Should Printer Makers Fear the iPad?

March 31st, 2010

Let me get my feelings about the matter out of the way first, so you know where I’m coming from. You see, I’m very old fashioned about my printed materials. I buy lots of real books and magazines. A large portion of my reading diet is served by the Internet, but I’m most comfortable printing lengthy documents for later review.

What this means is that I keep my printers running fairly consistently, and have to regularly feed them a diet of ink cartridges, and, for the Xerox Phaser 8560DN, solid ink sticks. While I’ve worked much harder to preserve resources of late, it’s not that the printers can be left completely idle.

I’m sure that this situation is mirrored to a large degree around the world, people having to spend boatloads of money for consumables. As you know, printers are routinely sold fairly cheaply, as the manufacturers expect to make up the difference by selling you ink and toner and extremely high prices. It’s the famous “Gillette Razor” effect. One estimate spoke of ink costing as much as $8,000 per gallon! Maybe you should give up your gold investments and select printer ink instead!

Well, the long and short of it is that the iPad, after the original Amazon Kindle, makes e-book reading come into its own. You’ll be able to read more and more documents comfortably on a portable device, which will, I expect, reduce the need for hard copy except for critical financial and legal documents where such things are required. And, of course, to satisfy old habits.

It’s clear to me that Apple is seriously downplaying printing capability in the iPad. It’s not even mentioned, although there are existing iPhone apps that will network a print job to your Mac or PC and let them do the heavy lifting, and they should work pretty much the same on the iPad. Since iWork and other apps will provide traditional productivity tools with the iPad, you’d think some sort of native printing capability would be a given, and I suppose there will be, since Apple can’t realistically expect people to give it up completely.

Now one of the reasons I might buy an iPad — and it’s by no means definite — is as a money saver. If I use it to read more material I’d otherwise print, I don’t need to feed those hungry printers. Considering the high cost of consumables, not to mention the chronic need for paper, it won’t be very long before I have covered the cost of the iPad, regardless of configuration. After that, it’s all gravy.

As far as the printer industry is concerned, I’ve always believed they severely overcharge for consumables. That’s the reason there’s a busy industry providing third-party alternatives, even if print quality and print head longevity might suffer. After all, even if a printer’s lifetime is shortened somewhat, all the money you save from buying cheaper ink might actually pay for a replacement or two.

On the long haul, perhaps printer makers will come to realize that they can’t live large forever, and they are already suffering due to the economic downturn. In fact, boasting of cheaper ink may be a good thing. That’s what Kodak is doing with their printer lineup, although it’s fair to suggest that their concept of cheap isn’t cheap enough, at least not yet.

You also have to wonder whether it may just be better for printer makers on the long haul to sell their hardware for a higher price, reduce the cost of consumables and be assured of getting more total revenue from the latter. How so? By reducing sales to third-party vendors. Or just get out of the business altogether and license their proprietary technology to third parties and collect royalties. Under these circumstances, they’d be able to evaluate licensed product to make sure it meets specs.

Regardless, I don’t see the iPad sharply reducing the need for paper by its owners right away. But as more and more publications move online, with versions for the iPad and other tablet computers, and people become more comfortable reading content on an electronic device rather than the printed version, I do see a valid reason why printer makers may be forced to seriously change their marketing approach.

As for me, there is still something romantic in the tactile experience of reading a real printed book. Besides, it’s just not so easy to pack an iPad in my back pocket, and the iPhone’s display is much too tiny for extended and intense reading sessions — at least to me.

But I can see where my need for printed materials may be sharply reduced were I to buy an iPad, so I will have to sit back, do the calculations and see if it makes sense. Of course if such decisions extend to millions upon millions of people, and printers are not used near as frequently as they are now, I can see where some manufacturers are going to have to rethink their marketing strategies. Or just get into the e-book business.

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8 Responses to “Should Printer Makers Fear the iPad?”

  1. dfs says:

    I don’t think printer makers have any real worries. There will doubtless be plenty of ways to print stuff from an iPad, and since evidently it is going to feature a version of iWork, owners will have plenty of stuff they’ll want to print. But if I were a printer manufacturer I think I’d realize the time has come to rethink my products. So far, printer mfrs. seem to regard USB and Ethernet as the prime means of connectivity, and throw in wireless connectivity with only a few models in their lineup as something like an afterthought. What with all the laptops, netbooks, desktops with wireless capacity, and now the iPad, I’d start thinking that the balance had tipped in favor of wireless and include it on all my models. And I’d start thinking a lot harder about making my wireless connectivitya lot more user-friendliy, on a lot of present models you need a PhD in Advanced Wizardry to get them set up on a network. Maybe I’d even contact Apple and talk to them about putting Bonjour technology in my printers under some kind of licensing arrangement.

  2. DaveD says:

    Back in the classic Mac OS days, I used (via Chooser) a third-party app named “Print2PDF” to save printed articles in Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) from the web for later read/reference. With only a portable sheet printer on-hand, I would print on a must-have-a-hard-copy basis. If the volume was more than I wanted to handle, a friend’s printer would be sought out. But, I found that saving as a PDF file in lieu of printing was good enough 95% of the time. What became painful was the mega-bloat of the Adobe Reader.

    In Mac OS X, I use the “Save as PDF” most the time and the other times just pasting onto TextEdit’s Rich Text File (RTF) document would be sufficient. I dumped Adobe Reader and went with an open source app that reads PDF files. It was better than Preview in the early Mac OS X days. However, Preview in Mac OS X Leopard has become a great app and is now my preferred PDF reader. I was given a nice, used Canon PIXMA printer a couple of years ago. It has never been unboxed to this very day.

  3. Kaleberg says:

    A lot of people have already cut back dramatically on their printing. We’ve moved to laptops. They are much better ergonomically than desktops for extensive reading because the screen is lower. Printing is for legal documents, formal letters, important receipts, government forms, recipes, coupons, arts and crafts projects and sometimes localized maps. We know some people like to print out their photos, but most of our friends have computers, so they view them online. We know that some people print out newspaper and magazine articles, but we only do that if we want to have them when we are walking around town and won’t have a laptop with us. (We often download articles to our Palm TX, but that has limitations e.g. no graphics. When we move to an iPod Touch or iPhone, we’ll probably cut our printing even more.)

    I think the iPad will move even more desktop people towards portability. Once you get used to mobile computing, you may or may not find the iPad up to snuff. Most people will be satisfied, but why not have your video or sound editing software where you are, rather than in your office? Why not do modeling and rendering in the field? Sure, the most powerful desktop computer can eat ten of the most powerful laptops for lunch, but every new release opens a new set of applications to portability.

  4. Jon says:

    “It’s the famous “Gillette Razor” effect.”

    Except Gillette never gouged their customers the way printer manufacturers (and, as an aside, the way current electric razor makers with razors and blades) do with consumables.

    Printer makers also never gave away printers to customers.

    In one of the greatest marketing moves ever (and still taught in marketing classes today), Gillette gave away their safety razor when they introduced it. When they did start charging for the razors, they weren’t all that much and the blades still were reasonably priced. They had to be, as a good straight razor wasn’t expensive and could last a lifetime. While a straight razor could last forever and be resharpen, Gillette razors dulled quickly and had to be trashed after a few shaves. However, they did give a better, closer shave and they weren’t called “safety” razors for nothing.

    Unfortunately, a downside to this was that Gillette also introduced us to the disposable era. And there were other consequences as well… such as the affect on the razor strap makers.

    I figure they commiserated at local pubs over beers with buggy whip makers.

  5. Jon says:


    I haven’t used a safety razor for over thirty years, so I have no idea what current prices are, or even if Gillette still makes safety razors.

    Or where you talking about when Gillette introduced them?

  6. Jon says:

    I thought so.

    Still… that’s about 10% of the cost of replacement blades for my electric razor.

    Maybe it’s time to switch back.

    Or just grow a beard.

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