By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Home printing of digital images is expected to take a hit from print kiosks, online services and retail digital printing locations over the next few years as more mainstream customers gravitate from film to digital cameras. But while the percentage of home-based printing will drop as more printing avenues open up for consumers, overall printing of digital images will continue to rise.
“It's not that printing at home is dropping,” said Ed Lee, consumer services and digital photography trends director at Weymouth, Mass.-based InfoTrends. “It's that the volume is shifting.” According to InfoTrends, 60 percent of prints are printed at home, with 26 percent going to retail, 7 percent online and 7 percent printed at consumer workplaces. “Printing at work is the dirty little secret of digital image printing,” Lee says, “but we're seeing that dropping as alternative locations are becoming more available and affordable.”
According to industry experts, segmentation is starting to appear. “Until last year, most of the digital imaging print market was homogeneous, but now we're starting to see different behavior from different types of users,” Lee says. Mainstream consumers making the transition from film to digital are gravitating toward the print options they're familiar with: retail.
Printer suppliers are reacting to the segmentation in a number of ways. Companies are adding more SKUs to the portable printer category, banking on consumers' desire for an appliance printer that doesn't require a connection to the PC. They're putting more printing muscle into the all-in-one category, stuffing stand-alone printer-grade functionality into a multifunction machine. And they're forming partnerships to capitalize on the growth in segments where they don't have a presence. HP's purchase of online photo storage and print maker Snapfish in 2005 follows earlier alliances secured by Kodak and Sony.
According to Jim Ruder, photo printing and accessories VP/general manager at HP, the Palo Alto-based company wants to respond to all growth opportunities in digital printing. “As customers are demanding more choices for how they print images, we're going to play,” he says. Each venue holds its own value to consumers, who may well choose to adopt all three printing solutions, depending on need.
“Online print solutions for customers that have large batches of prints can be very compelling,” Ruder maintains. Printing at home provides instant gratification and convenience, he says. “If you just got home from vacation and have a lot of prints you want to make, the online and retail print options are the solutions consumers typically use.”
As price competition eats away at profits for standard photo printers, printer suppliers are turning to multifunction and portable printer “appliances” that command a higher price at retail. With more product options available, consumers are shopping for add-on features. Portability is no longer enough; portables have to do more.
Epson dropped its original PictureMate to $129 and added an Express version ($149) that boasts a 35 percent reduction in print speed to 80 seconds. Speed will continue to be a talking point as manufacturers try to shave seconds off lengthy print times.
Speed won't be enough, though. With more than a dozen competitive models in the portable market, HP, for one, has been aggressive in its attempts to add new features and concepts to separate its higher end models from the pack.
Last year, HP became the first printer company to add a 5-inch by 7-inch print option to its portable line in the flagship $279 Photosmart 475 GoGo printer. The 475 also has built-in memory for storing up to 1,000 images, turning the portable into a storage vault as well as a printer. The idea is that consumers will take the printer on the road when visiting friends or family, plug it into a TV for a slide show, and then print out images of favorites.
Lexmark beefed up its portable line with the $199 P450, a 4-inch by 6-inch printer with a built-in CD burner for storing images to disc. Lexmark calls the multifunction portable a photo processing center and digital archive system that's independent of a PC.
The Lexmark and HP approaches are reminiscent of Epson's abandoned experiment several years ago, combining digital imaging technology with the TV. Whether multifunction approaches are the way to go in the portable market remains to be seen.
“I don't think the printer is the right place for a CD burner,” says InfoTrends' Lee. “That capability is better left to the software and processing power of the PC. Do you put in more features or make it simpler to operate? If you're targeting the mass-market consumer, simpler is better.”
But with the portable category showing triple-digit growth, expect to see a host of new form factors and improved speeds over the coming year. Eliott Peck, consumer products sales VP at Canon, sees feature expansion amid market commoditization.
“Right now you take a portable printer with a battery pack to the kids' game. From the dugout they can print pictures while the game's going on. Talk about a wow factor.” Next year, he says, it steps to the next level when the portable printer goes wireless. “Somebody in the dugout takes pictures of the kids and shoots them to the parents in the stands. Then you have portability and wireless.”
At Epson, Colin Donahoe, printer product management director, sees portable printing branching out in several directions. “You're going to see better, faster, cheaper,” he says, “and watch the idea of archival storage.” Ink sets and image longevity will be retail issues during 2006. Following a hot holiday selling season for portables in 2005, Donahoe promises, “You're going to see more creative ideas come forth over the next year.”
When it comes to price, suppliers maintain that the immediacy of printing at home offsets the higher print prices compared with cheaper online and retail prints. Still, HP and Epson have taken the price per print down to about 24 cents in high-volume print packages. Fierce competition at retail has halved the price of home printing with Wal-Mart and Costco battling it out at 12 cents per print. The average retail print cost, according to InfoTrends, is closer to 19 cents a print.
With more consumers shifting to digital from film and with more multi-camera households emerging, the market for prints is expected to grow on all fronts. Says Canon's Peck: “We see growth in all segments of digital camera printing. The biggest growth will come from online services as more alliances are formed in the marketplace and more users get high-speed Internet connections.”
Peck also sees a significant rise in kiosk printing as they pop up in locations such as airports, amusement parks and hotels. Despite the competition, he remains sanguine about home printing. Flat isn't bad in a growing market. In 2005, 50 percent of all prints were made in the home. Next year, he says, “we expect to see 50 percent of prints at home.”
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