Color Reality

Is reality ever colorful? It’s beyond shades of grey. Not just plain black and white, even if black is the color one wants on the balancesheet. So when HP, Xerox and Tektronix, leaders in color printing, start speaking the same lingo-‘color is the way to go’-you may find your resistance draining.

Late October, HP unveiled an array of Color printers, in all 18 of them, in four broad categories: Color in Office; Network Printing Solutions; Personal Desktop Printing (mono as well as Color); and All-In-One Innovations. Of these, 15 are in the color-laser category. All the new monochrome printers are also color-capable. And it is not surprising when HP says, ‘color is the way to go.’ As the market leader it is here to help make the transition.

Same words, similar products. A fortnight later, Tektronix, the notable color laser printer vendor, announced price cuts to the tune of 40% on its color printer range. An entry-level product from Tektronix is now available for Rs1.75 lakh, against the previous price of Rs2.5 lakh. Said Mahendran, Corporate Manager (Marketing), Tektronix, “Currently, the printer market is moving to business color and as the market leader in this segment, Tektronix is leading the transition.” Tektronix sells only laser printers unlike HP, which also sells inkjets.

And there is a good reason for doing so. IDC forecasts the color laser printer market worldwide to grow at a rate of 56% per annum between 1998 and 2002, more than any other printer category. While the volumes will come from color inkjet, the value will be realized from the color laser printers. A 40% price-cut has drastically reduced the price differential between mono and color laser, fuelling the transition. “With such steep price cuts, Tektronix has taken a bold initiative to effect a market transition from monochrome laser printers to color laser printers,” said a distributor at the Tektronix launch. Similar price cuts by HP and Xerox are expected as the market momentum builds up.

The model is nothing new to the printer market. For instance, in 1997, aggressive marketing and pricing of pure color inkjets against monochrome ones saw the virtual disappearance of pure monochrome models, as reported by IDC (India). Interestingly, the 6% monochromes that were sold were color-capable each one shipped with color kits.

Vendors are seeking to sell to an entirely new set of customers-the corporate users. Conventionally, color laser printing has been the domain of graphic users, while business users, by and large, have been restricted to black and white printing because of the high cost of color laser printing. Making color printing economically viable for routine business applications is the name of the game. As a result, the vendors are moving toward bundling more built-in features, extending the functionality of color printers and optimizing the price/performance ratio. Says Rath of Summit Data Products, distributor for Tektronix, “The new Tektronix models come with built-in ethernet card which further reduces the cost of ownership.” An ethernet card costs around Rs33,000 today. Ravi Aggarwal, VP, Computer Products, HP, opines, “Customers seek solutions that maximize efficiency, lower cost of ownership and give them a competitive edge.”

Says Mahendran, “There still exists a large differential (after the price-cuts) between monochrome laser and color laser, further accentuated by the custom duty structure.” The average sales value of color laser is still an astounding 50% higher than that of monochrome laser. For instance, Tektronix’s entry-level model carries a price tag of Rs1.75 lakh where its monochrome counterpart is available for as less as Rs1.15 lakh.

This according to him is a major damper in the growth of the color laser printer market in the country. Last year, according to an estimate, the market sold a paltry 490 color laser printers in the total 20,000-unit-strong laser printers’ market, including both mono and color lasers. Value wise, the market was a meager Rs15 crore.

Lack of awareness about the capabilities and benefits of color printing is another reason for the low growth of the market. Laser printing in color, perceived to be extraordinarily costly and slow, has not found much need in day-to-day business printing to justify the additional price. Hence, organizations never felt the need to evaluate the full benefits of color laser printing and the economics involved. Not many know that the cost of printing per copy on a laser printer can be as low as one-third that on an inkjet printer. And with the availability of better routing and buffer storing technologies, a laser printer can print high quality at better speed.

Vendors are expecting a 100% growth in the current fiscal. Reveals Mahendran, “We have clicked a growth rate of 85% in the first half even before the price-cuts.” The year ahead seems to be the one when color laser printers will lend more color to Indian business users with wide product availability at endearing prices.

DHAVAL VALIA,

in Mumbai.

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