Epson bets on business inkjets

Man drawing on glass indicating growth

Print manufacturer Epson has revealed plans to pursue the burgeoning business inkjet market, including a €125m investment to bring its industrial inkjet technology to the mass market through the channel.

Speaking at the vendor’s ‘Future of Business Printing’ event yesterday, Epson’s VP of marketing for EMEAR, Rob Clark, claimed the evolution of inkjet in recent years is pushing the technology from consumer further into in the workplace – at the expense of laser print technology.

Epson launched its first inkjet range into the consumer market in the early nineties, further establishing the firm in the consumer space. It introduced its first WorkForce Pro range of business printers in September 2011, selling to the SOHO and lower end of SMB markets.

Today, Epson’s inkjet sales have overtaken those of laser print – with this growth set to continue as the vendor ploughs its efforts into further developing the business.

“The laser range is there for us to provide to customers that haven’t yet been convinced that inkjet is the way to go,” Clark told Channel Pro. “For us the future is definitely inkjet-based. We fully expect to be switching people to inkjet rather than laser.”

Market growth

Speaking at the event, Phil Sargeant, programme director at IDC, said business inkjets currently comprise a fifth of the overall SMB print market in Europe, but this figure is likely to increase as inkjets grow in popularity. Indeed, the analyst predicts business inkjet products will account for 25 percent of the business printer and multifunction market by 2017.

“Whereas the laser market has suffered over the last few years with the economic situation, the business inkjet market bucked the trend, increasing year on year,” he said, citing inkjet’s ease of use and maintenance, and comparative value for money.

Epson, HP Canon and Brother currently dominate the inkjet market, adds Sargeant. “With Lexmark and Kodak withdrawing from the market, it’s given the remaining brands greater opportunity...[But] many other vendors are casting a keen eye on the market as an opportunity, or they’re aware of the impact inkjet is having on their own laser businesses.”

At the heart of Epson’s push is the launch of the latest range of WorkForce Pro inkjet printers, which uses the firm’s PrecisionCore print head technology, which was originally developed for industrial applications. The Japanese vendor revealed it has invested €125m into two new production lines, enabling Epson to take the technology out to the volume market.

Epson also unveiled its patented WorkForce Pro RIPS (Replaceable Ink Pack System), a series of inkjet products that deliver uninterrupted printing for up to 75,000 pages without the need for a consumables change.

The vendor says RIPS has been developed to address the impact of printer downtime– a productivity loss estimated to currently stand within the region of €7bn per annum across Europe. The products are also designed to help businesses take advantage of the convenience benefits of a localised printer fleet, but with the predictable costs of a centralised model.

Targeting managed print channel

With the firm only due to meet with channel partners after speaking to the press, much of the detail around Epson’s channel strategy is yet to be announced. However, Epson says RIPS will be targeted towards a formal managed print services (MPS) channel – its first compelling offering for MPS partners.

Epson also hasn’t announced pricing on the products, because it “wants the channel to have the opportunity to build in other services under an MPS contract,” says Clark. “We want to leave it down to them to make the end user proposition, and on what basis.”

“The plan is to keep a tight channel,” he adds.”It’s not a product we want going broad distribution on.”

However, the UK has “a less mature MPS engagement” than other European countries, according to senior manager at Epson UK, John Kelly, who adds that recruiting channel partners is one of the firm’s biggest challenges.

One of the barriers, he says, is that some dealers many not have considered inkjet in a click basis, “but we think we’ve got a compelling message,” he maintains.

Christine Horton

Christine has been a tech journalist for over 20 years, 10 of which she spent exclusively covering the IT Channel. From 2006-2009 she worked as the editor of Channel Business, before moving on to ChannelPro where she was editor and, latterly, senior editor.

Since 2016, she has been a freelance writer, editor, and copywriter and continues to cover the channel in addition to broader IT themes. Additionally, she provides media training explaining what the channel is and why it’s important to businesses.