In the aftermath of the pandemic, the print industry finds itself at a crossroads. The rise of hybrid working has presented a complex challenge for the sector, exacerbated by an economy constantly teetering on the edge of recession.
From vendors to end users, the print sector faces relentless pressures. Print research firm Quocirca expects print volumes to reach 55% of pre-COVID levels by the end of 2023, representing a modest 4% rise from 2022.
Naturally, dealers are seeking ways to counter falling sales. Yet, in this dynamic environment, relying solely on price competitiveness is a perilous path. Guy Gash, Business Development Manager for Managed Print at CTS Toner, underscores the futility of price-centric battles: “We’re operating in a difficult market, and we all know that trying to compete on price is a route to nowhere. Dealers always ask how cheap we can go and question whether it will increase their bottom line.”
Static Control VP of Business Development for EMEA Steven Hole echoes Gash’s sentiments. “People are seeking ways to economise while still maintaining quality. This is where the aftermarket provides a real opportunity to gain new customers,” he notes. “Offering an alternative to OEM brands which can deliver optimal performance is one way that dealers can win new business, especially during a downturn in the economy.”
The Office for National Statistics reports that 44% of UK office workers now regularly work from home. Despite the recent headlines involving big tech companies demanding staff return to the office, enticing employees back to the workplace remains an uphill battle. A recent LinkedIn study found that over a third of the nation’s workers would consider quitting if their employer insisted on reducing their remote workdays.
The durability of this trend remains uncertain, hinging on corporate decisions regarding office returns. Nevertheless, the impact on office printing has been significant. Hole, for example, states that volumes have failed to return to pre-COVID figures and attributes it to more people having hybrid workspaces.
According to Print-Rite Europe CEO Steve Weedon, hybrid working represents a paradigm shift for the print supplies industry, with a major deviation towards inkjet printing from laser, a readjustment from office-based MPS contracts to home inkjet use, and a surge in purchases made online.
OT Group Head of MPS David Forshaw asserts the sector must embrace hybrid service options to stay relevant and sustain print volumes. He explains: “You can quickly become exposed if your only offering is a historic, fixed-term lease option with a strict service agreement. The requirement to have true flexibility in contracted devices is a must for some customers as they finalise their hybrid policies.”
On the flip side, changing workspaces have also made printing more user friendly. Forshaw highlights the importance of ‘connected workflows’ enabling easy and secure access to electronic documents wherever employees are working. He adds: “There is a fundamental need to connect people through collaboration tools. A multifunctional device (MFD) and the services it offers sits nicely within this shift.”
Head in the clouds
While technological advances have made printers more secure than ever with built-in security features, their use in home offices has heightened concerns about print security. As printers and MFDs act as endpoints, hackers can potentially access a company’s network. Quocirca’s Global Print Security Landscape 2023 study reveals that hybrid work has elevated the average cost of a print-related data breach to £743,000.
Cloud printing can help mitigate some security concerns. As hybrid working gained traction, Quocirca predicted the ascent of cloud printing as companies sought technology to support this new work model. According to the research firm’s Cloud Print Services 2023 report, 31% of IT decision-makers (ITDMs) in the UK, France, Germany and the US currently manage printing mostly or entirely in the cloud, while 55% expect to do so by 2025.
Regardless of the trajectory of hybrid working, cloud printing will continue to make advancements within the sector. Businesses which have adopted this model are reaping the rewards in terms of hardware, management and cost reductions. However, Quocirca found that despite agreeing there were many benefits to cloud printing, around 36% of surveyed ITDMs cited security as a “top barrier.”
Kyocera Product Marketing Manager Trevor Maloney acknowledges the evolving cyber threats, which unsurprising means end users are eager to discuss the security of their print devices. To combat the risk, Kyocera is enhancing product security to safeguard against attacks. Its SRA3 devices, for example, have passed a “rigorous” penetration testing protocol involving automated and manual cyberattacks on the device firmware and underlying operation system. These security measures are now being incorporated into more of its products.
Canon UK & Ireland has observed a surge in requests from homeworking customers looking for devices that can be integrated into existing MPS setups. This keeps the printing system simple for IT teams to manage while maintaining the same user experience for the rest of the office.
Canon UK & Ireland Workspace Portfolio Marketing Manager Richard Stewart notes: “Customers are increasingly realising the benefits of cloud-based MPS solutions, enabling them to print to remote shared devices – while ensuring all data remains secure and all print jobs are traceable across a distributed workforce.”
The Global Print Security Landscape 2023 study reveals that MPS providers with security expertise are best positioned to provide strategic guidance to customers considering implementing a cloud print plan. “This is in line with a mounting concern regarding MPS data security,” observes Ian Silvester, Director of Product Management at MPS software supplier EKM Global.
“Customers are demanding MPS solutions provide robust security features, including secure printing, authentication mechanisms, data encryption and compliance with data privacy regulations. These lead to opportunities in networking, software and encryption systems.”
Though available for several years, print-as-a-service (PaaS/PraaS) often takes a back seat to ‘traditional’ MPS. However, it is now gaining prominence as more SMEs seek ways to access the benefits of MPS.
IDC’s FutureScape: Worldwide Solutions Imaging, Printing & Document Solutions 2022 Predictions report anticipates that 60% of print will be delivered as part of a service by 2027. Some vendors and print providers have already seen the benefits of this burgeoning market.
Brother UK, for instance, reported a record year for MPS, with the number of print devices under contract and pages printed through its MPS agreements increasing by 23% and 32%, respectively, in the 12 months ended 31 March 2023. The OEM attributes the demand surge to small resellers switching to offer PaaS to customers, with Brother providing the tools and training needed to sell contracts.
Print industry solutions provider Haybrooke has witnessed positive progress in its print buying platform PDQ Print Hub, which enables users to source print from their own supply chains. A relatively recent addition to the company is its ‘printing-as-a-service’ portal, launched in January 2021. This one-stop shop is an end-to-end procurement tool that supports dealers looking for the best deals when outsourcing printed products for customers.
“With access to over 300 printers in the UK and 1,500 printing presses, it’s almost like a price comparison site with features purpose-built into the platform, such as displaying a printer’s logo and a five-star rating based on user feedback,” Haybrooke CEO John Roche told Workplace360. He adds: “Despite our customers buying for a company, we’re all consumers who recognise good trade experiences, so we’ve purposely engineered PaaS to be very user-friendly.
“It works because clients have transparent access to the fulfiller network we use to deliver jobs to them. The customer also has free reign to communicate with the fulfillers to talk about the job at hand.”
PaaS also adds significant efficiencies to the entire process, says Roche: “For example, all print jobs are itemised on a single monthly invoice, payments are prompt, and it introduces them to new customers.”
In August, Haybrooke launched a new pricing feature – RRP Insights – within its PDQ Print Hub and PaaS platforms. It uses data analysis to provide users with a comprehensive view of recommended selling prices. “The resulting aggregated market pricing data then provides information to resellers to enable them to set competitive and accurate prices and ensure they never undersell a print job,” explains Roche.
In addition, he believes there are more opportunities for the site overseas that have not been tapped into yet, but “the initial goal is to expand the service on home territory in the UK”.
Good to be green
Unsurprisingly, a vital avenue of diversification revolves around sustainability, with Quocirca reporting two-thirds (66%) of office workers and ITDMs say it’s important for a print supplier to be a leader in this area. Some vendors have made significant changes to meet customers’ demands for sustainable services, mostly involving reductions in plastic consumption.
Maloney reports that around 30% of the plastic components in Kyocera’s printers and MFDs are made from recycled materials. Additionally, 99% of the plastic parts used in the product range and 100% of those used in the toners are recyclable.
“The new products we launch always have lower ‘typical electricity consumption’ values than the devices they supersede. Our SRA3 devices and other products in our range utilise toner with a drastically reduced melting temperature, which leads to less power consumption,” Maloney states.
He says that business supplies dealers need to consider how they can contribute to establishing a cycle of sustainability when products reach their end of use. One method is ensuring cartridges can be properly recycled, which is an area Canon is also pursuing.
The Canon cartridge recycling programme offers a free and environmentally responsible method to dispose of empty cartridges without resorting to landfill. According to the vendor’s 2023 Sustainability Report, it has achieved a cumulative improvement of 43% in the life cycle of products from development to recycling.
In addition, since 2008, Canon has taken 44,343 tons of plastics from used products for recycling as raw materials, while another 35,216 tons of products and parts have been reused directly.
Weedon says Print-Rite has invested in innovations to reduce the environmental impact of used cartridges. “Our bio-based cartridge technology uses 48% organic material in toner powder formulation and 57% bioplastic content to make the cartridge case. If it does end up in landfill, it’s in an environment where temperatures can reach 60°C and 90% humidity. In these conditions, the cartridge will decompose.”
While the debate continues to rage about the reuse versus recycling of empty cartridges, keeping unused but viable printer consumables within the market is an additional sustainable option.
Toner distribution firm The Jolly Savage (TJS) offers a buyback service for dealers to sell surplus ink and toner stock that may no longer be required as well as purchase OEM toners at a reduced price. “Cost-saving is our USP while sustainability is inherent in the business model,” explains company Director Leon Jolly.
TJS has already partnered with Prima Software, Nemo Office Club and Office Friendly to provide dealers with access to around 14,000 items, with a wide variety of available models and grades.
Furthermore, a specially-designed website features current stock levels and pricing, and dealers can order plain label drop ship direct to customers. For any cartridges that are not remarketed, TJS either reuses or recycles them as WEEE waste, operating on a zero-landfill policy.
Kyocera’s Maloney believes dealers should focus on two important aspects of sustainability. The first is the circularity of print products by recycling those being replaced or upgraded. The second, he says, is checking product offerings to ensure they are manufactured using environmentally friendly materials, produced under ethical conditions and shipped with minimal carbon impact.
While the print industry has branched out into new markets to weather the latest storm, the future remains uncertain. Further adjustments will be necessary to meet customer demands, but the sector has survived for many years for a reason – it’s resilient and flexible.
Diversification has emerged as a lifeline for the category, with players seizing the opportunity to adapt and reshape revenue streams. Throughout the entire print channel, many operators have innovated themselves out of another tricky year by crafting offerings suitable for hybrid workers and by developing digital and sustainably-led solutions.
Whether end users work from a traditional office, at home or a combination of both, print will continue to play a crucial role in daily business operations. CTS Toner’s Gash believes that although we’ll use print differently in 50 years and volumes may continue to erode, it will not disappear.
Weedon concurs, adding: “Print will decline, but it’s still big business. We all depend on paper because it’s cheap, diverse and doesn’t need high-tech, expensive devices.”