This Week in Imaging: How Low Can Printer Prices Go?

It turns out very low. Over the last few weeks, while we were all enjoying ourselves over the holidays, many sellers were drastically reducing prices.

Back in the mid-90s, we still remember the first color laser printer. Surprisingly, it was from Apple and retailed for $11,000.  QMS – later acquired by Konica Minolta – also introduced a $10,000 color laser printer. Earlier, in 1984, HP had introduced the first standalone laser printer, an 8-ppm model  that retailed for $3,495.

Things have changed considerably since then:

  • Canon’s G1200 PIXMA MegaTank color inkjet printer is now available on Amazon for just $149.99. But it’s not the price that’s surprising (we’ve seen much lower-priced inkjets), but that it comes equipped with enough ink to print 7,000 black pages and 6,000 pages. In contrast, color inkjets of the past typically only included enough ink to print a couple of hundred pages.
  • Walmart lists the Canon PIXMA TS3122 Wireless All-in-One for just $35. Of note is that this isn’t just a printer, but a copier and scanner.
  • Lexmark’s entry-level color laser printer, the C3224DW, is just $138 at Newegg.
  • For Christmas, Amazon listed the Epson Expression Home XP-4100 All-in-One for just $49. This isn’t a rock-bottom entry-level model, but features scan (including scanning to the cloud), copy duplex printing, wireless connectivity, and even voice activation. Not too long ago, $49 would only get you a USB port, print, and no duplex printing.

None of this should be particularly surprising, as pricing for technology typically comes down over time. But it shows how commoditization is continuing to move upstream, and how those selling office-imaging technology will have to continue to focus on adding value, such as: taking all the headaches of maintenance, security, supplies, print servers, and service off the customer’s hands, and/or linking imaging systems to content-management/storage systems and business processes. In the meantime, we expect commoditization and lower box pricing to continue.

Last but not least, over the years, lower pricing and commoditization has also affected not just low-end inkjets and lasers, but office copiers. For instance, this article from Inc., Copier Wars, that was published in 1982, puts the price of two-thirds of most office copiers sold at the time at about $5,000 – or in today’s dollars, about $13,236.00. The remaining one-third of office copiers (higher-end models) sold at the time were priced at about $20,000  – or about $53,000 when adjusted for inflation in today’s dollars. Today, we roughly put the cost of office copier/MFPs at $1,500 to $8,000 – quite a bit less than 1980s prices when adjusted for inflation.

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