Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why HP’s Latest Move Is Good News for Brother

Hewlett-Packard is combining its printer and computer divisions. And although the company is hoping to save money in the process, that’s not the reason for the move. Rather, as it explained yesterday, it is hoping to bolster sales of printers by tying them more closely to computers.

HP virtually came out and said that people won’t buy printers anymore unless you twist their arms.

There are other indications that people aren’t printing as much. Whether you are counting pages, ink, documents, photos, or printers, the interest in printing is not what it was two or three years ago. More people are reading on tablets and phones, with no need to print a document just to read it. Tighter security policies in some businesses now discourage printing of whole classes of documents. Workers with two desktop monitors don’t need to print out a document just to compare it to what’s on the screen. Five years of cost-cutting, and a growing awareness of the environmental impacts have workers cutting back on printing. And, with fewer printed documents, it is no longer important for a printed document to have pictures, color, or extra pages in order to stand out.

HP is not combining strength with strength in putting computers and printers together. The computer division is one that the company was on the verge of shutting down less than a year ago. Printers are a product that it has been selling at a loss for ages, and now it is saying even that has become difficult. Now, HP will be selling computers and printers together at a loss in the hope that some consumers will buy the company’s overpriced ink. With the trend away from the printed page, it’s a strategy that may not hold up for long.

In the meantime, it is not as if people will stop printing entirely. Some computer documents just have to be printed — notably, boarding passes, meeting handouts, packing slips, and legal contracts to be signed by hand. But these printed documents aren’t that frequent and don’t have to be much. If this is what people will be printing, it is no wonder HP is having trouble selling people replacement printers. And when people do need to buy a printer, it’s a trend that favors the plain, small, simple, and cheap, a category currently led not by HP, but by Brother.

It is also a trend that may eventually favor a move to a smaller paper size. When most printed documents are smaller than a letter-sized page, there are potential economies in switching to a page half as large — including the possibility of further reducing the size of the printer.