While 2020 was a miserable year for camera sales, the generally unloved inkjet printer market grew with the move to working from home and increased availability of refillable and higher capacity cartridges.
Both Canon and Epson reported increased interest in inkjet printers which they saw continuing on into this year. The conundrum for both manufacturers is that while refillable and high-capacity ink cartridge printers are generating increased demand, this runs counter to the venerable and trusted model of gouging customers with extortionate prices for tiny volumes of ink.
Dedicated photo printers, with no viable technology alternatives (while inkjet office printers/MFPs, for instance, compete with laser printing technology and copiers) seem to be the last hold-out for more affordable ink.
Epson, for instance, recently released the A3+ Surecolor P706, which will cost close to $2 in ink alone to print an 8×10-inch photograph. This kind of pricing seems to run counter to what the printer companies themselves recognise as encouraging people to take up inkjet printing – lower costs. Surely something has to give!
Epson concedes in its latest Q3 financial report that it feared giving customers a better deal on ink would impact its revenue negatively. In reality it saw revenues grow. ‘Since Epson is shifting to high-capacity ink tank printers, we expected ink revenue to be lower than last year,’ it wrote. ‘Instead, we saw year-on-year ink revenue growth due to the spread of COVID-19, which caused at-home print demand to increase.’
Canon printer sales grow
When reporting it 2020 financial results, Canon noted that ‘In 2020, the inkjet printer market grew, driven by working and learning from home in regions and countries such as Europe, the United States and China. In line with this trend, our sales increased as well, thanks to sales growth of both hardware and consumables.
‘As for the market in 2021,’ the report continues, ‘we expect demand resulting from working and learning from home to continue, particularly in developed countries. Furthermore, thanks to growth in refillable ink tank models in emerging markets, we expect overall sales to be solid in 2021.
Under these conditions, we will leverage our strength of having a balanced lineup that includes both cartridge and refillable ink tank models, as we work to capture printing demand from the home to office in both developed countries and emerging markets.
…On top of this, we made it possible for users to independently replace some parts that wear out. By deploying products that raise the convenience of users in this way, we are strengthening our lineup and will aim to achieve our second consecutive year of sales growth by growing unit sales.
Who would have thought – cheaper ink and easier, lower cost maintenance drives printer growth!
High capacity the new game for Epson
Epson’s story in its Q3 2020/21 financial report was a little more mixed, but that was due to supply issues rather than a lack of demand:
Revenue was flat year on year because even though demand recovered, product supply was limited due to a suspension of factory operations in Indonesia in September, a shortage of shipping containers, and seaport congestion.
Business profit increased significantly, mainly as a result of high-capacity ink tank printer and ink sales growth, higher selling prices, and strict cost containment…Inkjet printer selling prices and ink sales surpassed our expectations.
We expected print demand from people working and learning from home to ease up as economic activity resumed, but it continued in Western Europe, North America, and some other regions. In Latin America and Asia, too, we are beginning to see hints of at-home print demand
…We continued to be unable to supply enough high-capacity ink tank printers to meet demand. Nevertheless, revenue increased because there were unit growth in emerging markets and developed economies, an improved model mix due to an increase of high added value products, and higher selling prices due to our price maintenance measures.
SOHO and home ink cartridge printer revenue increased even though unit shipments declined due to supply shortages. The increase was mainly a result of higher prices. Ink revenue grew on sustained at-home print demand in Europe and America
Since Epson is shifting to high-capacity ink tank printers, we expected ink revenue to be lower than last year. Instead, we saw year-on-year ink revenue growth due to the spread of COVID-19, which caused at-home print demand to increase.As you can see, ink sales peaked in June and then declined until they reached the same level as September of the previous year. Given this trend, we expected sales to show further signs of easing in the third quarter, yet demand has continued.It is difficult to predict what lies ahead, but working from home is likely to be permanent, so we believe that a certain level of demand will continue.
Epson predicted high-capacity ink tank printer shipments to exceed expectations and demand for wide-format and commercial inkjets to ‘progressively recover’.
Epson plans to ‘prioritize an increase in the production of high-capacity ink tank printers, which are key strategic products.’