Printers: Affordable consumables the enduring mantra for success and leadership in the India market

Narinder Kumar, Manager, Industry Intelligence Group (IIG)

Narinder Kumar, Manager, Industry Intelligence Group (IIG)

The print consumables market in India has grown significantly over the last decade alongside the printer market. The printer market rode the growth engine of increased adoption of PCs and technological advancements helped to reduce the cost of printers and printing, besides providing improved quality. Today an inkjet single function printer is available at around Rs. 1,700, while a multifunction device in the same category is available from Rs. 3,300 onwards. With reducing margins from printer devices and in order to maintain profitability, vendors enhanced their focus on creating a demand for printer consumables. The consumables market depends directly on the number of printers installed and profitability for vendors in consumables is comparatively more than in simply selling printers. Therefore, vendors continue to make large investments on educating customers, through various channel activities and end user campaigns, on the benefits of using original and genuine consumables for getting the best quality prints.

In 2010, Epson started their campaign ‘thINK’ under which high quality ink cartridges were made available to customers at affordable prices. Canon’s ‘OriginalInkCenter’ (OIC) programme was introduced to provide genuine Canon consumables at one-stop retail outlets. Canon also successfully launched their campaign ‘Gelling the Genie’ which aimed at doubling Canon’s partner base for selling genuine consumables. HP introduced the BCP(Best Choice Portfolio) programme, aimed at addressing the specific printing needs of different industry verticals. For commercial customers HP launched the MVC (Most Valuable Customer) programme offering special services. Samsung also increased the number of their channel partners for sales of consumables over a period of time.

From a consumer angle, the efforts by the vendors failed to match expectations. The India market is price sensitive. The overall running cost of a printer is an important factor for printer buyers, which not only includes the one-time purchase cost of a printer, but also the cost of consumables used over the printer’s life. A significant number of printer customers have consciously reduced the cost per page (CPP) by methods like refilling the cartridges or using compatible cartridges.

The refilling market in India is largely unorganized and can be easily accessed by a customer in his / her vicinity. Although it does lead to a compromise on print quality, the difference is not significant for a majority of users and for most printing requirements. A normal inkjet cartridge can be refilled between 5-8 times at a cost between Rs. 100 and Rs. 200 and refilling of laser toner costs between Rs. 200 and Rs. 500. This translates to an average cost equivalent of 1/5th to less than 1/10th of an original genuine cartridge / toner.

Another market which has grown rapidly in the last few years is the Refurbished/Refilled compatible cartridge market. Such cartridges cost around 20% to 50% of a genuine cartridge, depending on print technology and printer used. Organised players such has Cartridge World, Re-fill etc are providing good offerings to price sensitive, but quality conscious customers. These refillers are also working intensively on educating customers about good print quality at affordable prices and in the process creating new brands in the market. A “30-day Money-back Guarantee” offer from Cartridge World indicates the seriousness of these new consumable suppliers.

Printer vendors, in order to push the sales of original consumables launched printers which carried half cartridges/toners. This helped in offering competitive prices for printers as a whole. Cartridges used in these printers carried a lower cost as compared to full cartridges; however, these printers failed in the longer run due to the lower number of page prints obtained by users from the half cartridges/toners. In 2011, HP lost significant market share due to this reason to Canon in the laser single function category; the result was that HP was forced to relaunch its flagship model Laserjet 1020 which uses full toner in September 2011. Canon’s inkjet multifunction E500 also failed to pick up volumes after its initial success due to the use of half cartridge.

Launch of printers, compatible with chip-based toners, was another attempt on the behalf of vendors to increase the consumption of original consumables. Such printers would accept and install only the original cartridge, after reading the integrated chip on the cartridge, thereby sidelining the compatible and refillable cartridges. Chip-based printers also faced the heat of rejection by buyers. Samsung discontinued models such as the ML1640, and later launched chipless toner based printer models – the ML-1676 and the SCX-3201G.

Epson popularized the concept of CIS (Continuous Ink Supply) system where an ink tank is attached with the printer, which helps the printer to be used for longer print cycles thereby reducing cost per page. This system was first visible in the market with Brother’s inkjet multifunction model DCP-J195C. In 2011, Epson launched CIS system based L-series (L100, L200) printers promoted on the feature of 10 paisa and 20 paisa cost per print for black & white and color prints, respectively. These printers were priced much higher than Epson’s fast moving models but still recorded good volumes, due to the overall lower TCO.

Technological advances in consumables, like Epson’s water resistant inks (DURABrite Ultra Ink) and long lasting ink (Claria ink) used in the photographic sector also warrant a mention.

The India printer market is expected to continue its growth trajectory in 2013 and beyond. The increased demand for printing from the home, SOHO and SMB segments is expected to provide an impetus to the market. In the commercial segment, vendors are focusing on entering into special service agreements with large enterprises. The original and compatible/refurbished consumables markets will benefit by increased customer awareness and the growing need for quality prints. However, all said and done, increasing adoption of electronic means of communication, govt regulations to reduce wastage of paper, and important sources of large volume printing such as railways and airlines accepting ticket soft copies, can prove a deterrent to the growth of the print industry as a whole.