Printer companies make their plays in October

There is a time and a season for printer announcements and that time is now, according to analyst firm International Data Corp. A high-speed output of both color and monochrome printer news has recently flooded the printer market, and incentives to buy have ranged from ultra-low prices to free steaks.

Lexmark International, Canon, IBM, Epson America, Xerox, and printer industry leader Hewlett-Packard (HP) have each launched new printer products in the last several weeks. Variety underscores the new printer offerings as vendors hustle to find their separate niches in a mature market, said Jennifer Thorwart, a printer analyst with IDC in Framingham, Mass.

"The flood of new printers is traditionally a third quarter thing," explained Thorwart, who attributed the wave of new printer products to a number of conditions, including channel inventory cycles, and back-to-school purchases, and fierce competition.

Lexmark on Monday rolled out three new monochrome laser printers and two color systems.

The Lexmark E320, E322, and E322n (networked), are low-cost monochrome printers that offer features formerly found in only higher-end Lexmark printers, said Greg Hollsterom, the product manager for monochrome printers at Lexmark, based in Lexington, Ky.

Priced to compete with low-priced inkjet printers, the Lexmark E320 with its US$299 price tag typifies the new E-Series printers from Lexmark.

All three E-series printers run at 16 pages per minute with a 12 second time to first page. The systems can feed standard 20# bond as well as high weight paper stocks up to 90# index. Paper adhesive labels will also feed through the E-Series systems. Advanced toner darkness settings and toner level sensing technology can save companies as much as 50 percent on toner costs by allowing the user to reduce the amount of toner used on print jobs, said Hollsterom.

The E320 with 4MB of memory starts at $299, the E322 with 8MB of memory starts at $399, and the E322n with 16MB of memory and a built-in networking card retails for $599. Additional features such as second paper drawers are available on all E-Series models.

Lexmark is also looking to save customers money on color printing with new C750 and C910 color printers.

"Sometime we forget color is also there to save you money," said Christophe Piganiol, Lexmark's manager of color product marketing. "Color helps you simplify information and communicate it faster. The Internet is bringing a lot of graphics into business, and presentation software is making it easier to include graphics in presentations."

Designed for businesses, the C750 and C910 offer a wide range of printing features and ease-of-use technology, said Piganiol.

Running at 20 pages per minute the C750 delivers up to 1200dpi print quality, and single color black print jobs cost no more to print than a similar job on a monochrome printer, said Piganiol. With optional additional paper trays and bindery finisher, the C750 ranges in price from $2,999 to $4,899.

At 28 pages per minute, the 2400dpi-capable C910 is a color printing workhorse that delivers a 100,000 page monthly duty cycle. Installed by Lexmark into business networks free of charge, the C910 starts at $3,999.

"We see (the printer market) as a two horse race between us and HP," said Hollsterom. "We see them as our prime competitor."

Printer market champ HP on Monday introduced three color printers targeted at small and medium-sized businesses.

The HP Color Inkjet Printer cp1160 offers two-sided printing capabilities, infrared connectivity for synchronization with handheld devices, and support for both Windows and Macintosh operating systems. Pricing for the cp1160 starts at $399, according to HP. The HP cp1700 also offers two-sided printing and large format 13x19-inch sheet printing capabilities for documents that have images that bleed off a standard sized 11x17 inch page. A cp1700ps version is also available that offers support for Adobe postscript files. The cp1700 line starts at $499. HP's Business Inkjet Printer 2600 ships with an embedded Internet Web server to enable printer management from any Web browser, and starts at $999, according to HP.

HP also recently rolled out three inexpensive inkjet printers for printing digital photography, the HP Photosmart 100, 1115, and 1315.

Starting at $179, the portable, 3-pound Photosmart 100 is designed to print photos up to 4x6 inches in size. Users can print photos from CompactFlash, SmartMedia, and Sony Memory Stick cards without the use of a PC, according to HP. The Photosmart 1115 and 1315 are desktop printers that can also print photos from solid state memory cards without the intervention of a PC. Model 1115 starts at $119, and model 1315, with its 2400dpi resolution, starts at $399.

HP officials are determined not to relent HP's recognized No.1 spot as the world's dominant printer company. In a recent creative marketing ploy, HP ran a promotion with Office Depot to give 4 fillet mignons, 4 top sirloins, and a "tiramisu" ice cream cake to customers purchasing HP's LaserJet 1200e printers. To further strengthen its position in the corporate printer market, HP recently announced it would acquire Indigo, a commercial and industrial printing systems company, according to officials.

Canon just rolled out a new inkjet printer designed for printing photographs from digital cameras. The Canon S820D printer connects directly to two new Canon PowerShot digital cameras through a proprietary cable, according to Canon. The printer also hosts a PCMCIA Type II memory card slot to accept CompactFlash, Smart Media, SD Card, Memory Sticks, and IBM Microdrives. It retails for $399.

Coming in with the lowest price of the new breed of digital photography printers, Epson introduced its Stylus Photo 820. For under $100, the 820 offers six-color printing of 4x6 inch photos at 720dpi in less than 48 seconds, according to Epson.

For cost-conscious businesses, Xerox just launched its speedy Phaser 5400 monochrome laser printer. Designed for medium and large workgroups, the 5400 can churn out 40 pages per minute, feed up to 110# index, is network-ready, and retails for $2,149.

And 25 years ago this month, IBM introduced the first high-speed laser printer, the IBM 3800 printing system, according to IBM. In commemoration of the 3800, IBM announced its Infoprint 4100 printers. The Infoprint 4100 systems are designed for high-volume commercial printing environments that produce marketing catalogues, brochures, on-demand books with photographs, and high-volume billing statements. Infoprint 4100 Systems start at $420,000.

The wide range of new printer offerings is indicative of a mature market, said IDC's Thorwart.

"It's the mood that the printer market has become so competitive and mature that companies have to compete in new ways. Companies are going from the middle of the printer pack and taking printers to all different ends to find any niche of demand that still exists in the market," she said.

The overall U.S. printer market currently shows a projected 2000-2005 compound annual growth rate of 4.7 percent, according to IDC.

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