by Jim Lyons
The Hard Copy Observer, March 2007
In last month’s column, I highlighted the early and fast success of burgeoning printing software company GreenPrint and its product GreenPrint. (Reminds me a bit of the rock-and-roll groups of my youth, which typically debuted a self-titled album first—for example, Santana by Santana—and then came up with a more creative name for the next album.)
As noted in my monthly column, I am fascinated by any company in any industry, big or small, that identifies an unmet user need or customer pain point and then develops a product or solution to address that need. GreenPrint’s discovery was the wasteful printing of extra, nearly blank Web pages, something that has been accepted for too long among the printing user community. This issue is one that neither hardware nor software vendors have managed to address satisfactorily but that GreenPrint’s software utility aptly takes on.
A broader but related issue that has long been a sore point for customers and a business opportunity for enterprising companies is the cost of printing. Back in 1991, the premier issue of The Hard Copy Observer featured stories about third-party laser printer toner suppliers (Observer, 10/91). Before that, when the first HP LaserJet shipped in 1984, refillers were quick to attack the firm's supplies pricing strategy, and, truth be known, the copier industry ecosystem included third-party toner suppliers for at least two decades before that.
But what about more systematic efforts beyond simply reducing the cost per toner particle and ink jet droplet? I have first-hand knowledge of HP's (NYSE: HPQ) effort to conserve supplies usage by introducing an "economode" on the HP LaserJet 4L in May 1993 (Observer, 5/93). The initiative was driven by the realization that customers want to produce cost-effective drafts or other short-lived documents that do not have to be beautiful and pristine. Other vendors followed suit with hardware and software solutions such as n-up functionality, which saves paper in similar draft applications. To be complete, I should also include the long-standing Microsoft PowerPoint "handouts" mode that saves ink, toner, and paper and lightens the load on presentation attendees.
And there have been other angles. In 2001, Carly Fiorina, then CEO of HP, was queried by security analysts in a quarterly earnings conference call about an initiative by General Electric (GE) to "digitize everything" and thus take direct aim at printing costs (Observer, 6/01). GE’s initiative sought to address the high cost and low efficiency of paper-based processes with changes such as more electronic distribution of documents and manuals. Fiorina was confident at the time and said, “The reality, frankly, that we see is that more people are printing more today than ever,” a sentiment that could just as easily have been heard at the 2007 Lyra Imaging Symposium. It is interesting how initiatives like GE's often get lots of attention at the start but are rarely followed up with additional coverage.
Speaking of the Symposium, the data presented by Lyra analysts and industry executives shows that the printing and supplies markets continue to grow in consumer and commercial settings. However, one would be naïve to think that the corporate world depends on paper-based processes as much as it once did. Rather printing has changed from knowledge workers printing stacks of e-mail to printing resource materials from Web browsers.
GreenPrint's sales funnel for the enterprise version of its software is strong evidence of the movement to reduce printing in its new forms. According to Hayden Hamilton, CEO of GreenPrint, a laundry list of household corporate names comprise GreenPrint's enterprise sales funnel, and each of these claim user "seats" in the five- or six-digit range. The firm's increased visibility reflects the influence of the Wall Street Journal's Walter Mossberg and his affinity for products that solve real user problems. Following his December 2006 review, GreenPrint has been besieged with corporate interest, in addition to queries and downloads by end users. While not yet ready to announce any corporate megadeals, GreenPrint has announced an agreement with Portland State University, which plans to use the GreenPrint solution to reduce its 32 million annual pages of print.
Once again, finding a user need and addressing it, if done simply and elegantly, offers a company a very good chance for success in the printing industry or any other. GreenPrint's journey along its "green" course bears watching in the future.