Friday, November 28, 2008

Good Morning, Black Friday

To my readers, hope all had a great Thanksgiving holiday.

Checking my favorite shopping web site, Techbargains.com, yields advice on several great printer deals at various brick-and-mortar and online sites. The Samsung CLP315 Color Laser Printer is showing up at several with that magical $99.99 price (see last week's post), with the very best deal seemingly at Office Depot (NYSE ODP) where the sub-$100 price (after rebate) includes a $20 gift card!

One of the most intriguing listings for me is not a printer, but rather a rather new electronic book reader, the Ectaco jetBook at NewEgg.com, featured at $198. Conveniently, my blogging colleague Andrew Mackenzie covers the product with multiple posts, linked from "Black Friday eBook deals at NewEgg".

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SharedBook announces LucasBooks personalized edition

It's a long-time followed beat that I've been somewhat lax in covering recently, but a favorite company from the Demo Conference series, SharedBook, had an announcement yesterday that caught my attention, partnering with Random House and LucasBooks to offer the launch of the personalized edition of Star Wars: Millennium Falcon by bestselling author James Luceno.

The significance of the news was underscored by SharedBook CEO Caroline Vanderlip in an email:

What is particularly exciting for us is that it is the first front list title to be given the personalization options by SharedBook.


In addition to offering customers a unique product, the combination of custom book publishing with a brand like Star Wars is a great PR move, at least by my admittedly crude-but-effective metric, the Google News Search index. A search on Google News late today, the day after the announcement, for "SharedBook LucasBooks", yields an impressive 101 hits.

Here's an example: "Get a Personalized Star Wars Novel".

HP's Fourth Quarter -- bright spots related to Managed Print Services

HP (NYSE HPQ) announced earnings after the market close yesterday, and while the pre-announcement the week prior took some of the steam out of the detailing of their overall excellent numbers, some interesting tidbits are available for perusal. The conference call transcript, as available via the HPQ Investor Relations site or, conveniently, at the Seeking Alpha web site (See "Hewlett-Packard Company F4Q08 (Qtr End 10/31/08) Earnings Call Transcript"), yields some of these. In CEO Mark Hurd's opening remarks, he hits on the condition of the current economy and what that means to HP's business prospects.

...let me highlight three reasons I'm confident in HP's outlook despite the macroeconomic challenges...our business mix. [One reason is] we have approximately one-third of our revenue and well over half of our profits from recurring sources, like Services and Supplies. Although not immune to economic factors, the future performance of these businesses is largely determined by the quality and sale of our customer installed base.


While some skeptics have emerged among today's Tuesday-morning quarterbacks, forcing the stock down some (e.g. see "Hewlett-Packard hit by worries about forecast"), it's worth singling out the printer business, and specifically its growing Managed Print Services (MPS) component, as a major contributor to Hurd's logic. Supplies grew to 64% of the Imaging and Printing Group's (IPG's) revenues, and while that's an across-the-printer-board metric, MPS growth, while not detailed in the release, is certainly growing, with a proxy to be seen it the 25% growth figure announced for Printer-based MFP's, a standout number among otherwise mostly-declining category growth rates.

(This post also appears on Printer Industry News.)

HP (NYSE HPQ) Printer Metrics, end-of-year FY08 edition

After the markets' close yesterday, HP (NYSE HPQ) announced its previously-pre-announced earnings for Fourth Quarter FY08. The overall numbers were quite heartening in this era of economic fear and doubt (see "Hewlett-Packard confirms earnings, backs outlook"), and the numbers from Imaging and Printing Group (details below) was more of a mixed bag.

Fourth-quarter IPG revenues actually declined one percent, compared to Q407, and with the company's overall revenues continuing to show very healthy increases, the printer unit's proportion of company sales shrinks again. Margins, however, remain robust for IPG, contributing nearly half of HP's profit dollars.

And it's always interesting to see which details HP chooses to share about the business. Color laser printers were reported as DOWN a few percentage points, but with HP's emphasis on its inkjet technologies both high and low, one wonders if this is a bragging point (lower lasers mean higher inkjet sales?). Both consumer and commercial hardware units showed year-to-year sales declines, and with supplies up another 9%, that category now represents nearly two-thirds (64%) of overall IPG revenues. And HP's interest in wireless printers (see "HP is Wild About Wireless") is confirmed by its inclusion in the metrics matrix for the first time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

PC Magazine's all-online move

As a printer industry veteran, the Fall of the year brings to mind the now long-ago excitement that we in the biz felt when the PC Magazine annual Printer Issue hit our mailboxes. Which companies, and models, would warrant top-ranking "Editors' Choice" awards? And what printer would grace the cover of the issue?

The annual edition set the standard for who was on top, and who was gaining, or falling. The magazine was written for technology and printer buyers, especially the elite early adopters, but industry insiders gave great attention to its advice. In-the-know marketing and research-and-development types were recognized by their collections of back issues and cubicle clippings from PC Mag's printer edition.

Through the '80s and '90s, I was fortunate enough to work for a company whose latest printer model often made the cover of this landmark issue. It was an honor we cherished, and worked for. A "vision statement" for a new printer development team often included the "stretch goal" of making the cover of the annual. While sales and profitability were the shareholders' yardsticks, the "PC Mag Printer Issue cover" metric was in many ways the ultimate (and not unrelated) prize.

The comprehensive Fall printer edition has been gone for awhile, with the magazine's continually excellent printer coverage spread out through the year. (And at least sporadically mentioned and linked to in this blog.) Now, in a move that really changes nothing but still evokes nostalgia, word came from the publication, via messages from Lance Ulanoff, Editor-in-Chief, of PCMag Digital Network PC Magazine Goes 100% Digital, and the one-time "Mr PC Magazine" Michael Miller's Requiem for PC Magazine (Print), that PC Magazine will no longer be a print publication.

Thanks to my friend Michael Miller as he recalls a few memories, for helping me recall mine:

...Our annual "Perfect PC" issue...in those days, the magazine was filled with ads -- I fondly remember going back and forth comparing the multi-page ads from all the direct vendors trying to figure out which PC I was going to buy.


And thanks to my blogging colleague Greg Walters, at The Death of the Copier, for his post (see "PC Magazine Dropping Print for Online") for alerting me to this development.

A week before the day before BLACK FRIDAY

As this memorable year of 2008 makes its way to exits, we look ahead to better economic times. These better times can begin right now -- in the words of one of my most astute economically-inclined friends, it's simple, "BUY SOMETHING".

With the holidays coming up, there are plenty of opportunities to buy, for yourself and for others. And to help, I'm posting the TechBargains.com widget elsewhere in my blog.

And if you must wait, at least get ready by consulting the available Black Friday ads. Last year's brought us the first $100 color laser printer -- what will 2008 bring?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Brown goes Green

In an interesting announcement last week from HP (NYSE HPQ) and UPS (NYSE UPS), the companies are partnering around a "green" solution based on the sp400 all-in-one device, which graced this blog originally just over a year ago. (See "HP's 'Handheld sp400 All-in-One'".)

The combination "Green" / money savings breakthrough (funny how those seem to go together so often these days) comes in part from the ingenious and pragmatic step of simply printing label information directly on the shipping container (i.e. cardboard box), and forgoing the separate paper label. Other workflow efficiencies have been enabled too, but the "paperless label" idea is the point that I find brilliant in its simplicity. From the UPS Release:

By eliminating paper labels, it will save 1,338 tons of paper each year once the imprinter is fully deployed and millions of dollars in annual operating costs.


Jason Perlow over at the ZD Net Tech Broiler blog has a nice description of the solution. (See "UPS saves $30M and goes Green with new HP printing and scanning handheld".)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Observations: Hard Copy Communications for Families

Hard Copy Communications for Families

Last month, in my October Observations, I examined an industry business opportunity based on meeting the customer needs of an often-overlooked population, the elderly. In consumer technology, rapid innovation and ever-shortening product life cycles can be hard to keep up with, assuming we were ever caught up to begin with. Society has gone from the joke about the irritation caused by the blinking “12:00” on VCRs of the 1980s to a major generational divide in terms of how and what we use to accomplish basic communication.

CaringFamily and Presto are two firms that set out to match technology capabilities to the communications needs of the elderly and their families. And each has taken enough of a separate path, while simultaneously sharing many similarities, so that further examination provides an opportunity for some great marketing insight.

First, what is common? Both firms researched families’ unmet need to communicate beyond voice (i.e. telephony) and the unsuitability of much of today’s technology to address the problem. Sending clippings, photos, and letters via snail mail still works for many of the elderly, but it seems that the payoff of immediacy—already delivered in the home and work lives of so many via technology—could dramatically improve communication links between families, especially when distance makes face-to-face contact infrequent.

CaringFamily and Presto also both found that a modified (i.e. simplified) HP (NYSE HPQ) ink jet MFP is a cost-effective tool for exchanging tangible materials such as handwritten or typed notes, drawings, awards, photos, clippings, and recipes. A device that is relatively inexpensive, readily available, and has easy-to-replace supplies is important, especially for the elderly user. (Both firms definitely realized the network effect in play, where these hard-copy communications nodes could potentially be in the homes of several family members.)

While the terms “services” and “solutions” are often tossed around in relation to corporate printing, CaringFamily and Presto both realized that a service component was essential for their solutions. The companies needed to develop and provide fee-based services on an ongoing basis that resemble an e-mail system or fax functionality but also strived to be simpler to use and more versatile. As CaringFamily CEO Paul Davoust states, “We always knew we had to go beyond two cans and a string.”

So what are the differences between the two providers? One of the biggest is marketing, especially in terms of the “Marketing P” for “Place” or distribution. While the firms agree on the ultimate users of their product and service, CaringFamily markets to elderly living facilities and care centers, where “social directors” and other professional caregivers can see the quality-of-life benefits of these communications nodes (and of course can encourage family members to do the same in their homes). They also can recognize that such capabilities add to their centers’ attractiveness to would-be residents and their families. This is an “industrial marketing” approach where as a part of their jobs, buyers make purchasing decisions based on hard facts and analysis, often in groups or committees.

Presto went the consumer marketing route, with strong promotion (another one of the four “Marketing Ps”) via a well-covered launch at a Demo Conference and a Martha Stewart appearance. Presto’s product and service is available on Amazon.com and at other retailers.

In both cases, marketing an unfamiliar product or service is difficult. “Anything with an education component is a challenge. It has to be more than ‘Here it is’,” notes CaringFamilies’ Davoust. I did not probe either company for hard numbers, but there are enough indicators of success to keep enthusiasm going for the future.
Presto, for example, has more than 80 user comments on Amazon.com for its “HP A10 Printing Mailbox for Presto Service,” with an average rating of over 4.5 out of 5. A scan of these comments reveals some extreme Presto enthusiasts that causes me to wonder if there is a “crossing the chasm” effect at play, which happens when the almost immediate acceptance of a product or service by a core of early adopters is followed by the lack of widespread acceptance among more “main street” consumers. (By the way, a start-up company named Pluribo offers anyone the ability to “data mine” sources like Amazon’s user comments. Unfortunately, it is a developing service, and when I tried to use it in this case, I received the message, “Pluribo doesn’t currently cover this category. More coming soon.”)

Along with sticking with the game plan and building their existing businesses, what lies ahead for the two companies and their potential for branching out? Davoust’s CaringFamily is moving forward and finding traction for its solution within the science and research organizations the firm has worked with to understand the needs of those organizations’ customers and develop appropriate solutions.

Changes are brewing at Presto, too. The firm’s new CEO, Peter Radsliff, e-mailed me about pending upgrades, including “a major enhancement to the Presto service centered around a Web site that greatly enhances what a Presto account manager can do with the system. This development is aimed squarely at providing much higher value and functionality to people looking for tools to assist in communicating with their tech-shy loved ones. It adds major value to existing Presto subscribers and hopefully will convince many more people to adopt the system.”

By the way, Radsliff’s bio on the Presto Web site includes a great quote to close my column as we think about developing new products and services. “Peter focuses on developing products that have a deep connection with their users—crafting and communicating each product’s unique and compelling story.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Obama Elected" newspapers sell out -- the exception that makes the rule?

An interesting sidebar story related the American presidential election a week ago has been the "run" on newspapers featuring the front page announcing the historic outcome. Long lines to buy papers, reprints, and special newspaper editions, have all been well documented. (For an example, see The LA Times, "Extra! Extra! Barack Obama's election win sends newspaper sales soaring".)

While this blog's primary focus is printing in the home and office, from time to time we can't help exploring the overall future of the printed page, including that venerable societal institution, the newspaper.

And while the biggest sales day for papers in a long time is an interesting, and even poignant story, it may also provide insight in why the printed page still satisfies certain "fundamental user needs", in marketing parlance. Snippets from the news reporting on the sales surge quotes buyers as seeking something that documents the election in a permanent, "official" format. From the Times piece:

"I think there is an authority and finality, a sort of last word that comes from the printed edition of the newspaper," said Steve Hills, president and general manager of Washington Post Media.


At the same time, with the majority of today's current news, which is much more fleeting and ever-changing, is probably more appropriately delivered in electronic form. To use another example from late 2008, who needs/wants an ink-and-paper stock table from any given closing market day? (And that's even assuming the markets actually close!)

The economy and Managed Print Services

As the not-so-recently-appointed editor of the Printer Industry News blog (see "Printer industry blogging activities expanding"), I'm excited to point readers of Jim Lyons Observations to a timely new weigh-in opportunity we've launched. Industry members (OEMs, resellers, IT Managers, end-users, and others) are invited to take a short survey on how the future of MPS might or might not be affected by the current economic maelstrom the world is currently experiencing. (The closed-ended portion of the survey is intended for MPS implementers, but the final free-form question is open to members from all of the groups mentioned in the previous sentence.)

Start by reading the post ("Economy's Impact on Managed Print Services -- We ask you!") and then link to our five-question survey. We'd appreciate your inputs!

And thanks to fellow blogger Greg Walters at "The Death of the Copier" for posting a link to the survey, too. And from the "Great Minds..." department, Greg's also hosting a LinkedIn discussion on the same topic.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Amazon (NASDAQ AMZN), GreenPrint, HP (NYSE HPQ) Green Announcements


A few green-related announcements have come my way over the last few days and are worth noting here.

First, Amazon (NASDAQ AMZN), while not strictly a printing and imaging company, had the courage to announce a major business story last week during the flood of attention on the US Presidential Election and its immediate aftermath. The release (see "Amazon Announces Beginning of Multi-Year Frustration-Free Packaging Initiative") points out the multiple objectives the company has in mind, both reducing user frustration with hard-to-open packaging as well as a reduction in packaging waste. See my separate post, "When is getting more than you expected a bad thing?".

Second, and also last week, GreenPrint announced the long-awaited Mac version of their print management software. The Windows-based software has been mentioned at this blog many times, and the Mac companion is a welcome addition to the market. I like seeing they're positioning the "one click PDF" creation as a key feature of the software, and also that the company is continuing to use Scribd.com as the information storehouse for their releases.

And third and last, HP (NYSE HPQ) is out with another of their seemingly steady stream (say that three times) of printer- and supplies-related Green announcements this morning. After covering numerous HP "Green" initiative announcements, I'd say this one, "HP Adds to Customer Convenience, Boosts Efficiency with Recycling Program Expansion", hits on consistent themes. HP and Staples (NASDAQ SPLS) will be joining forces, with HP's usual individual send-back program for toner and ink cartridges now accessible via favorite reseller Staples and a simple walk-in and drop-off process. And with more emphasis on this process, HP will eliminate the inclusion of in-box return envelopes, at least on the ink side. Kudos to HP for seeing the big picture, and finding ways to live the "reduce, reuse, recylce" credo. For example:

HP estimates that if all ink cartridges returned via in-box envelopes in 2008 were instead returned in bulk from authorized retail recycling locations, the amount of shipping materials used would have been reduced by more than 600,000 pounds – enough to fill more than 15 tractor trailers.(1) Additionally, transport efficiency may be improved as cartridges shipped in bulk can be packed more tightly than those shipped individually – with twice as many cartridges fitting in the same amount of space.

(1) Based on a nominal payload of 40,000 pounds; takes into consideration unused envelopes.

When is getting more than you expected a bad thing?


Although so far it's not directly printer- or supplies-related, I was excited to see online retailer Amazon's (NASDAQ AMZN) announcement last week about simplifying product packaging and reducing packaging waste. (See "Amazon Announces Beginning of Multi-Year Frustration-Free Packaging Initiative.") Both points -- making packages easier to open and at the same time producing less waste -- represent noble objectives in my opinion.

As I read the release, I found, among the 19 products covered so far by the new initiative, something that I could always use, and that relates at least a bit to our industry -- a new 4GB SD card I can use to in my digital camera, and move images back and forth to my PCs and digital imaging printers. Who can't use another high-capacity SD card at a great price? And here's what the release said about the Transcend brand:

Small items, such as memory cards, are also good candidates for Frustration-Free Packaging. Typically encased in oversized plastic clamshells to deter shoplifting, memory cards are then placed inside larger cardboard boxes for shipment to customers. Working with Transcend, Amazon has eliminated the hard-to-open clamshell and the need for an additional box. Instead, the cards will now ship inside recyclable cardboard envelopes which use less material. Amazon is working to shrink the envelope size even further.


So I placed my online order and the package arrived at the end of last week, and, in keeping with this post's title, it included much more than I anticipated, which was disappointing. Yes, there was the memory card in its plain brown envelope, but it was packaged INSIDE the Amazon-standard cardboard shipping box, plastic air-filled bubbles, and a few junk-mail inserts just for good measure. (See photos.) Come on Amazon, you can do better! The plain brown envelope seems like it could be mailed by itself, as the release indicates, especially with the SD card encased in the ususal rugged plastic case. (See photos below.)


The plain brown envelope


Still too much inside the envelope, but at least it's not a lot of mass!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

3D Printers on the same downward price path as conventional printers?


Thanks to a regular reader for sending over this post from earlier in the week, about the comparison between price/performance levels of 3D printers of today and the original laser printers (in this case, the Apple LaserWriter) that started the Desktop Publishing revolution now over twenty years ago.

Lloyd Alter at Treehugger.com writes in "3D Printers Now as Cheap As Laser Printers Were in 1985" that the price of a Now Desktop Factory "3D Printer" is just $4,995.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Wired: Five useless gadgets?

Wired's Gadget Lab blog is out with a (this is tongue-in-cheek, right?) piece, Five Useless Gadgets You Should Throw in the Trash Right Now. While we're usuallly quick to celebrate the inclusion of "printers" and related technologies (e.g. scanners and fax machines) in Top Five lists of any kind, this one is not so nice! Here's a bit of what author Charlie Sorrel has to say about printers:

Buying a printer is like buying a timeshare in a vacation home. It looks cheap until you figure out all the extra costs, and that you don't ever use it after the first year. Outside of an office or a photographer's studio, they're obsolete -- myriad online printing sites will take care of your photos, at a better quality and lower price than you'll get at home.

And btw, if you're going to follow the article's advice, at least recycle!

Tip of the hat to my blogger buddy Tom for sending over the link, during this distracting news period.