Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

To all my readers, have a great 2010!

As I reflect back on my year in blogging, I am observing how my writing patterns have changed in 2009. The addition of active "micro-blogging" through Twitter has taken away from the volume of traditional blog posts, no doubt, but has hopefully provided a more real-time alternative via my tweetstream displayed here (to the right). And granted, not all my tweets are dedicated printer-industry topics, so please pardon the marketing, economics, careers, and yes, occasional football subjects.

Another change/distraction (but for the better overall) is the transition from traditional to online publishing for The Hard Copy Observer. In addition to my monthly Observations columns, which also appear here (I can't hardly believe I'm now in my fifth year of monthly columns), I also am a contract writer for the Observer, and topics I might have published here in the blog now have a tendency to end up there, as we become subject to the legendary 24-hour news cycle, at least as it exists in the printer industry!

Again, readers, thanks for stopping by on a regular basis, and see you in 2010!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

December Observations -- 25 years of LaserJet

Observations: 25 Years of LaserJet

The Observer traditionally uses much of its December coverage to recap the year just passed in an attempt to interpret industry announcements and events that have filled our pages and derive some larger meaning from them. In my case, however, I am taking my column back a full quarter of a century. Actually, as I hope readers will agree, in looking back to a ground-breaking event 25 years ago, I found some historical roots to go along with one of 2009’s major industry stories.

Von Hansen, currently an HP vice president, talks about the last 25 years of the LaserJet

Earlier this year, HP celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of one of the industry’s most important products, the LaserJet printer. (At that time, The Idaho Statesman covered the story, and rather than repeat that part of the saga, see “HP celebrates 25th anniversary of its LaserJet printer”). The product line survives and even prospers today, and the HP-Canon partnership that led to the original LaserJet is still intact and in fact, by at least some accounts, is growing and prospering as well. Von Hansen is currently an HP vice president who resides in Boise, ID, and who, more than two-and-a-half decades back, was a young engineering manager working at the same HP site and leading a team that developed that first LaserJet printer. In the 25 years since, Hansen has filled a variety of key roles in HP’s Imaging and Printing Group (IPG), most of them directly related to the LaserJet business. I had a chance to discuss this history with Hansen, focusing on how things have changed and how things have stayed the same, and here is a portion of that conversation. Taking care to avoid the purely nostalgic approach, this interview also takes a look at the future of the LaserJet product line and printing in general.

Observer: How long have you been with HP, and how and when did you first get involved with the LaserJet printer?

Hansen: I’m a 34-year veteran of HP, working with printers all along, starting in June 1976 as a development engineer on the HP 2680 laser printer. I spent five years helping to develop that printer. I was focused on its electronics and formatter.

Observer: Although that product predates the LaserJet considerably, the Canon connection was there too, correct?

Hansen: Yes, key pieces were provided to HP through an agreement with Canon, for example the electrophotographic (EP) drum, so the HP-Canon printer relationship really goes back 35 years. The 2680 printer was targeted at HP 3000 minicomputer customers originally and was released in 1981 after a long development cycle. I later worked as a controller/formatter project manager for impact printers as well. [When the LaserJet concept came along,] I led the team that worked with Canon on the definition of the controller.

Observer: Leading up to the LaserJet’s introduction to the market, what were some of the factors that HP saw as critical, and what decisions in the areas of product development were important, especially in light of the fast-track nature of the project?

Hansen: Canon had the all-in-one print cartridge, which they invented for small copiers. HP worked with Canon to create a laser printer from that—centered around its all-in-one, user-replaceable cartridge. The original LaserJet had a higher level of Canon content, so in addition to the print engine, the controller and electronics came from Canon, due to the shorter development cycle.

HP specified what we wanted included in the electronics, feature set, etcetera, but the formatter and engine were developed by Canon. We took 18 months (or even a bit less) from conception to market, with a fairly small team. At that time, most of HP’s [printer engineering] staffing was committed to developing our impact printers. [Former HP employee] Jim Hall was the section manager, and Roger Archibald was the engine project manager, and I was the project manager for the electronics and printer feature set, including PCL (which stands for Printer Control Language and originated in HP impact printers). PCL 4 was needed for the first time for the LaserJet due to some of the unique things about a page printer. We were also coordinating on printer languages across our Boise and Vancouver divisions (originators of the Thinkjet thermal ink jet printer from the same era). These were neat projects to work on, but we were part of a small team, while most of our peers were working on bigger “more important” projects.

Observer: Leading up to that May 1984 announcement, what were some of the predictions/feelings/emotions behind what might happen when the LaserJet hit the market?

Hansen: Lots of the enthusiasm came from partners, including Microsoft and Bill Gates himself. On visiting Microsoft for the first time with a prototype printer, they were immediately excited to see the demo in their offices, seeing the connection to drive the growth of some of their applications, like Word (and later, desktop publishing).

Observer: When did it become clear you had a hit on your hands?

Hansen: Even before launch at the Spring 1984 Comdex show in Atlanta we were excited, but at that show it was a big hit, including an appearance on the front page of the show daily indicating lots of interest in the new product. Then sales took off, and initial sales forecasts were nowhere near close to the actual results. [Editor’s note: as a Comdex attendee and HP employee at the time, working in another area of the company—I became an HP printer guy two years later—I remember my storage colleagues and I being pleased to see HP getting some “ink” with our new printer, but we were generally focused on other aspects of the show, so Von and I have an ongoing debate on the “hit of the show” memory. See my "Happy Anniversary" blog post.]

Observer: How was the relationship with Canon viewed within the company (HP) back in those days? As something that would last, or maybe as just a stopgap until HP could do its own grounds-up design?

Hansen: HP did invest in adding more of its own value after that first printer. The LaserJet IID (in 1988) was HP’s first with an extensive change in the mix. To get the features we wanted, electronics and formatter, we needed to do them. HP had strengths in electronics, connectivity, controllers, and so forth. We continued to rely on Canon to provide the EP parts of the printers because of their great strengths in EP, optics, manufacturing, etcetera, but the IID was the breakthrough product for HP’s value-add, which then continued on.

Observer: How would you characterize the relationship with Canon over the years? How about 2009’s deal allowing HP to sell Canon copiers, is that the biggest milestone in the Canon relationship since the beginning?

Hansen: Since we started with the 2680, it has always been a unique relationship. In looking at business across the world, I’ve asked, is there anything like it? A highly successful relationship, that has lasted over 25 years, that became so huge? Where both companies have unique talents and abilities, but where the combination is bigger and better than either could do themselves? HP’s PCL, fonts and cartridges, marketing expertise, plus Canon’s manufacturing and EP process, just to name a few examples. Of course there were a few stresses and strains from time to time, but neither could do it without the other, and it’s very balanced. To have that kind of relationship, strong today as ever, is pretty unique and special. Over all this time, it’s built on a lot of trust. The legalities aren’t huge—based on a trusting relationship through the years, and working it through as a team and meeting the marketing challenges and customer demands together.

We now believe we’re entering the second major phase, with HP adding 34 models, with the Canon copiers, actually we call them MFD’s (multifunction devices), high-end MFP’s, being sold as part of HP’s offering.

Observer: Can you share any insights, thoughts, hopes, dreams, etcetera that relate to the future of the LaserJet, say for the next 25 years?

Hansen: One key thing—again, it’s more than just printer boxes, but rather HP’s ecosystem around solutions, with, for example, OXP (Open Extensibility Platform). It’s the elements that HP is adding around the boxes. We’re coupling Canon’s products with HP’s solutions, verticals, workflows, and that’s a key growth area for us. MFD’s are high-end devices. We are striving for complete compatibility across the line. Managed Print Services (MPS) ties right in ... solutions and service from HP, from SMB (small and medium-sized businesses) to large companies, help them optimize their fleets, how they manage them, how they use them, and providing workflow solutions based on an industry’s needs and coupled with HP’s printers.


There are many lessons to be learned over the last 25 years, and with the “second major phase” of HP and Canon working together, there are many trends and directions to be explored on what the next 25 years will hold. Check back in the coming months for more conversations.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Engadget covers new Zink printer

Pandigital's new 4x6 photo printer, a first for Zink technology, is covered over at Engadget. (see "Pandigital crams Zink technology within Portable Photo Printer".) It's their second printer-related story in four days (see also "Epson unleashes PictureMate Show photo frame that's also a printer"), which is nice to see (maybe something to do with the time of year?), though I can't argue with their "filed under" designation, i.e. "Misc. Gadgets".

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

iPhone apps meet Presto

Just a year ago, I devoted two successive Observations columns to a couple of companies that were targeted hard-copy devices towards applications facilitating communications between extended families, with a special emphasis on the elderly population and their needs. (see "Observations: Hard Copy Communications for Families").

This morning Presto and Doctor Marion of Elder Health Resources of America have announced two new iPhone apps, Elder911 and Elder411. (See "Why Presto and Doctor Marion developed 'Elder Apps' for iPhone"). (And thanks to Presto CEO Peter Radsliff for his LinkedIn note on the announcement.)

Monday, November 30, 2009

HPQ Q42009 Printer Metrics and commentary

I have been away for a few days, so missed a prompt update on HP's announcement of quarterly results, which took place Monday, November 23rd. However, here are the summarized metrics for the Imaging and Printing Group (IPG), as well my first impressions as I get caught up on the announcement and related materials.

HP CEO Mark Hurd was quite enthusiastic about printing overall, with the presentation "Key Messages" slide claiming "IPG poised for recovery". Clearly, profits held strong, despite a number of decreases continuing on quarterly top-line unit and revenue numbers, as seen in the spreadsheet below. Obviously, as supplies continue to dominate by exhibiting lower y/y decreases than hardware (8% versus 27%), and comprised nearly 70% of overall IPG revenue in the fourth quarter of 2009. (It seems not that long ago when supplies breached the magic "50% mark".)

Other impressions? Hurd's reputation for operational efficiency is evident in the numbers as well as remarks, including this passage from an answer to a question regarding expected growth in supplies and hardware from Katy Huberty, of Morgan Stanley, as contained in the earnings call transcript.

I think, Katy, let me go up a level for you. In many ways, the tough market has been a blessing for IPG. The business is now run with stronger operational rigor than we've ever had before. As Cathie mentioned, the inventory's been leaned out. Sales in and sales out are continuing to converge. We've made progress on the cost structure. Clearly we have more work to do. To the point of the question printer demand is picking up. And we plan to grow printers materially double digits in printer units in Q1. While staying within the operating margins. A little bit will depend on what the demand looks like and how we go for the printer unit growth. We will trade off operating profit dollars no question about it. What we're talking about doing, we couldn't have done it a year and a half ago. We simply couldn't have done it at the magnitude that we are going to do it. Frankly, that the -- in a strange way the 2009 situation was a positive for us and we knew this was coming as we said through 2009, we saw strong page performance and strong supply usage through 2009.

And on the opportunities for IPG? From the prepared remarks, as reported in the transcript, Hurd identifies three areas beyond the basic printer and supplies outlook improving (with my bolding):

IPG is poised for recovery and is getting on the attack. As we enter fiscal year 2010, the headwinds in channel inventory are behind us. We expect supplies growth to improve with economic trends, and employment levels and project a flattish result in Q1. Demand is also improving for our printers. We gained share sequentially and we expect to drive further share in installed base gains with double digit printer unit growth in Q1. Due to improvements in our cost structure we can do this while remaining within the 15 to 17% operating margin that we laid out at our analyst meeting in September. IPG is also gaining significant traction with its growth initiatives. We deployed hundreds of photo kiosks this quarter at Wal-Mart and look forward to further expansion in 2010.

Recent studies released by market analysts highlight HPs leadership in managed print services with more signings than any of our competitors. We're encouraged by our Managed Print Services funnel, which is at record levels, these deals are generally for multiple years and have a high attach rate of supplies. In commercial print the analog to digital page shift is occurring and we are leveraging our technology to accelerate the transition. Partnerships with industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, RR Donnelly, and web press purchases from communication leaders, Omnicom demonstrate the power of our portfolio and capabilities. We expect you will hear more partnerships from us shortly.With our significant market leadership and broad patent portfolio, we are well positioned to capture this significant page opportunity.

Interesting to note that despite the optimism, Indigo page growth, at 13%, was at its lowest mark since it began being reported several years ago. (Though, in fairness, anything UP 13% in these economic times is pretty impressive!)

Happy Cyber Monday!

Decades ago, even before I was involved directly with printers, the branch of the high-tech world where I worked (storage) often referred to $X/MB ratios. Many orders of magnitude have come and gone in that business -- for example, in the early 1980's HP shocked the world with a 400MB hard drive for a stunningly low $25,000! And of course, those same "orders" have come and gone in our printer industry as well. CNET's Cheapskate blog's post "Get a Brother HL-2140 laser printer for $49.98 shipped" makes me think back to those ratios for the first time in a long time, and how maybe the printer idustry will be crossing a dollar-per-ppm threshold sometime soon, if that means anything. Brother's 23ppm mono laser printer can be had for $50, meaning we're at a little over $2/ppm, again, if that's meaningful as anything other than as a geeky ratio.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Black Friday!

My friends over at (Search: "Printer") have some great printer and AIO/MFP deals highlighted, but today's big find goes to the blog. Today, Rick Broida is highlighting the Polaroid PoGo Zink-based printer, covered in this blog many times for its newsworthy achievements (see example), at Amazon's door-busting price of $29.95!

Speaking of Zink, Tekla Perry has a recent in-depth piece in IEEE Spectrum on the Massachusetts-based firm.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November Observations -- Interview with Ian Schenkel of EuroSmartz

Observations: Interview with Ian Schenkel of EuroSmartz

Completing the fourth year of my monthly “Observations” column for the Observer, I find myself reflecting back on the exciting variety of subjects I have had the chance to cover. Originally, my beat included two rather broad but related areas of the printer industry—simply stated, its past and its future. The former category often includes a healthy dose of nostalgia regarding how things have changed since foregone days when we were all young but also a reminder of how things may have stayed the same. The latter category is where I point to areas I have observed that are new and emerging.

However, a third category has developed, tied to the future, which is interviewing and reporting on some of the people involved with future-looking products and technologies. These entrepreneurs have typically been contributing to the future of our industry, and this month, I had the pleasure of chatting with Ian Schenkel, co-founder of EuroSmartz Ltd., the company known for being “#1 for Printing Apps on the iPhone and iPod Touch.”

Ian, along with brother Martin, form the basis of a bi-continental team, spanning England and New Zealand, a time-zone combination that the company sees as a big advantage with respect to making good on fast-turnaround 24 × 7 product support. For cohesiveness, I have consolidated a series of international phone calls and e-mails with Ian Schenkel into one interview .

Lyons: What is your professional background?

Schenkel: EuroSmartz was formed in 1994 when we launched a sales force automation application for Mac and Windows. Over the years, it has taken a few different iterations and has now turned into mainly an iPhone-app developing company specializing in printing apps. I am based in Amersham, which is 25 miles northwest of London, and my background has pretty much all been software sales and marketing—I have also helped establish a number of U.S. software companies in Europe.

My brother Martin is based in Auckland, New Zealand and has been a developer for more years than I can remember. His background is in C, C++, Java, and many other different languages. Part of the reason we started EuroSmartz in the first place was because of our complementary skill sets, which has really paid off well for us in the app store.

You need to create great, innovative apps to sell in volume [Martin’s job], but now with 100,000 apps, you also need to make some noise to stand out [my job].

Lyons: What led you to iPhone apps and especially to those that feature printing?

Schenkel: The decision to make iPhone apps was actually pretty easy, I read a few pieces about developers that were making apps for the iPhone and how the SDK [software development kit] was pretty easy to use. I then spoke to my brother, and he downloaded the SDK, and we started making apps.

As for the specifics of printing, that came about from looking for gaps in the apps that were available and also because of our own use of the iPhone—we found there was no solution at the time to print anything, so we thought we would design and build something ourselves. It was a bit of a learning curve getting into passing information and documents to the myriad print drivers on both Mac and PC, but once that was broken down and built, the rest followed pretty easily. Most enhancements we add to our apps are customer-driven requests. Field testing is always the best way to build better products, and we now have an absolutely huge number of customers that give us great feedback.

Lyons: Without saying exactly what is “huge,” can you provide some scale on the success of your apps?

Schenkel: The "number-one" claim we make on our Web site is due to the fact we are the top selling paid printing app in the entire app store and have been for all of 2009. We have two printing apps in the top 100 of productivity, and no other printing app in the store will print the range of document formats that our apps support. Because of this position we have sold more in terms of volume across our family of apps than any other printing app vendor.

Lyons: Will you tell us about being included in one of Apple’s famous “There’s an app for that” television commercials?

Schenkel: The ad was a little out of the blue really, Apple were looking for business apps that enabled them to showcase how the iPhone is a useful business tool. Print n Share was shortlisted and eventually made its place in the Office ad. There is not a huge amount more I can say about the ad, it was all very exciting but also very easy. The biggest thing we had to prepare for was translating the app into other languages. The ad showed in the U.S., UK, Japan, and France. Seeing the app for the first time in Japanese was fun, we knew each of the buttons but could not read what they had on them. We also helped Apple with the sequence of our app in the ad, so that it all flowed correctly.

Lyons: What’s next for EuroSmartz?

Schenkel: We have a number of new apps in the pipeline, some are variations on printing, and some are a complete departure. However the biggest initiative we have in place right now is integrating with other apps to enable them to print. We have created a simple way that other app developers can use our app to print. We provide all the tools for them to build this, and best of all it is free for the developer. Once the apps are integrated, all the customer needs to do is have our app along with the other app on their iPhone, and they can print from that app. We feel this is going to bring some major new features to the iPhone. So far we have two apps integrated and quite a number more in the pipeline.

We are adding four new apps that have integrated with our printing apps in the next few weeks, so we are excited about launching those too.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ad Age looks at the new (online) PC Magazine

In a piece entitled "What Life Is Like for Titles After They Leave Print", Nat Ives of Advertising Age takes a look at publications that have converted to an online-only presence, including, among others, PC Magazine. The transition was covered in this blog in last November and this January, and Ives' follow-up nearly a year after the transition traces some of the changes the magazine has faced. An excerpt:
That meant an end to the product troubleshooting guides that once worked so well in the magazine, because countless websites, including manufacturers' own, by then offered the same thing. Professional laboratory reviews of gizmos and electronics, on the other hand, drew a lot of traffic and remained costly for competitors to match. A similar evaluation unfolded on the business side, where the reduced sales force all but gave up chasing advertisers from outside core tech categories. Partnerships with outsiders, such as a content deal with Yahoo and keyword ads from Google, became more important.

Interesting developments, and a recommended read!

Canon is buying Océ

Without a great deal of perspective to add here, it still must be noted that Canon has announced its intended purchase of Océ, the Netherlands-based provider of high-end printing gear and services. Yesterday's announcement represents further consolidation in the printing industry. In a related note, Konica Minolta, another industry player and partner with Océ in various areas of the business, has stated it has no intent to counter Canon's 730-Million-Euro offer.

Monday, November 09, 2009

iPhone Printing Apps in bloom

The last three or four weeks have seen a plethora of iPhone printing apps hit the market. Canon (Easy-PhotoPrint), Kodak (NYSE EK) (Pic Flick) and Lexmark (NYSE LXK) (LexPrint) have joined HP (NYSE HPQ) (iPrint Photo), as providers of photo-printing apps that 1) are free, and 2) work on a subset of their own branded printers, which are typically WiFi-enabled but in some cases simply reside on the same WiFi LAN as the user's iPhone.

The overall market hasn't totally ignored the developments either, with LexPrint gaining kudos from Gizmodo. (see photo)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Observations: Lexmark 4019—Happy Birthday to You!

Observations: Lexmark 4019—Happy Birthday to You!

As the end of the first decade of the 21st century nears, the world economy is attempting to slowly pick itself up from one of the meanest slumps in several generations. And the printer business is licking its wounds, counting on a reversal in a downturn in printer shipments and print volumes exacerbated by the slowdown in economic activities. But as it turns out, 2009 is a year to celebrate anniversaries in the printing and imaging industry.

Earlier this year, HP trumpeted the original HP LaserJet printer's 25th birthday (see "Happy 25th Anniversary HP LaserJet"), and last week, Lexmark touted the 20th anniversary of the introduction of the venerable IBM 4019. As pointed out in an excellent piece on the history of the product’s development effort by Scott Sloan in the Lexington Herald-Leader and online at, and first noted in this blog in last week's "Happy 20th Anniversary, Lexmark", the 4019 was IBM’s first grounds-up laser printer design and used the combined skills of IBM people in the printer division in Boulder, CO and those in Lexington, KY, historically IBM’s typewriter facility. The headline of Sloan’s piece captures the even greater significance of the printer: “Laser printer project in ‘80s led to Lexmark.” The spinoff of IBM’s printer group and the creation of Lexmark (NYSE LXK) International occurred in 1991, coming on the back of the success of the 4019, and was a huge step in the industry. But I think it is also worthwhile to look back a little more at the product itself, its development, and the state of the laser printer business in the late 1980s.

Like stories about the original HP (NYSE HPQ) LaserJet and Apple LaserWriter, this one goes even beyond the reach of The Hard Copy Observer archives, which begin in October 1991. Fortunately, PC Magazine and its annual printer issue was there to record the emergence of the 4019, though interestingly, in the “6th annual Printer Issue” dated November 18, 1989 (see photo of cover), the product is only referred to as the IBM LaserPrinter, with nary a mention of “4019”—the name change would come later.

The 1989 PC Magazine printer issue's cover featured a "better than a LaserJet" blurb (mid-left) in a reference to the 4019, but in a warning of the competition marching on, HP's "$1,000 laser" also appears (mid-right). The IBM LaserPrinter review appears on Page 156 of the issue (incredibly, less than one-third of the way through the mammoth printer issue of 1989) and is written by M. David Stone, who 20 years later is still actively penning PC Magazine printer pieces, by the way. The printer is also highlighted with a “Better Than LaserJet—from IBM” teaser on the front cover and shares space in the Laser Printer category’s “Editor’s Choice” summation with two models each from Brother and HP and single models from QMS and Varityper. The laser printer category in the magazine included 35 models that year, representing still-present manufacturers such as Canon and Ricoh as well as LaserMaster, Printronix, Talaris, and Unisys, which are either no longer in the printer industry or no longer around period.

Publishing lead times being what they were back then may explain why the issue contains no advertisement for the IBM LaserPrinter. A two-page spread for the IBM Personal Page Printer II appears however (the firm’s previous effort aimed at the higher-end desktop publishing market), as does a similar spread for the ubiquitous (at the time) IBM Proprinter dot matrix model.

However, I personally remember TV commercials for the 4019 showing up during Monday Night Football in that same time frame, which was a sure sign that IBM was taking laser printing, and its competition with HP, very seriously. The grounds-up effort represented in the 4019 was clearly motivating IBM in the marketing end of things. And with the company's strong association and leadership in the personal computer space, going back to the original PC in 1981, many assumed that IBM had built-in advantages with many customers, given the right product offering.

Not Just (Pure) Nostalgia

Sloan’s current-day article relies on interviews featuring thoughts from Lexmark employees Paul Curlander (back then, 4019 product manager and currently CEO), Harry Cooper (then, software and firmware development manager and today, director of digital imaging systems), and Gregory Ream (originally senior engineer of electrophotographic technology development and now Lexmark Laureate in laser technology). According to these interviews, IBM was attempting to improve upon reducing product size, correct-order output, and the ability to print envelopes, vis-à-vis the HP LaserJet.

During the IBM development process beginning in 1986, which led to the new product’s introduction in the fall of 1989, HP was not standing still, of course. The LaserJet II made a huge market splash in 1987, bringing numerous improvements to the category that HP was already leading, though remaining an 8 ppm machine. By 1989, HP had extended the new platform, with an improved-paper-handling product (LaserJet IID) and the industry’s first sub-$1,000 laser printer, the compact (and slower) LaserJet IIP. However, the fact that HP could make so much progress but still leave so much room for improvement is testimony to the potential and immaturity of the laser printer market twenty years ago. In summarizing the LaserPrinter’s virtues, quoting from Stone’s summary review, “The IBM LaserPrinter is certainly a challenge to the HP LaserJet. About 20 percent faster and 40 percent smaller than the LaserJet, this IBM-designed and –manufactured laser printer features quality output. It also offers superb paper handling: it’s the first laser printer that can handle envelopes without jamming. Of course, it’s only a LaserJet clone, but it’s a clone from a highly reliable source.” Even that clone comment was a virtue, as explained in the longer review, as it assured compatibility with existing software solutions for prospective buyers.

The 4019 effort shows the success that can be achieved by deeply understanding the competition (Sloan’s article relates the story of Curlander packing the Lexington offices with multiple HP LaserJets, just for this purpose) and then going after that firm’s product deficiencies, but taking this approach against an existing market-leading product via a multi-year development effort is tricky. The development effort runs the risk of becoming an exercise in chasing old products with new product visions, and the incumbents are certainly aware of issues and working to improve their old products with efforts of their own.

While some may argue that the 4019 was at most the third biggest laser printer introduction of the 1980s, trailing the original HP LaserJet and Apple LaserWriter in significance in shaping the categories of general office printing and higher-end desktop publishing, in other ways it was the most important. Though never vaulting its parent company (old or new) to an outright lead in the business, the 4019 led to the establishment of a whole new printer company: Lexmark International. The idea of being part of a spun-off, standalone printer company without the “drag” of the larger parent (and also lacking the support during leaner times) was a very common vision among industry participants in those heady days. Former IBMers who became part of the new firm experienced the independence and the ultimately mixed blessing of which Apple and HP printer folks could only dream.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The joy of printers!

I've been avoiding these hands-on posts for awhile, and when I do one, I generally try to stay clear of HP products and solutions (emphasis on try). Regular readers know I'm an HP (NYSE HPQ) alum (1981-2005), and as an analyst/writer covering the printer industry for The Hard Copy Observer, I can't get around covering the leader, Hewlett Packard. But even then, I tend to stick to covering things from the big-picture, business-strategy standpoint.

But...I have to report some rather joyful printer experiences I have had just recently. I purchased an Officejet Pro 8000 at a ridiculously (at least to me) low price from, plugged it right into my home LAN (Ethernet), and have been happily printing away -- reports, articles, papers -- ever since. And the ink monitor (via the printer's web page) shows miserly amounts of those precious liquids having been spilled, after several hundred pages of documents and photos. Everything has worked flawlessly, I am so pleased to report!

And while the printer itself doesn't feature WiFi, like so many HP's do these days (see "HP is wild about wireless"), my Apple iPhone picked up its presence immediately, using HP's iPrint Photo (v 1.0.3) (see "iPhone Printing boom"). I'm now even using my iPhone as a photo print server/director, of sorts, moving photos from other sources to the phone, and then to the photo printer.

And by the way, in the recently more sensitive full-disclosure department (see "FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials -- Changes Affect Testimonial Advertisements, Bloggers, Celebrity Endorsements"), all the products mentioned here were either paid for, by me, or offered free.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy 20th anniversary, Lexmark (NYSE LXK)

Scott Sloan at the Lexington Herald-Leader and has an interesting piece saluting the IBM printer efforts centered in Lexington 20 years ago, that became stand-alone printer-maker Lexmark (NYSE LXK) a few years later. In "Laser printer project in '80s led to Lexmark", Sloan interviews current Lexmark and former IBMers Gregory Ream, Paul Curlander and Harry Cooper, on some of the before-and-after stories related to the introduction, on October 10, 1989, of the IBM 4019 Laser Printer. Fascinating is the focus on the industry leader HP (NYSE HPQ) and its LaserJet printer, and the improvements IBM targeted, including a product size (weight) that would be half of the HP's, and, interestingly, "correct order output", which the LaserJet didn't offer.

HP, which celebrated the 25th anniversary of the LaserJet printer earlier this year (see "HP celebrates 25th anniversary of its LaserJet printer"), remains the market leader in laser printing, with Lexmark, which split from IBM as a corporate spin-off in the early 1990's and assumed its own identity a few years afer that, continues as a major player in the category, too.

Friday, October 09, 2009

HP's Print Apps Store update

A month ago I posted about the opening of HP's Printer App store (see "Printer Apps Store Launches"), and also added a first-look at the selection of apps available (see "Day One -- HP Ushers in New Era of Consumer Printing with Full Suite of Print Solutions").

Microsoft made news this week with the opening of their app store (see "Windows mobile app store, My Phone service officially opening"), albeit unlike HP and the same as the king-of-the-hill Apple iPhone app store, their effort is dedicated to phones and mobile devices. With Apple's number of apps recently reaching close to six figures, with over two billion downloads (see "85,500 iPhone apps, 2 billion downloads") it's easy to see Microsoft's nascent effort, with over 100 apps, as a reverse of the Windows/Mac days in terms of the overwhelming ratio of applications. But, even in a totally different category, how is the HP Print Apps store measuring up?

As compared to a month ago, the HP Print Apps section of the HP Creative Studio is now featuring 15 print apps, up from 14 last month (see Screen Shots above). The most popular seems to be the app from, with a total of nine user comments to date, average a 4+ star rating.

While web printers versus mobile phones may be an apples-to-oranges comparison (pun acknowledged but not intended), it would seem HP has a long way to go to be in the company of Microsoft apps store (acknowledged as about the sixth entry in the race), let alone the leader.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Even more on rebates

I found last week's post on printer rebates so intriguing, I had to follow up a week later, this time with the most recent "dirty dozen" of great printer deals from, and lo and behold, this week only one rebate. The old "MIR" (i.e. mail-in rebate) seems to be a diminishing if not dying breed, at least when it comes to printers.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Rebate update

Wow, it's been over three years since I penned my September 2006 Observations, "The Tipping Point -- The End of Rebates". With the promise to "check back" on the situation, Rick Broida's "Cheapskate Blog" and today's post, "The state of rebates: Has reliability improved?", prompted be to go back and look. (BTW check back on that blog as the comments mount up.)

While in 2006 I was speculating on the potential demise of the Mail-in Rebate (MIR) at least for the printer industry, a quick survey indicates they are indeed seriously on the wane. A look at and their ten most recent printer "deals" shows a MIR required for only two of them, veritable "Outliers" these day!

Here's the data from my unscientific but interesting study:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Observations: Document Management with Twitter? A Start Anyway

Observations: Document Management with Twitter? A Start Anyway

Last month I promised a column on some interesting findings regarding Twitter and its document-management capabilities. It's been a fascinating exploration, with some very surprising findings. It turns out that “Twitter Document Management,” a seeming oxymoron in itself, is a developing area, with the humble clippable coupon playing a starring role.

For decades now, document management, at least to many of us in the printer industry, has maintained a lofty, sometimes seemingly unreachable position. Currently, it occupies the ultimate position as a part of many Managed Print Services (MPS) offerings, but long before the current popularity of MPS, document management has been "something better" than simply printing, and a search of the The Hard Copy Observer archives shows the phrase "document management" appearing in virtually every issue since its first appearance in April 1992. (The Observer dates back to its first issue in October 1991.)

So to think the fact that the 140-character-limited Twitter, with all its simplicity and even (dare I say it) fad-like characteristics, could play a role in the management of documents, brings a smile (or is that a smirk) to my face. But Twitter has a start…with solutions like TwitDoc coming on the scene to offer document portability and accessibility via Twitter.


While not the only Twitter application of its kind, I was attracted to TwitDoc as an easy-to-use solution for attaching documents to tweets, and its tie-in with old friend Scribd (Observer, 5/08) made it an interesting one for me to explore. I might add that I am taking the bold step to include TwitDoc as part of a "document management" solution, as the company's more explicit description of its product is "The EASY way to share your documents on Twitter."

I first blogged about TwitDoc in May of this year, and have used it a bit. My typical Twitter mode is sharing links and other tidbits with readers and students, so the occasional TwitDoc application is appropriate. For example, when analyzing tweets on HP's June announcement of the HP Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart Web all-in-one, I was able to compile all the tweets on the topic (sorted by hashtag #hpreveal), put them into a document using, (Observer 7/09), and then distribute the document to my Twitter followers using TwitDoc (see screenshot).

As my interest in TwitDoc grew, I found they had some excellent coverage already. The RockyRadar blog has an excellent profile of TwitDoc (see "TwitDoc Becoming the Source for Document Sharing on Twitter") that covers much of the background I was interested in, but a call to co-founder Bob Brinker answered a few of my additional questions. To those for whom that name sounds familiar, Brinker shares his name with his father, a Broadcasting Hall of Fame member and longtime host of the radio talk show, "Moneytalk." Both junior and senior Brinker have interests in financial publishing as well, with financial newsletters to both their names. The younger Brinker's career in IT, combined with this financial publishing interests, combined to inspire him, along with fellow IT veteran and partner Mike Ormsby, to establish TwitDoc.

While using TwitDoc is simplicity itself and easier to use than describe (go ahead give it a try), some of the business aspects of the application were intriguing to me. When asked about revenue models, Brinker replied, "We have an advertising model on viewing docs, and since Twitter is marketing and PR-oriented, we have made it (TwitDoc) freely accessible. As Twitter gains traction, becomes more reliable and more relied upon, TwitDoc will be in [a] position to offer custom branding, as in 'create your own branded viewer'." Alternatively Brinker adds, "[Revenues also may be available] via micropayments for documents. There is currently no real overall leader in micropayments, and even those out in front, like PayPal, are not all that slick. The model is iTunes. We will get there in the Twitter world, I believe, with both advertising and micropayment models."

When asked about overall document volumes, Brinker is bullish. "A lot of business documents will continue in Word, Excel, PDF, and it does make sense to distribute them via tools like Twitter."

What about the relationship with Scribd? Brinker says, "We were drawn to Scribd, as we didn't want to recreate the viewer. Scribd, with the largest user base out there, and the most developed system. Other competitors require a download-then-view, Scribd doesn't." Additionally he adds, "Scribd has been good to work with. From a publisher's point of view, they're strict on copyright, their publishing engines automatically block copyright."

And other than Brinker and his financial newsletters, who else, and for what, is TwitDoc being used for today? Again, back to the premise that document management can generally sound a lot more lofty and presumptuous than it needs to, without practical examples, a quick search of Twitter reveals a typical application: coupons. For example, Dave's Auto of Ohio was offering a $50 off deal! (See illustrations.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Hard Copy Observer -- now online!

We've commented on these transitions in the past (e.g. see "The New (Online) PC Magazine"), but it's now happened in the Lyra Research family. The Hard Copy Observer is now online!

Long in the planning stages, the August 2009 issue will be the last in the traditional (mostly) black-and-white newsletter format, the publication that has delivered the printer industry's news and updates, in detail and with insight available nowhere else, since 1991.

Lyra's Publications Vice President Ann Priede discusses the transition in her "From the editor..." piece. From her column:

Welcome to the Observer Online! All of the news and analysis that you've come to depend on from The Hard Copy Observer is now just a click away. Lyra's new online site provides you with the same in-depth coverage of product announcements and industry events, only now this news is delivered to your desktop—when you want it, how you want it. Bookmark this page now and browse the site each day for the latest industry news as well as in-depth analysis of market trends and vendor strategies. Or click on the news stories displayed in the weekly e-mail that will show up in your mailbox alerting you to new articles and information.

And to answer questions, my Observations column will CONTINUE to appear here, as well as in the online Observer! Look back here in a day or two for September's column, delayed just a bit by our digital transition...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

HP (NYSE HPQ) Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart Web All-in-One Printer and HP's DreamScreen

Ed Baig of USAToday has a piece in today's paper (and online) "This HP (NYSE HPQ) printer doesn't need a PC to print stuff from the Web". I found Ed's piece to be quite favorable towards the product we've covered here since its June announcement (see "HP Reveals".

I particularly found his concluding remarks favorable regarding the product and the potential category of products it represents:
It'll take awhile, but as prices fall, I suspect Web printers will become the norm. Lexmark recently hit the market with its own Web-connected all-in-ones, targeted at small businesses. HP's start is promising. The last chapter is yet to be printed.

On another HP front, the company today announced the DreamScreen (see "HP's Dandy DreamScreen"), per @harrymccracken at Technologizer, "Photo Frames on Steroids". We've covered the Photo Frame category here, from time to time, more with an eye to their role as a "print substitute" (see "Photo Frames - Printer Friend or Foe?"). So that potential clash still exists, in this case with two products from HP both with enhanced Web access capabilities, and apparently targeted at two different camps customers who want print or want display, but who share the desire for a well-packaged, easy-to-use appliance that circumvents the need for a PC.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Day One -- HP Ushers in New Era of Consumer Printing with Full Suite of Print Solutions

With HP's news on Tuesday of the official launch of its Web-based printing applications store (see "HP Print Apps store launches"), it seems important to log the first day's action. The above two screen shots show the available apps, and it's interesting to think that after one day, we see 14 apps, most with a high "star" rating, though with only a couple of comments. Wouldn't it be great to go back and see this first day's results from the Apple iPhone apps store?

HP Print Apps store launches

If this post-Labor Day surprise from HP doesn't quite measure up to 2001 and the company's announced intention to acquire Compaq Computer, maybe we can all breathe a little easier. This news is simply the launch of the iPhone-apps-store-like HP Apps Studio, announced in June (see "HP Reveals! Web-enabled inkjet all-in-one sets new industry direction"), along with some new partners, like AOL (!) and CNET.

And it's interesting tracking the early response to the news. ZDNet's Larry Dignan, with a video analysis by Sam Diaz, hit pretty hard. In their piece "HP plays the print app game; Will you buy into 'Printing 2.0'?", the App Studio screen shot is followed by the slide from the Q3 Financials slide set (see "HP Printer Metrics, Q3 FY2009 Results") and questions HP's (and the industry's) need to get back on track with printing in both home and office. And so far, the readers' comments (though not volumes) seem rather lukewarm on the new urge to print that might be brought about by some of HP's recent innovations.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Needing printer industry tweets -- six months later

In what I've already confeessed to having been one of my more clueless posts in the history of JimLyonsObservations, it's been six months to the day since my infamous "Do we need printer industry tweets?" and the conclusion, actual two conclusions, are the a) yes, we need them, and b) wake up, Lyons, we already have them!

As I pointed out in my July Observations, "Twitter Printing", I was in that very typical early Twitter user confusion state six months ago. I'd had an account for some time, couldn't see what the fuss was about, and assumed most everyone else was with me. As it turned out, much printer-related Twitter activity was already under way, and the number has grown significantly. How so you might ask?

Well, like in other web activities of the recent past, certain categories lead in tweeting as well. The printer OEMs are doing some tweeting (for example, @HPIPG, @xeroxevents, and @LexmarkNews), and some of the research houses and analysts come through with some too (e.g. @Infotrends), but the champs are split among the traditionally active bloggers, both growing and established (see @greg_walters, @artpost, @driessen, Greg_VDQ, and the irrepressible @databazaar) and those who cover commercial printing as well as some of those participants (@neenahpaper and @whattheythink come to mind).

Just a quick look at these 10 or so Twitters accounts (all among my 1,000 or so "followed" accounts) shows a range of one or two orders of magnitude in their numbers of followers and tweets (or "updates"). It's clearly still a developing area, but I have visions of maintaining a regular "printer industry members on Twitter" listing, much like those of @KentHuffman and his Marketing-related Twitter lists.

So printer-industry tweeters, please make your presence known, and thanks for all those great tweets!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Managed Print Services as harbinger of print volumes

In perusing (yes, as in studying in detail) HP's earnings information including the Q3 FY2009 earnings call transcript now available online, I found one interesting tidbit worth a short blog post of its own, IMHO.

In answering one of numerous questions -- this one from Richard Gardner of Citigroup -- regarding the printing business and its mostly negative numbers (see "HP Printing Metrics"), CEO Mark Hurd responded as follows (my emphasis, and yes that's all one sentence!):

Well, supplies if you start looking at the data we look at and I'll let [CFO] Cathie [Lesjak] comment on it as well, supplies has really been pretty consistent through this entire environment and you have to look at it again ex currency and you have to look at it ex inventory correction and when you look at the data we get back from consumers printing is one of the least things they want to stop and when we look at our enterprise business we actually have the benefit of having major contracts with very big companies where we actually manage all of their printing and they give us annual estimates for how much they will print in a year and most of our customers are exceeding those estimates even in this economy of how many pages they're printing so from a supplies perspective it's been pretty consistent and clearly what people have chosen to do is not buy that incremental unit they would ordinarily buy in a good economy.

While that's an interesting tidbit from a print demand standpoint (and would seemingly contradict indications of print declines from elsewhere), I am also fascinated by the idea that the presence of Managed Print Services contracts add foresight into print volumes and supplies revenues. What are possible reasons for printing increases, from an HP perspective? Are the devices under management (predominately HP-branded machines we assume) now the favored printers and copiers, taking on print volumes that might have been diverted outside the managed group? So perhaps overall printing is down in the organization but printing on the HP-managed hardware is up? Hmmm...stay tuned on this one.

HP Printer Metrics, Q3 FY2009 Results

As is my quarterly tradition, here's a tracking table of HP's printer-related numbers released as part of the after-the-close announcement yesterday, August 18 2009.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Anticipating HP (NYSE HPQ) Q3 numbers, a look at another print volume indicator

With the HP (NYSE HPQ) third-quarter earnings announcement set to come after tomorrow's closing bell (see "Hewlett Packard Likely to see Strength in Services, PCs"), an intriguing view of the industry comes from colleague Tom Ashley at Pivotal Resources. In a new white paper, "Does Digital Printing Have a Future?" (free registration required), Ashley reports some very revealing results from the paper side of the printing equation, pointing to longer-term trend line declines in printing going back ten years.

US consumption of Printing and Writing papers (as defined
by the paper industry) provides another measure of printing
activity. After growing at 3.0% per annum from 1991 to 2000
to peak at 31.3 million tons, US consumption has fallen at
a rate of 1.7% from 2000 through 2008. Consumption has
fallen by 23% through the first six months of 2009 (month/

The report goes on to detail further industry metrics, including those for "uncoated freesheet paper", the subset of printing paper most relevant to digital printing, and similar numbers noting declines in Europe.

Ashley's premise includes the need for the industry's own acceptance of printing's decline, that goes beyond seeking correlation of recent shortfalls (like HP's recent quarterly supplies declines) with decreases in business activity and economic factors. Rather, the shifts need to be understood more for "changes in business processes and worker habits" to include even recently touted duplex printing, and that have made for longer-term, fundamental declines, exacerbated but not caused by macroeconomic factors such as lower employment.

His antidote? As expressed in the white paper and in follow-up conversations, Ashley sees the industry at a crossroads, needing to accept changes with a healthy perspective, and begin to more actively seek out related printing opportunities. Some of these are quite familiar, like short-run digital replacing traditional commmercial print jobs (which, he acknowledges, are already contributing to the paper usage decline), transpromotional printing, and some not now as visible on the horizon, but coming fast, for example decorative printing.

A highly recommended read, once again at the Pivotal Resources web site, "Does Digital Printing Have a Future?"

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Observations: Summer Rerun?

Observations: Summer Rerun?

After last month’s Twitter printing column, I planned to write a next-level column on Twitter document management. But when my editor subtly suggested that I “give Twitter a rest,” I realized she and most of you are probably among that silent majority of our population that is getting fairly fed up with the vocal minority of Twitter fans (or freaks, may be more like it.) So I am following the suggestion and giving Twitter a month off.

My title “Summer Rerun” was selected partly for its cliché value, as there are many fresh developments to be covered. Also, as I write this column, summer is in full swing, and because my subject matter includes companies and technologies from past columns, the television term “rerun” comes to mind. But lest you are tempted to stop reading now, be aware that each of my subjects has late-breaking material to be reviewed.

Tale of A Few Startups

Two startup firms I have covered in the past have been in the news recently, with varying degrees of pleasantness. In February 2007, my column described GreenPrint, the Portland, OR-based company with a product of the same name that helps users control and eliminate unwanted printed pages. None other than Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal’s Personal Technology column had positively reviewed the firm’s initial product. Since then I have tracked GreenPrint, after visiting the company and testing the product, and I was interested to see a company profile and a review of the new version of the firm’s software, this one in The New York Times.

In the article titled, “That Long, Long Road From Idea to Success,” Vindu Goel paints a great picture of the company’s struggles to “get over the hump” in such a well-written and compelling piece that I am now using it as an example in my marketing and innovation classes. Goel covers the company’s strategic decision to base its new product version on Microsoft’s XPS print architecture (Observer, 8/08) in hopes of improving performance and gaining new looks from enterprise customers. (Full disclosure department: I took Goel to task a bit in my blog for his characterization of the printer market with which I did not totally agree.)

P.T. Barnum said there is no such thing as bad publicity, but this review was not as favorable as Mossberg’s. (Goel’s product review is in a separate online-only review titled, “GreenPrint Saves Paper and Ink at the Price of Speed”.) Goel knocks the product’s performance, and my personal results have been mixed as well, as compared to the original version. One PC was significantly faster, but another (my production laptop) exhibited odd, halting performance. Troubleshooting with the firm continues, though the recent 2.0.3 version has improved the performance noticeably, especially after the first print job after a restart.

The other startup I will mention was covered here more recently: The Printed Blog (TPB). In my April 2009 column, I wrote about Joshua Karp’s ambitious startup and his plans to expand his circulation beyond his Chicago base, pulling in a lot of interest and support along the way from the press and readers. But on July 7, I received an e-mail from Joshua titled, “The Printed Blog ceases publication…,” that included a short synopsis of TPB’s demise, citing a lack of outside investment capital. The multi-part blog post from the same day contains some interesting insights about publishing and the world of startups. Here is a brief passage that we all can learn from on Karp’s mistakes:

“Well, I got distracted by all of the press we received. Once we were in The New York Times, and I was getting interview requests from radio and TV and newspapers all over the world, I started to think that I could build the newspaper for the next 100 years. Instead of focusing on one thing—revenue—on a small enough scale to prove our model, I decided to try and publish the paper in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles… I got carried away, and we spread ourselves too thin too fast. So stay FOCUSED! Prove your model incrementally… and if you happen upon something that gets people excited, be very careful.”

I do not know if I should feel a little guilty, being a part of “all the press,” but seriously, Karp’s thoughtful blog post will go with the NYTimes GreenPrint piece as an example in my classes.

Just Want to Be “Free”

I also have fresh news on a new theory espoused last year by Wired’s Chris Anderson, of Long Tail fame. When I covered his idea, based on “Free” pricing, in my March 2008 column, I asked, “Do printers fit with this new ‘Free’ thing?” My reply: “hmm, maybe.” Well, the book was released this summer and is a popular read in multiple forms. Anderson still ignores printers, but the razors-and-blades model is covered (Observer, 7/06). By the way, some of the multiple forms of Anderson’s book are indeed “free” and leverage other printing-related technologies I have written about in my column, including a Kindle/iPhone version (Observer, 3/09) and a version on (Observer, 5/08).

(Above: in the screen shot from the iPhone/Kindle version of Free's index, note that King Gillette, patron saint of razors-and-blades pricing, is frequently referenced.)

So that is what is new with friends and acquaintances that we have made over the last few years. Stay tuned for more ideas, when the fall season rolls around now any day. And, please follow me on Twitter at @jflyons!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Green Printing -- 1995 Version

Summer's respite is over, and it's nice to be back in the office and doing a little blogging!

While cleaning out a few of the archives over the break, I happened on an old (Winter 1995) copy of Windows Magazine, including a page featuring me, addressing nothing other than one of the current-day favorite topics, Green Printing. Check it out in the graphic above.

No wonder I continue to enjoy covering this topic -- I've got green roots! And for historians like me, a quick check reveals Windows Magazine ended its run in 1999, but its publisher, CMP, lives on as United Business Media, and continues with its stable of pubs such as Information Week and CRN.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer Vacation

Taking a little hiatus during these dog days of late July and early August.

Are you like me and in need of a summer reading suggestion? I found 20 great ideas from this Business Week list.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Managed Print Services definitional dust-up: tempest in a teapot?

A number of industry insiders, including at least three of my fellow printer industry bloggers, have been following and commenting on the seemingly strange and confused reaction from the Printing Industries of America (PIA) at the time of HP's MPS announcement last Monday, July 13th (see "HP (NYSE HPQ) Guarantees Print Savings").

Patrick Henry ("PIA Says It’s Wary of New Managed Print Services Offerings by HP"), Rob Sethre ("An Odd Case of Mistaken MPS Identity"), Greg Walters ("Strange Twist - Managed Print Services is Redefined Again: Printing Industry of America"), and finally Clint Bolte, guesting on Pat's blog ("Managed Print Services Emerges as Market Niche") have all shed light on the topic. It mostly seems like a simple mix-up over what most see as HP's (and by proxy, the entire printer/copier industry's) pursuit of more of a hands-on role in the management of enterprise customers' printing and copying functions. Dubbed "Managed Print Services", once advertising and other press activities reached a critical mass, the

While the most part I agree with the bloggers about mass confusion and unclear semantics overriding common sense in many of the arguments, some of the growing number of comments to the WhatTheyThink post have me thinking and reflecting, too.

During my career working at HP, I was around for the emergence of the "printing pie" chart that has come to be famous as the "one-slide strategy presentation" still commonly used by many in the industry. The idea of the chart, in its many variations, is to show today's digital printing volumes, based on pages or other metrics, as a relatively small slice of the overall (digital plus analog) print universe. Make no mistake, at the very highest level, that "pie" is a tool to describe the vast opportunity that exists, 15 years ago or today, in converting analog to digital pages.

While we see many tactical implementations, whether by Company A or Company B, or division X or division Y of Company H, the underlying goal is generally the same. In the biggest of all pictures, all printing is connected, from commercial print on the high end to simple pen-and-paper and typewriters on the lowest end. Ask the latter -- did digital printing change your business? Did Royal and Smith Corona need to be concerned?

And of course in marketing and economics we also try to look beyond direct competition to substitute goods and services. What about "not printing"?

Just something more to think about!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Brave New World?

Tech news on this July 17th includes the "retraction" of two of George Orwell's classic works (Animal Farm and 1984) by Amazon (NASDAQ AMZN) from legitimate past purchasers via their Kindle e-books. David Pogue of the New York Times offers an excellent perspective (see "Some E-Books Are More Equal Than Others").

Now I suppose some printer-oriented folks might just be thinking, what if I'd PRINTED my Orwell novel from my Kindle, before the long arm of Amazon reached out? (Of course, Kindle printing capabilities, limited as they are, were first discussed here in a post simply titled "Kindle Printing".

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Zink's printer design contest winners announced

As promised last month when the ZINK Imaging's "Re-imagine Printing" finalists were announced (see "Zero Boundaries Design Contest".), a group of winners have just been named by the proverbial distinguished panel of judges.

Selected from a group of 40 finalists split between two categories, the first-, second- and third-place finishers, along with winner of the People's Choice award, hail from far-flung locations throughout the world, which speaks to the effectiveness of ZINK's effort, along the total volume of hundreds of design entries and the thousands of votes (over 7,000) over the past few weeks for the People's Choice contestants (all 40 finalists). The SmartBC, an on-demand Business Card printer from Brazil's Arthur Ditlef (see photo above), prevailed in that category.

So congrats are due to the innovative crew at ZINK imaging, the judges panel, and all the contestants including of course the finalists and seven prize-winners. This first-of-its-kind "printer design crowdsourcing" effort shows the vitality that exists in thinking about news ways to print, and beyond!

Also see's excellent coverage of the contest background and winners in a piece by Wade Roush.

Behind the scenes -- Interview with's Thomas Ummels

In my July 2009 Observations, "Twitter Printing -- Print those tweets!", I included the web site (btw get you to the same site.) This interview, of the creative source behind the site, is republished here and also accompanies the column in the Observer.

The Hard Copy Observer, July 2009

Behind the Scenes: Tom Ummels and

Jim Lyons, Observer columnist and blogger, recently sat down with Thomas Ummels, creator of to find out more about this exciting Web service.

Lyons: You mention in your blog post that you developed the program first for yourself. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Ummels: I am a freelance Web developer and really love technology and my job. Two months ago, on our way back home from a visit to my parents, my wife wondered aloud whether it was possible to print tweets. We twitter with a group of close friends and our tweets are becoming a really nice journal of our current personal life. Especially since the iPhone is used to add pictures to part of the tweets. The same week some other developer I was working with on a project told me about the open and transparent character of the API of So when my wife asked me about printing tweets, ideas started to pop up in my head. When we came home, I quickly checked out the twitter API and looked if there already were tools available. I thought it was a nice challenge, and there were no other tools for printing tweets, so the next day I started coding, and the result can now be seen at We haven’t done much promoting yet other then through twitter. A couple of Dutch Web sites featured, and I was interviewed on Dutch national radio.

Lyons: You also mention the program has picked up a lot of interest, more than expected. Do you have an interesting story or two about users of Print Your Twitter? Who is using it and how?

I get a lot of enthusiastic responses. People mostly use the tool to backup their tweets. I heard from one user who had kept his friends and family up to date during his vacations through twitter. After coming back he printed his tweets and gave them to his grandparents who had no access to the Internet. And a friend of mine has a 7-year-old son who also twitters and his tweets are really funny. Every year, she makes a photo album for them at their birthday about their life in the past year. This year she printed his tweets and included them in his album.

Lyons: How about numbers? How many users? How fast is usage growing?

Ummels: The numbers go up and down depending on whether it gets mentioned on some Web site or in the media. Currently, we are around a 100 users a day. I think a lot more people could be interested in the tool, but it is still a side project for me and promoting a site like this is a lot of work. So although it was a lot of fun to build and it is nice to get positive feedback, promotion is currently not our highest priority.

Lyons: It is great that you added keyword (hash tag) search. I just used that too, and it is very handy. Any more upcoming features we should know about?

Ummels: I get a lot of questions, so I am planning to add some functionality in the next three weeks. I want to incorporate some filtering functions (only tweets with images, only tweets between two dates, or only tweets of a certain selection of your connections, so you can, for instance, subtract a conversation between two people from your tweets). We want to integrate more picture services (now only images on twitpic are included), and we want to offer some different print templates. If the number of visitors is high enough, we also want to include links to printing services so people can order a book of their own tweets.

Lyons: Any feel for how many users go all the way and actually print their results, rather than storing them as a PDF for searching or future reference?

Ummels: No, I have no idea. Due to the technology that is used, we can’t measure it. I would expect that more people save their tweets by saving the Internet page with the printer friendly version or by printing it to PDF than that people actually send them to their printer. Once in a while, we get remarks on what a waste of paper it is to print all your tweets. So I encourage people to use paper as sparsely as possible. But if your tweets truly have value to you why not print them and include them in your journal or diary for instance.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Observations: Twitter Printing -- Print those tweets!

Observations: Twitter Printing -- Print those tweets!

One would have to be living under a rock to not have been exposed to the Twitter phenomenon this year. Some of the newsworthy mentions that easily come to mind include the (distracted) audience members’ tweets, including those of many members of the U.S. Congress, posted during the new U.S. President’s first major speech; the role of Twitter in breaking news developments on “the Miracle on the Hudson” plane landing; tweets during the sudden and sweeping Swine Flu outbreak in April; and more recently, Twitter's role in June's Iranian presidential election and the controversy following it and the news around the tragic death of entertainment icon Michael Jackson.

Time Magazine devoted its June 15 cover to Twitter, asking the question, "How Will Twitter Change the Way We Live?", so appropriately enough in this month’s Observations, I’ll pose a version of that same question, "How Will Twitter Change the Way We Print?"

I personally have been a Twitter account holder (@jflyons) for about a year and a half. Not exactly an early adopter relative to Twitter’s origin in 2006, but early enough. But truth be told, from that point of curious registration early last year and a handful of "tweets" to follow, I really only got serious about Twitter nearly a year later, about the same time as the first of those previously mentioned events in 2009. In fact, a blog post of mine, "Do we need Printer Industry Tweets?" in February of this year was met with a polite chorus of readers commenting back, basically, "Hey clueless, we already have them!" I guess my excuse was, as author Steven Johnson points out in the first line of his Time cover story, "The one thing you can say for certain about Twitter is that it makes a terrible first impression."

But I have come to appreciate, and even at times become consumed by, the charms of Twitter and its bevy of tweeters. Agreeing with Johnson’s assessment, again, I find it an invaluable resource for both finding links to interesting articles and other online content, common and obscure. It is also a unique tool, as compared to the longer-cycle blogs and other online (more traditional) media, for both digesting and sharing quick reactions to real-time conference activities and the like. By monitoring Twitter, I felt a part of May's "All Things Digital" this year, though I missed the actual conference. I also enjoyed reading others’ views in the “tweet-streams” from this year's Demo Conference in March, and also participating with my own, and most recently, keeping abreast of HP’s (NYSE HPQ) San Francisco news event introducing the firm’s new Web-connected printer (see "HP Reveals").

Future issues of this column may delve into the depths of the question, “Why print tweets?” but for now, suffice it to say that in the case of using Twitter to pass the word via quick link sharing, the need for printing is not so obvious. But in the case of collecting ideas and opinions from many or a few (or one) authors, a hard copy treatment may make a lot of sense.

While probing around a few months ago to find out if anyone was doing anything about reducing (preserving?) tweets to hard copy form, I found an interesting compilation of tweets into a form of personalized diary. The whole story can be foregone, but the blog post, entitled "Twitter Printing," describes a devoted Twitter following a multi-step process to end up with two years of his entries, entitled, simply enough, "My Life in Tweets."

But like in any fast-moving technology field, more has happened since. Most prominent on my radar lately is the Web site, [ works identically], a Web service that allows the reduction of Twitter messages, either your own or others, based on Twitter identity or keyword (or hashtag), into a form that allows for easy printing, or if not actual printing at least saving in a print-friendly form, like PDF.

While pretty bare bones, I found the Web-based service a model of simplicity. In addition to using my own tweets for an example, I entered the hash code #hpreveal, which was used for the aforementioned Twitter-oriented HP announcement. The search quickly came up with more than 877 individual Tweets and formatted them in a chronological log that spans 75 letter-sized pages, which I saved as a PDF for possible printing later.

I had a chance to interview TomsLab’s Thomas Ummels, creator of PrintYourTweets, whose entrepreneurial, creative spirit shows what can be done with the latest opportunities that present themselves, like Twitter (see "Behind the Scenes").

PrintyourTwitter is an exciting development in the world of printing tweets and the fit between the hard copy world and Twitter. Ummels is looking for sponsors for the site, which I think would be a great idea for one or more printing industry players out there who want to show how Twitter-friendly they are! Next month, I will explore more about Twitter and its document-management capabilities, which includes some old (and new) friends in the industry.