Let’s be honest: the print business has been a tough one for the past several years. It was significantly impacted by the introduction of smartphones and mobile devices (like tablets), which rendered many of the old printing use cases—such as printing airline boarding passes, movie tickets, driving directions, etc.—obsolete. Big print companies began to virtually give away printers at low prices, turning to the “razor blade” model of selling ink cartridges and other consumables to make their profits.
HP Inc, the largest printer maker in the world, was not immune to these enormous sea changes. Still, while the printer business is not as lucrative as it once was, HP is committed to keeping the printer business relevant, healthy and profitable. One great example of how the company is adapting is its Instant Ink program, launched in 2013. The Instant Ink program allows consumers and businesses to forgo traditional ink cartridge purchases for a subscription plan based on their monthly printing volume requirements. In addition to the convenience of receiving new cartridges before your printer runs out, HP claims these subscription plans can save customers up to 50% on their ink spending. To top it all off, these plans require no commitments and can be canceled at any time.
HP launches educational effort for at-home printing
Earlier this week, HP made two announcements focused on maintaining the vitality of its printer business. The first announcement is focused on empowering learning with printing.
HP provided context for the first announcement during an analyst briefing last week, citing recent IDC research on the printing business. First, the research found that an astonishing 29 billion educational pages were printed in 2019. This number underscores the fact that on-screen content is not always a substitute for tactile, hands-on learning. 83% of people with children surveyed said printed documents improve students’ concentration, and 87% said kids learn more with printed materials. HP also cited research about parents’ printing habits during COVID-19—69% said they were printing more often, 66% said they were printing educational materials, 41% said they were printing games and activities, and, most intriguingly, 71% said they will keep printing educational resources after schools reopen. This data suggests that the printer has a role as a powerful educational tool in the home.
To capitalize on these insights, HP is adding new content to its Print, Play & Learn web site, which offers numerous printable activities designed to amplify printing in the home. This includes more than 450 free printable learning resources for family members, designed to generate hundreds of hours of education and fun. It’s important to point out that much of this content is locality-based and customized for numerous countries outside of the United States. HP reports that this website has been enormously popular, with millions of downloads over the past two months. HP is also releasing an all-new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) series from 16 prominent content creators, designed to augment the home-schooling experience. This is particularly good timing, given the school closures COVID-19 has caused across the globe.
HP refreshes ENVY printers with “family-friendly” models
To complement these educational activities, HP also announced the new HP ENVY 6000 and HP ENVY 6400 Pro All-in-One Printers. Priced respectively at $129 and $149, what’s immediately notable about these printers is their design language—available in neutral white and cement color options, these devices are designed to blend into their surroundings.
These new printers are all about ease of use. They feature a smart, discrete control panel that intuitively lights up when it's needed. Additionally, these printers are entirely managed by HP’s terrific Smart app, which is one of the handiest apps for print setup, scanning and faxing. Naturally, these new printers both support the previously mentioned Instant Ink program. They also both offer double-sided printing, basic encryption/password protection for secure printing and a dual-band WiFi connection with a “self-healing” capability. This latter feature is particularly crucial—HP research shows that WiFi network disruption is one of the primary issues that users report with wireless printing at home. The HP ENVY Pro, designed for work from home users, offers a 35-sheet auto document feeder and secure mobile fax service for 24 months (which can be extended via the HP Smart app).
A few closing thoughts
As I mentioned at the beginning of this column, the printer business in 2020 is not for the faint of heart. While the traditional print business is not flourishing as it was during its salad days of the 1990s and early 2000s, it still is enormous. From a revenue standpoint, HP’s overall print business in 2019 was $20.07 billion, mostly flat with 2018.
To keep the business relevant in our smart phone-obsessed culture, HP has no choice but to continue to innovate and educate. These announcements underscore that HP is doing both. Innovation and education have always been a part of HP’s company culture, and it’s encouraging to see these efforts remain vibrant within the company.
I’m particularly impressed with HP’s ongoing actions on the customer education front. While product innovation is hard, educating customers on how to extract more value from your products and services is, in some respects, harder. It requires a long-term view of the market, an ability to invest over long periods and legacy product gravitas—all of which HP has. These new announcements demonstrate the company’s commitment to keeping the print business vital. HP continues to show the world that it’s not done yet.