Two decades after the rise of the Web, printing is far from dead. Yet the way that small and medium businesses (SMB) print and the reasons that they print are changing rapidly.

Bernice Hynard, MD of Printacom

The valued-added distribution and reseller channels will need to evolve to keep pace with the needs of the market.

Selling laser and inkjet printers into the SMB market – along with cartridges and consumables – used to account for much of the traditional IT dealer’s bread-and-butter business. However, mirroring a process we have already seen in the large enterprise market, changing printing habits in the SMB sector mean that this model will not be viable forever.

In the large enterprise market, we have seen businesses migrate towards a managed print services model that enables them to get a per-page price for printing and copying. The vendor or service provider typically takes charge of the entire printing fleet, replaces old printers, and uses device consolidation and management tools to reduce costs.

But this model works well only in large businesses that have substantial printing volumes and a large, geographically distributed fleet of devices. Offering similarly transparent pricing and simplicity to the SMB market is one of the major challenges we are wrestling with at the moment.

Clearly, smaller businesses with one or two offices and less than 30 users will not need the sophisticated print management tools that vendors use to monitor and control printing costs in larger businesses. And they often won’t print in sufficiently high volumes to justify per-page pricing.


Who wants to own a printer?

Yet we’re also finding that SMBs have as little enthusiasm for owning printers and buying cartridges as larger companies. Servicing this market requires a new approach that turns printing into a simple, cost-effective, flexible and hassle-free service. To develop this model, we will need to look at how and why companies in the mid-market print.

Despite the chatter about digital being the death of printing, we find that SMBs still value the printed page. A colour brochure or a nicely finished catalogue still have a tactile power you won’t get from a webpage, so many companies still use printed collateral for marketing, despite its costs.

Then there are the more mundane uses of print – from printing out contracts to be signed to printing a long document to read it or proof it. But the reasons companies print and the volumes they require may vary between different industries and within the same company from month to month.

One of the elements the industry should look at is tailoring solutions for different industries. For example, a small cellular dealer and an advertising agency could have widely different needs—the former will need to routinely print out black-and-white contracts and occasionally some market contracts, while the latter will want to print out a lot of colour proofs.


Tailored solutions

Rather than becoming siloed behind vendor offerings, we need to put together solutions that address these different business needs in the most efficient manner This approach to selling is not yet intuitive for many resellers and distributors, yet it is one of the key ways we could add value.

At Tarsus, we are early in the process of developing a new commercial model for printing in the SMB sector. We believe that the industry will need to change to deliver on the changing needs of the customer and to offer sustainable and profitable business models for dealers—but the optimal models are still in flux.

Perhaps we could see a return to the days of print bureaus, where small businesses depend heavily on print shops offering everything from large-format and high-quality gloss printing to large bill runs and traditional black-and-white. Or perhaps a subscription model where a customer gets a suitable device, consumables and a service plan for a flat monthly rate could take off.

With most mid-market businesses looking to reduce costs, simplify IT and become more agile, the channel is under pressure to innovate. Printing – something that resellers and end-users alike take for granted – is an area where some fresh thinking and a new approach is arguably overdue.