Lexmark to punch up its printers

Taking a page from its consumer successes, the company is hoping that a new line of multifunction network printers will appeal to businesses.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
Taking a page from its consumer successes, Lexmark International Group is hoping that a new line of multifunction network printers will appeal to businesses.

The company on Tuesday launched two new multifunction, or all-in-one, devices, the X620e and the X750e, which both offer a laser printer as well as copying, faxing and scanning capabilities in a single chassis.

The new devices have higher-output printers and other, more high-end features than their consumer-oriented multifunction counterparts found at retail stores. The Lexmark machines come with color laser printers and network interfaces, for example, and as a result sell for higher prices, about $7,000 and $12,000 respectively.

But these new machines follow the principals of the consumer versions, and they aim to take advantage of the concept that has made multifunction devices successful at retail stores: At the right price, four devices in one beats a single device.

All-in-one multifunction devices, which first appeared for business customers some years ago, got off to a slow start. But in the last year, consumers have adopted a new attitude toward the devices, which are now sleeker and less pricey than their predecessors. Lexmark is hoping its new corporate-oriented devices, which are also sleeker and priced lower than earlier machines, will see the same successes.

A typical consumer-oriented multifunction device offers a mid-grade color inkjet printer, a mid-grade scanner and fax capabilities, and sells for between $200 and $300. Meanwhile, a typical multifunction device aimed at corporations will offer a faster laser printer, a better scanner, about the same fax capabilities, and the ability to support more users via a network. Pricing starts at $3,000 when outfitted with a black-and-white laser printer, and can cost up to $20,000 with a color laser printer.

Sales of the devices have been brisk, returning impressive growth rates of between 45 and 50 percent since January 2001, according to retail sales tracking firm NPD Techworld.

The increased interest came when lower prices intersected with better product redesigns that made the devices friendlier to work with.

This contrasts to the early multifunction devices, which were based around distant products like Hewlett-Packard's Mopier. The devices were fairly clunky, and expensive, costing as much as $400.

IMAGE TEXT HERE But as more appealing designs have come into the market, consumers have been willing to pay a small amount extra over the price of a midrange inkjet printer, usually an additional $50 to $100, to gain the added functions of a fax, copier and scanner.

Now, on the consumer side, "It's a great category to be in. Sales have been taking off for the last year," said Steve Baker, analyst with NPD Techworld.

The newest consumer devices, such as HP's PSC 750xi or Lexmark's X63, are sleeker--looking very much like miniature copy machines--and less expensive. Their retail prices now range from $200 to $250. The average selling price for these consumer devices in January 2002 was $285, down from $341 in January 2001.

Indeed, "There's been a change in what the products look like and how people are using them," Baker said. Now the devices "fulfill the promise of doing a whole bunch of things in a small package."

Manufacturers are hoping that sales on the corporate side will follow a similar track.

But it remains to be seen if similar factors will help sell multifunction devices at the high end in the corporate setting.

The new Lexmark X620e, which takes up about the same footprint as a laser printer, can print or copy up to 30 pages per minute. It also offers a touch-screen interface, but connects to a company network, allowing multiple users to share its capabilities.

The X750e, which is about the same size as a small copy machine, adds a color laser printer capable of turning out up to 20 pages per minute. Though the device costs around $12,000, that's thousands less than earlier designs, and the machines are more svelte as well--two factors that worked in the consumer market.

The new Lexmark multifunction devices may be smaller, faster and cheaper than previous models on the market, but "there's still a lot of turmoil in the printing market," Baker said.

Just one issue includes whether or not companies will continue to buy color laser printers or multifunction machines with color laser printers. Though prices on the newest color laser printers are lower, cost-conscious companies want to avoid willy-nilly use of them, Baker said, as it generally costs more to produce a color page than a black-and-white page.