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HP printer plan courts small business

The computing giant reveals new printers and services aimed at small and midsize businesses, a segment that HP hopes "will be the sector that leads us out of recession."

Hewlett-Packard is set to announce new printers and related services aimed at the increasingly attractive small and midsize business market.

HP on Wednesday will launch two new laser printers to replace older models, an array of price cuts on other printers, and new Web services intended to make it easier for smaller businesses to get the most from their imaging equipment.

The new services echo new consulting services HP introduced last month to help bigger businesses do more with their printers.

"This is in many ways Chapter 2 of that effort, for the small business," said Rob Wait, HP's commercial marketing manager for imaging and printing. "What we found is that support is extremely important in this segment. These are either individuals or a single IT person supporting a whole operation."

The new services include a Printing and Imaging Expertise Center with online tutorials for tasks ranging from desktop publishing to using Adobe applications, as well as a live chat for customers looking for advice.

The new products are the LaserJet 1300, which replaces the LaserJet 1200, and the LaserJet 2300, which replaces the 2200. Both printers are the same price as their predecessors--$399 and $549, respectively--and tout faster print speeds, more memory and speedier processors.

HP also will cut prices on three printers aimed at the small business market. The Business InkJet 2230 printer will sell for $199, down from $299; the low-end LaserJet 1000 will drop from $249 to $199; and the high-end LaserJet 4200 will slip from $1,099 to $999 for the base model. HP also will trim the price of its XB31 digital projector, from $3,499 to $2,499.

Wait said the moves reflect the growing importance of the business segment, as the economic downturn freezes IT budgets at large companies. "We believe the small- and medium-business segment in the United States will be the sector that leads us out of recession," he said.

Chris Barnes, an analyst for research firm ARS, said the strategy makes sense.

"Big businesses still aren't buying the way they were three or four years ago," he said. "And the higher-end (printers) they bought three or four years ago are still working wonderfully."

Printing has long been the main source of HP's profits, and the company has vigorously tried to defend its turf with new business efforts aimed at businesses and consumers. PC leader Dell Computer is the latest threat, having introduced its own line of printers last month.