Is Office Printing Increasing or Declining? Answer: YES

By West McDonald, Vice President of Business Development, Print Audit & Owner, FocusMPS

If you are in the office equipment industry one of the things you rely on is people printing.  As your primary revenue source relies on the equipment and supplies that allow people to print you need to ask a very important question: Are people printing more or less than they used to?

There are a dizzying amount of contradictory statistics and claims around office printing.  Some say that print is declining at record rates while others state that office print volumes are actually on the rise.  Whose numbers should you trust? How do you sort through the noise to get to the real answers?  The good news is there are tried and tested tips to help you fight through the confusion to get to the meat.  Here are the top 3 questions you need to ask to dig deeper and get to the truth.

Tip #1: Break it down by print category

Recently, I saw a graph that showed office printing volumes going up.  This generated a lot of excitement judging by some of the comments around the post I was reading.  But closer examination demonstrates that while total volumes are on a slight increase, the sources of those spikes may or may not be an opportunity for your business.  Let’s look at the chart:

There are two clear areas of growth in office printing according to this chart.  The largest is in High Volume Production print.  The other is in Business Inkjet.  Close examination of the chart shows that both traditional Workgroup Toner and Large Volume Production are being cannibalized.  This is important because it says that you may have to examine your product portfolio to ensure you remain competitive and take advantage of categories that are experiencing growth.  What you sell today may not be what makes you money tomorrow.

Tip #2:  Be leery of statistics that aren’t granular

A couple of years ago I was at an OEM event where the speaker said “Good news!  Volumes on our devices have seen a huge spike in total volumes over the last 3 years. Office print is growing!”  The room went up in applause.  Well, most of the room.  I had questions.

Before we get to those questions, let’s talk science.  One of my favourite subjects in school was science.  I learned that there is a difference between “causation” and “correlation” and that a scientist’s main job is asking a lot of questions and performing a lot of tests to get to the finer truths.  A good example my grade 12 science teachers gave was that of Malaria.  There was a time when people thought Malaria was caused by “bad swamp gasses” because the closer people were to swamps the more likely they were to get Malaria.  It was up to one skeptic to perform some better testing to prove that this simply was not the case.  This one scientist holed himself up near a swamp to see if the gasses would give him malaria.  To control any outside influences he holed up in a screened in area to keep out insects.  That scientist didn’t get malaria.  He soon deduced that mosquitoes and other biting insects could be responsible.   So there is a correlation between being near a swamp and malaria, but the cause is mosquitoes biting people and transmitting the disease.  Getting to this truth has saved innumerable lives over the decades since being discovered.


Oh, right, we’re talking about volumes on devices going up or down, not malaria.  The same principle of introducing controls to find the real reason for per device volume increases holds true.  I cornered the presenter at the OEM event and asked a few questions:

1. Was there recent device consolidation?  Fewer devices means more pages for the remaining ones.

2. Have offices been hiring more people?  More new hires also adds volumes to existing devices.

3. Have total volumes risen, stayed the same, or declined?  If the answer to the first two questions is “yes” total office volumes could still be less than years prior.  Knowing this is really, really important.

The presenter shared with me that he wasn’t sure about the answers to my questions, that he wasn’t provided with those kind of details.  And as we all know, the devil is in the details.

Tip #3: Study your own customers

If you are in the office equipment space you likely have some customers that have been loyal for 10 years or more.  Studying these long-term customers is an excellent way to understand what is happening in your local geography.  Some ways you can better examine print volume trends in your own customer base:

1. Total page growth:  The customer could be printing more overall.  Find out if this is due to new business processes, increased staff numbers and/or regulatory/compliance needs.

2. Winning:  Another reason for total volume increases on the devices that you manage is that you are doing a great job of winning unmanaged devices when they come up for renewal.  You are getting more share of existing volumes.

3. Vertical Analyses:  Print Audit’s Insight dashboard allows Premier members to compare their own MIF with the “market at large.”  Is their own share of market lopsided?  Are there verticals they don’t touch that are rich with devices and pages?  This powerful dashboard allows Premier members to see which verticals have the most opportunity and compares that with their actual market penetration.

Getting answers to all of these questions (and the actions they inspire you to take!) could be the difference between a blockbuster or a lackluster year for your dealership.  The only way to get the real answers is to ask the hard questions, and lots of them!  If you are serious about growth you need to be serious about getting the facts.  Hopefully this post will make it easier for you to do so.

Now it’s your turn!  What are your thoughts on the state of office printing?  Are volumes increasing overall?  Are they decreasing?  What surprising things have you discovered and what questions did you ask to get to the truth?  Leave your comments and share your experiences!  You can also contact me to learn more about what I’ve learned by conducting hundreds of end-user assessments over the years.