Xerox’s colourful launch of solid ink MFPs

Xerox Corp. is betting big on colour with the introduction of its first multiifunction system based on the vendor’s solid ink technology.

At a customer and partner event in San Francisco this week, the peripheral and document management products vendor unveiled the Xerox WorkCenter C2424 multifunction printer, a 24 page-per-minute colour and black-and-white device targeted at small to medium-sized workgroups.

In a phone interview, Donna Wittman, Canadian regional vice-president for Xerox Office Group in Mississauga, Ont., said this product would appeal to workgroups either within small and medium-sized businesses or their equivalents in enterprises.

She said most companies have one thing in common when it comes to copying, scanning or printing documents: “[They] want to find ways to save money and do more with less.”

However, she said traditionally there has always been a gap in the market between lower-end colour inkjet MFPs, which “have a low acquisition cost but [lack] the features an enterprise business would need,” and fancier MFPs that carry a heftier price tag. Xerox hopes the C2424’s solid ink technology and price point will help the product fill that gap, Wittman said.

Solid ink technology, which uses a solid, polymer-based ink instead of powdered toner, produces an image quality similar to an offset press, but it is designed for everyday office use, according to Xerox.

Estimated Canadian pricing for the C2424 starts at $3,965, which Wittmann said will make higher-quality printing more accessible to departmental workgroups that need to produce colour documents.

Some traditional heavy colour users will be targeted, including retail, financial services and educational customers, but Xerox hopes colour will eventually “find mass appeal…in a wide variety of market segments,” she said.

The keynote session featured a presentation by a “colour expert panel” that extolled the benefits of using various hues in customer-facing communications, educational materials and other applications.

One of the panelists, Jill Morton, CEO of New York and Honolulu colour consultancy firm Colorcom, said people are “under the influence of colour, consciously and subconsciously.” He said colours communicate and affect individuals both on a psychological and physiological level.

For example, the colour of the jacket Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy happened to be wearing at the event was “drunk tank pink” — the same colour used to paint the walls of jail cells, and is known to calm prisoners, albeit for a short time only, Morton explained. Blue is known to be an appetite suppressant and is generally a soothing colour, while red is the most emotionally charged, exciting colour. Companies use certain colours in their logos, retail outlets and documents to send particular messages to customers, who already have a “robust colour-coding system wired into [them],” she said.

Despite the important role colour plays in communicating a message, Ursula Burns, president of business group operations at Xerox’s headquarters in Stamford, Conn., said today only three per cent of copies, faxes or printouts in offices are in colour. She said Xerox predicts that number will grow to 10 per cent by 2008 — still a relatively small number, but steadily increasing.

“We are pushing colour as far as possible,” Burns said, adding that educating customers will play a key role in promoting the mainstream adoption of colour devices. “We know we still will have customers with a large investment in black and white,” which is why Xerox is still launching monochromatic devices, but in many verticals that require advertising and other forms of business-to-customer communication, colour is already mainstream, she said.

Cost, Burns said, will always be an adoption barrier because colour is still more expensive than monochrome printing if one considers the price of producing a page. On average, a colour page costs US$0.10, versus one-and-a-half to two cents per page for only black ink.

“If you don’t associate value with colour, you won’t print in colour,” Burns said. Colour becomes an advantage and makes sense where it can help an enterprise communicate its message and increase revenues.

For example, a restaurant chain would not think twice about printing its menu in colour if it wanted to include photos of some of its meal selections to make them more appealing, she said.

It might be a tougher call, however, for a credit card company or a legal firm to determine how adding colour to its customer-facing documents can increase customer comprehension of — and response to — information on those documents.

Burns said Xerox’s services group will work with enterprises to help them “figure out how to drive value out of colour,” if they’ve never produced anything except monochrome pages.

The cost of colour page production could also be minimized if colour were just treated as a feature of the product and selectively used for only external communications, while opting for monochromatic, lower-resolution printing for internal company purposes, according to Tim Williams, corporate vice-president at Xerox and president of the vendor’s office group. “If you don’t use colour, you don’t pay for it.”

Wittmann estimated the price of producing colour documents has gone down 15 to 20 per cent each year. “The acquisition and running cost of devices is continuing to get more affordable because there is more competition in the market and more usage,” she said. She added that by Xerox’s estimates, solid ink technology will make the C2424 30 to 60 per cent less expensive to use than other MFPs in the closest quality and speed category — but will increase the average speed of output by two times.

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