Squirting ink on to dead trees remains popular despite the rise of tablets, smartphones and other devices. Inkjet printers still sell. We are a long way from being paperless.

IDC Research reports the Australia-New Zealand inkjet market grew during the second quarter of 2013 to a total of 443,000 units. That’s a growth of two percent in unit sales compared with the earlier quarter although sales are down three percent when compared with the same quarter last year.

The company says the recent growth spurt comes on the back of heavy price discounts and promotions bundling printers with other products. Most of the growth was in what IDC calls the ‘entry-level’ segment.

In other words, that recent growth spurt is probably not sustainable. And printer makers are hardly popping corks on the bubbly, IDC says revenues declined 18 percent in 2012 and the first half of 2013 shows “further softening of revenues”.

IDC expects the current year to see 1.7 million inkjet printers shipped in Australia and New Zealand.

Table 1: 2013 Q2 ANZ Inkjet Printer Shipments
RankVendorsMarket
Share by unit
1HP44%
2Canon26%
3Epson16%
4Brother13%
5Others*1%

 

 

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Printer and publisher William Caxton showing a sample of a printed book to King Edward IV

Need more reasons to go paperless? Take a look at what printer makers do with ink.

Printer ink has always been expensive, but as The Guardian reveals the price per millilitre  rocketed recently with printer makers serving ever smaller portions of ink in their cartridges.

The Guardian says a decade ago Epson printer ink cartridges contained 16ml. Today’s have just 3.5ml. HP sold a 42ml cartridge in the UK for £20. Now a 5ml cartridge costs  £13. For details see Printer ink cartridges: why you’re paying more but getting a lot less.

Printer makers sell inkjets and lasers at cost or a small loss aiming to make money from ink sales. Most printers come with small amounts of ink, so it doesn’t take customers long to get to their first cartridge purchase. From then on, the printer makers are in profit.

Customers fight back against rip-off branded cartridges by buying third-party ink. There are replacement cartridges and kits that allow you to top-up the ink in a cartridge.

Printer makers used to argue third-party ink would damage printers. That’s perverse: it takes five or six refills to damage a print head. Given the low cost of printer hardware and the huge savings from third-party ink, customers come out ahead if they regularly upgrade printers – and there’s the bonus of newer technology.

Printer makers are on firmer ground when they say third-party ink gives low-quality results. We get through a lot of ink in our business – paperless publishing works up to a point, but we still need to print frequent proofs. In my experience third-party ink is fine for documents, but lousy for printing photos.

Amazon’s “Ad-supported” approach to the Kindle Paperwhite would quickly wear thin with many of us. Mind you paying US$20 to remove advertising seems reasonable – a 15 percent premium over the free version.

It brings up an interesting point. If the lifetime value of ads on a reading device is worth just US$20 to Amazon, which is in the business of flogging stuff online, it says a lot about the what’s going on in the world of advertising-supported online newspapers and magazines.

bookshelf
The undead book shelf

Josh Catone is almost right when he writes Why Printed Books Will Never Die. Although the pedant in me has an issue with the word never given that one day the universe will degrade into a particle stew. For now I’ll give Catone poetic licence.

He says:

Ebooks are not simply a better format replacing an inferior one; they offer a wholly different experience.

A good point. I’d read an ebook on a plane. I read work documents on a tablet or ebook. When reading for pleasure, I still want to see print and feel paper.

Whenever I hear people predicting the death of printed books I think back to the Roman, Greek and even earlier texts which can still be read today, then remember early electronic texts stored on 8-inch floppies or using now dead digital formats. Some of these are already lost forever.

Livescribe Sky SmartPenPreiously I reviewed the Livescribe Sky SmartPen at home, how does it fare in action? To find out I took it to Telecom’s Windows Phone 8 press conference.

Livescribe Pulse SmartPen has been my main note taking device for the last two years. I use it at press events, seminars, summits and conferences over the years. The Pulse is an essential part of my toolkit.

My technique is to take limited, staccato notes, usually one per idea. I mark key passages and juicy quotes while recording audio.

Monday’s press conference presented a challenge. The event involved seven speakers along with two or three short videos in a presentation lasting about 40 minutes.

The room was about the size of a tennis court, with a low ceiling. It opened on to a noisy atrium – the doors to the atrium were opened for some of the time and, unusually given the size of the crowd, the speakers didn’t use microphones and amplification.

Not great conditions, an ideal testing laboratory

All of this meant the recording conditions were not great. The Pulse would have handled it, but what about the newer pen?

One surprise was you can’t use the new pen with the earlier pen’s headset. That’s a pity because the headset has microphones built into each earplug, which can do a better job of capturing sound in a noisy room. Luckily it wasn’t necessary.

It did well. The Sky pen captured everything. While there were a few missed or unclear words, I could easily hear all the important parts in my 39 minute recording. Just as before I could tap the written words on the notebook page and the audio would jump to that point.

The pen was comfortable to use the whole time. Note taking was straightforward. I left the event feeling confident, but the real proof would come later when it was time to play things back.

SmartPen Lessons

As my earlier review mentions, the new desktop software for using the audio is not as good as the earlier stand-alone application. Rather than struggle to make sense of the new software, I played the audio back directly from the pen.

The pen has a built-in speaker. It is not loud and anyway it would disturb others working here so I hunted out a headset that was compatible with the new pen. Everything was fine, it took a few minutes to write-up my notes. The new pen works just as well as the older model.

I already mentioned that I didn’t attempt using the software to get my work done. When I checked later the file was stored in Evernote, it’ll be there if I need it in future. That’s good. I also didn’t test the Wi-Fi because although the Telecom’s building is equipped, the set-up procedure is fiddly, I was too busy talking to people to worry about organising it any anyway, it wasn’t necessary. I’ll give it a proper work out when I next go to a seminar.

My earlier review gave the pen a tentative thumbs up. I’m much happier now to say the Sky a worthy successor to the Livescribe Pulse. This is one tool I want to keep.