The Future of Imaging Part 4 - The Page Era

Virtulytix Thought Leadership Blog Series – Post 4

From Typewriters to the Data Era .. The Page Era

Ed Crowley, Virtulytix, Chief Thought Leader (CTO)

In 1984 I was graduating from College (yes – that makes me OLD!).  In that same year, IBM sold 2 million PC’s, Apple Introduced the 128K Mac, and the total PC market (including Atari/Commodare) had grown to a massive 6 million units! The office technology market for PC’s was just beginning to take off (for comparison, by 10 years later, PCs were selling at a rate of 40 million units per year).  In 1984, and the following year 1985, two key office imaging products were introduced that would set the stage for the next 20 years of massive growth. The HP Laserjet and the Apple Laserwriter.

In 1984, when the LaserJet was introduced, typewriters and dot matrix printers dominated the office. However, within a very short period of time, both of these technologies would diminish to the background as ‘old technologies’ with limited relevance in the new office market. The LaserJet and Laserwriter provided high quality and affordable (relatively) printing. And this set the stage for what I would consider to be the ‘golden era’ of the imaging market. These new page printers (called that because they imaged an entire ‘page’ at one time) rapidly evolved to include multiple resident font faces (anybody remember the old font cartridges?), more finishing options, and even ultimately scanning and faxing. And it was ‘personal’. As prices fell, it become reasonable to put a laser printer on an individuals desk. Printers proliferated.

By the early 90’s, photocopiers began to add networking and digital controllers, setting the stage for the real estate grab between copier and printer companies and leading to the ultimate convergence of these technologies where the only difference between ‘copier’ and ‘print’ was A3 vs. A4, and the business model used to sell and service the products.  From a customer’s perspective, the products were increasingly similar.

The growth of this market saw the rise of new firms (HP and Lexmark come immediately to mind) that fought for control of the distributed office imaging market. Competitors who dominated in the dot matrix era (Toshiba and Epson for example) struggled to gain traction with electrophotographic technologies. By the late 90’s, inkjets had become increasingly capable and were moving from the consumer market into the office market. HP, Canon, and Epson fought for control of this market as well as Brother and Lexmark (although Lexmark’s business inkjets failed to gain significant traction in the market).

The real story in this Era was about price / performance evolution. One way to measure price performance is to take the street price of a printer, and divide it by it’s Page Per Minute (PPM) speed. This gives you a measure of the cost per PPM for the device. It makes it a little easier to compare products across different speed ranges. And very importantly, it gives you a way to see how price performance changes over time. As the graph below shows, when the HP LaserJet was introduced, the price was $374 per PPM.  Nine years later, when the TI MicroLaser was introduced, the price per PPM had fallen to $77.  Now, in 2019, the price per page for an HP PageWide Pro 577 has fallen to $9.99 per PPM.  Granted, the PageWide Pro is an inkjet, not a laser – but the point is, for the office imaging products, the name of the game has been better, faster, cheaper. (Can you say – “race to the bottom”?).

In the race for more ‘footprints’ or ‘Machines in Field (MIF)’, the industry actually began selling color printers at a hardware loss in the early 2000’s on the anticipation that the profitability of color supplies would more than make up the difference in the hardware loss. The stage was set for the next era, the era of commoditization and services as the industry began to look for long term, viable business models that didn’t require simply lowering price and offering more features or performance.


At the conclusion of this series of five blogs (each blog will cover a distinct era), I will be holding a complimentary webinar on how to thrive in the new Data Era, as well as provide access to a free white paper covering is critical topic. I encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions on the industry’s journey at on this blog, on the Virtulytix LinkedIn site or the LinkedIn discussion group at Imaging Industry Transformation.

Pages Per Minute Comparison

Pages Per Minute Comparison