The Changing Role of Printing in Small And Medium-Size Businesses in the U.S.

by Larry Jamieson, The Photizo Group

Print volumes have been a concern for the printing industry for nearly as long as the industry has existed. Ever since businesses owned machines that could print on paper, the printed page has been the primary method of communication and record retention for companies.

However, there have always been nagging concerns about the long-term viability of printing, especially as new electronic documentation methods began to develop.

The recession that began in 2008 clearly had an effect on business in general, and the slow economic recovery in the United States continues to take its toll on business and printing needs. But while the state of the economy is generally considered to be cyclical — albeit extended, in this case — there are other factors that may lead to permanent, irreversible changes to the printing market.

To help determine the future of printing in small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) in the United States, Photizo Group teamed up with 1105 Media to conduct a survey of printer users in these businesses.

Methodology

In June 2012, Photizo Group conducted an online survey of printer users from small and medium-size businesses in the United States to determine SMBs’ print usage, how it has changed over time and how users expect their printing to change in the future. There were 386 survey responses in total, and they were broken down into the following company-size categories:

Micro-businesses (one to nine employees) = 205
Small businesses (10 to 99 employees) = 91
Medium-size businesses (100+ employees) = 84

Note that six companies did not provide information regarding company size but were still included in the total results.

Page volumes

Overall, SMBs reported purchasing a median of 3.5 reams of paper per month, or about 1,750 sheets. As shown in Figure 1, the amount varies widely according to business size; the larger the business, the more paper used. The average of 3.5 reams per month is consistent with findings from a similar study conducted in 2011.

However, taking into consideration the number of PCs in use in each business, there is a higher number of pages produced per PC in smaller businesses despite the smaller number of users. Micro-businesses have an average usage of 294 pages per PC compared to 240 pages in small businesses. Medium-size businesses only averaged 14 pages per PC, but this is likely because larger businesses have volume-related purchase agreements for paper that respondents do not know about. Nevertheless, the smaller the business, the greater the number of pages produced per PC in use. This is likely because employees in micro-businesses tend to have broader responsibilities including a number of different tasks that would make printing more important to them.

Average Number of 500-Sheet Reams of Paper Purchased Each Month

Changes in print volumes

Respondents were asked whether their page volumes had increased or decreased throughout the previous year. Figure 2 shows that 51 percent of respondents said that there was no significant change in page volumes from the previous year, but there are some further results that at first seemed rather surprising. Twenty-seven percent of the respondents reported an increase in page volumes compared to 18 percent reporting a decrease — information that would seem to oppose many reports of declining page volumes. One mitigating factor is that respondents who reported an increase in printing claimed an average rate of 24 percent compared to a 28 percent decline cited among users reporting a decrease.

Changes in Print Volume over the Previous Year

Looking at the factors that caused an increase in page volumes (shown in Figure 3) reveals that, generally, businesses are doing more with IT resources than they had previously. The top factors leading to increased page volumes were “doing more applications” and “expanded business with the same number of employees,” but a major factor causing increased page volumes was “bringing print jobs in-house.”

Reasons Cited for Increases in Print Volumes among U.S. SMB Printer Users

The first two factors indicate that the business climate has improved for these companies. However, the third factor, “bringing print jobs in-house,” may not actually indicate an increase in overall print volumes, just a change in print location. Typically, print jobs that are sent to a print shop are higher-volume projects, such as brochures, reports and spec sheets, which often range in size from 5,000 to 10,000 pages. Print jobs of this size meet the “volume discount” requirements for low-cost printing, but they result in a large amount of wasted pages. Bringing the jobs in-house will result in a higher cost per page, but by printing only the pages needed, companies can reduce overall cost and eliminate waste. Although this will result in fewer pages being printed overall, it will increase the number of pages printed in-house.

Declines in print volumes, as shown in Figure 4, are most commonly the result of companies’ proactive initiatives to control page volumes. The top factor, “duplex printing,” results in fewer pages being printed, but it may not affect the total number of impressions being produced, just the number of pages created.

Reasons Cited for Decreases in Print Volumes among U.S. SMB Printer Users

The next two factors, “environmental concerns” and “reducing printing costs,” often overlap because companies that are concerned about their profitability will also put a positive spin on cost-saving measures as part of a “green” message to their employees.

Most of the other reasons for the decline are related to the bad business climate, although several respondents pointed out that an increased use of tablets and other mobile devices is having an effect on print volumes. Because small companies have such a small fleet of printers, managed print services (MPS) does not have much of a direct effect on printing in these businesses. However, many of the MPS concepts regarding how to better manage output are clearly being employed on an ad hoc basis therein.

Mobility and printing

Mobile devices such as iPads and smartphones are rapidly becoming an integral part of our personal lives. Take a look around the next time you go out to dinner and notice the number of people who are tapping away on their phones. These devices are also becoming more common in business environments. Although primarily designed for information transmission rather than creation, businesses are now finding more ways to use these devices.

Printing from mobile devices is gaining some traction. As shown in Figure 5, 29 percent of SMB printer users have printed from their mobile devices. Fifty-seven percent expect that they will print more from mobile devices in the future. Print jobs are typically rather small — perhaps a page or two — which is generally what would be expected.

Percent of SMB Printer Users Who Print From Mobile Devices

Conclusion

Clearly, printing is part of an overall information technology metamorphosis that will likely result in fewer pages, even when the economy improves. Changes in the fundamental way that information is collected, stored, synthesized and distributed will have an effect on printing, but printing is still a major portion of business procedures and will continue to play a role, although perhaps more of a supporting than starring one.

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