A4 – We’re Still Debating This?

It’s hard to comprehend that there are some in the industry that are still trying to “sell” imaging channel dealers on the benefits of adding A4 MFPs to their offerings. Listening to them, it would seem that most dealers prefer to live in the past and just keeping churning their A3 “copier” leases. While there are some dealers still hesitant to embrace incorporating A4 MFPs into their product offering, it’s fewer than one might think. So, why is the debate around A4 still happening – from those who think dealers still don’t get it to those dealers who are hesitant to take on A4 products?

Dealers get the A4 message

In our latest Imaging Channel Market Trends survey, when asked “In A4 printer/MFP hardware … are you seeking to add to, reduce, or maintain the number of OEMs/brands you sell?” 66% of dealers said they were maintaining their A4 printer/MFP hardware position and 29% said they were looking to add this category to their offerings. That suggests that 95% of dealers have A4 on their minds. It’s not hard to understand why.

IDC reports that the A4 mix of U.S. MFP shipments grew steadily from 70% in 2014 to 75% in 2019. However, during 2020, A4 represented more than 80% of MFP shipments, and IDC expects it to be closing in on 85% by 2024. The 2020 growth, of course, was driven by the pandemic-accelerated work-from-home (WFH) workforce. As companies worked to supply these WFH employees with print solutions, they looked to a variety of sources to provide them, including imaging channel dealers. In the Market Trends survey, 86% of dealers told us customers had requested printer/copier bundles for WFH employees over the past year (23% told us they have received these requests extremely often). While the responses didn’t specify whether those requests were fulfilled with A4 product, it’s hard to imagine that many WFH offices would accommodate a large A3 MFP.

The WFH workforce and hybrid workplace are the new normal, and while that means opportunity in WFH A4 print solutions, it also means changes in the traditional office printing environment. In an MPSA webinar: “Printing in the Hybrid Workplace: Survey Results of IT Decision Makers from Quocirca,” 41% of U.S. survey respondents said they were replacing centralized A3 MFPs with distributed A4 models. Market demand for A4 is there and growing, and most dealers realize this.

It’s not a hardware decision anymore

In the early days of the A4 versus A3 debate, A3 manufacturers marketed “copier-based” A3 MFPs as providing better TCO and higher functionality than “printer-based” (toner cartridge) A4 MFPs. The TCO claim was debatable; “copier-based” A3 MFP models had a pay me now higher initial hardware cost and lower ongoing supply and service costs, while the “printer-based” models were a pay me later low initial hardware cost and higher ongoing supply costs. Over time and similar page volumes, the two TCO models ultimately converged. What was clear was that to support enterprise page volumes and get additional paper feed options, finishing options, security features, and solution integration, a customer and dealer had to choose an A3 MFP model.

All that has radically changed over the past few years as A3 OEMs have introduced A4 MFP models that match performance, paper feed options, finishing options, security features, and solution integration of their A3 counterparts. Additionally, the supply and service costs for these A4 models rival the A3 models. Traditional A4 OEMs have stepped up in these areas as well. Today, the right MFP solution decision comes down to how to best meet the important issues customers have such as reducing print costs, integrating printers and copiers with software applications, scanning documents, and securing printers and copiers. It’s no longer an either/or hardware decision; all can be done competitively and profitably with A3 and A4 models.

Supporting “(fill in the blank)-as-a-Service”

Advanced A4 MFPs can provide a good foundation for the as-a-Service business models being implemented today. Whether using traditional MPS, seat-based billing, flat rate plans or others, the key to being profitable with these types of plans is controlling services delivery costs and understanding that the MFP or print hardware is part of these costs. A4 hardware can be significantly lower in cost than A3 hardware and deliver the features and functions needed to support the surrounding services (print security, scanning, workflow integration, etc.). Unless there is a specific need for A3/ledger-size print capability, most customers don’t care whether the device that’s used is A3 or A4. Some customers may have that large print need; many don’t.

What is the answer to the A4 debate? Here’s a blast from the past from the movie The Karate Kid: “The answer is only important if you ask the right question.” That question is, “How can a dealer more competitively and profitably provide the type of print solutions customers now expect in a rapidly changing marketplace?” The answer most likely includes managing the right A4 and A3 hardware mix based on a customer’s specific needs.

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Thomas O’Neill, an analyst for BPO Media, is a 35+ year marketing and product strategy professional in the enterprise imaging and print industry. Beginning with positions in sales and training management, for the past 24 years he’s held director and manager positions at Canon, Océ, Lexmark and Minolta. He has extensive experience in hardware and software product marketing, strategic product planning and sourcing, solution sales, marketing content creation and strategies, branding strategy and vertical marketing strategies. Contact him at tom@bpomedia.com.

Tom O'Neill

Thomas O’Neill, an analyst for BPO Media, is a 35+ year marketing and product strategy professional in the enterprise imaging and print industry. Beginning with positions in sales and training management, for the past 24 years he’s held director and manager positions at Canon, Océ, Lexmark and Minolta. He has extensive experience in hardware and software product marketing, strategic product planning and sourcing, solution sales, marketing content creation and strategies, branding strategy and vertical marketing strategies. Contact him at tom@bpomedia.com.