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Just What's Happening to the US Wide-Format-Graphics Market?

(July 2005) posted on Fri Jul 29, 2005

Find out what market changes have led the decline of wide-format inkjet printing equipment purchases and what graphics producers can do to remain competitive.

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By Michael Flippin

This research was conducted in April of 2005 and unveiled a new and troublesome trend for printer manufacturers: The number of shops looking to buy their first wide-format inkjet printer has reached its lowest point in ten years. The population of potential new users is currently very small, so printer manufacturers need to compete against one another for existing customers. Of the non-user shops we surveyed, only 8% have any plans to adopt wide-format inkjet technology and buy a printer in the next year. So if you don't have one of these printers and don't feel you need one, you are not alone.

There were several specific reasons mentioned for this, including the financial benefit of outsourcing, the dramatic learning curve (or perhaps the learning "cliff") required for using this new technology, the complexity of what supplies work with which printers, the fact that inkjet is simply outside these remaining shops' core businesses, and the belief that there are already enough shops with inkjets to satisfy market demand. I would have a difficult time arguing against some of these reasons.

To add insult to injury, the purchasing trend for new printers within the established wide-format inkjet user base also is falling. For example, in 2003 an average 44% of the shops surveyed were planning a new wide-format inkjet purchase in the next 12 months. In 2004, this number dropped to 29%. And in our most recent survey for 2005, only 12% of shops surveyed are planning a new wide-format inkjet purchase. This trend is unfortunately one that applies to all US market segments—screen printers, photo labs, and sign shops alike.

From a unit sales perspective, it is fair to say that the market has clearly passed its peak. The waves of new printer models and even new manufacturers that flooded the market in 1998 and again in 2000 have long passed. The tide now appears to be running out, and many manufacturers have had to result to price cutting to keep up sales volumes. This has especially impacted the suppliers of aqueous inkjet printers.

Despite these decreases, thousands of printers still are sold here in the US, and I'm definitely not forecasting an utter market collapse here. But what exactly are shops buying and printing? Well, it depends on the shop. It's fair to say that the overall market picture today is much different than in past years.


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