Samsung is jumping into the dying printer market—that's a risky gamble: Peter Nowak


If the old cliche about how a picture says a thousand words is true, I wonder how many words a good graph conveys. The one above on global paper consumption is a case in point.

Like a good surrealist painting, there are a number of interpretations and messages that can be gleaned from it. The glass half-empty view, such as the one on this blog, is that worldwide paper consumption is rising. Another obvious one is that China has surpassed North America.

The thing I see when looking at it is that, outside of China, consumption has been going steadily down in most of the world since 2007. That’s an interesting year because two big things happened then: both the iPhone and the Kindle were released.

Amazon’s Kindle, of course, kicked off the e-book revolution. About a quarter of all books sold now are of the electronic variety, which is good news to environmentalists. The percentage would probably be climbing higher if it weren’t for the digital rights management forced onto e-books, but that’s a topic for another day.

The iPhone, meanwhile, finally kicked off the whole paperless office concept we’ve been hearing about since the beginnings of computers and the Internet. Up until 2007 and the arrival of smartphones, that whole idea seemed more like a myth, with many observers pointing out that paper consumption had in fact risen since the advent of the Internet.

Smartphones, and tablets after them, finally made some of that a reality. No longer do we have to print out airplane boarding passes or baseball tickets, or driving directions to the cottage, or even contracts in many cases. I’ve written before about how both devices have allowed me to go totally paperless, and how I’m really happy about it, especially with the extortionate cost of printer ink.

Yet Samsung is coming at that chart above with yet another different interpretation. The company’s printer division is saying that, while it’s true that people are printing less because of their mobile devices, it’s not necessarily because they want to – it’s because it’s not easy to. People may not want to print boarding passes and tickets and the like, but they do want to print photos and webpages from their phones and tablets. Doing that is currently a pain, if not impossible.

In that vein, the company is introducing the first near-field communications printers, starting on July 22 in North America. Connecting them to NFC-enabled mobile devices will be as simple as tapping the two devices together. From there, printing will be a breeze – just select your file and print.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how this will be integral part of the South Korean company’s plan to expand into new markets. Samsung is looking to double its revenue by 2020, and part of doing that will be swimming against the stream by getting further into printing while stalwarts such as HP and Canon look to limit their exposure in a market that many consider to be dying.

It’s a bold move that ultimately may not work. I’m fairly sure I’m done with printing for good, but the conceit that there is pent-up demand for it with mobile is an intriguing gamble. If anything, it should at least help push NFC, a field that Samsung is emerging as a leader in.