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Lexmark exits the inkjet market: Are printers doomed?

Melissa Riofrio | Aug. 30, 2012
Lexmark's announcement earlier today that it will stop making inkjet printers shocked me. I've been testing and reviewing printers for PCWorld for as long as Lexmark has been in the inkjet printer business--almost 20 years.

HP may see a better future in its longstanding Officejet line of business inkjet printers. Similarly, Epson has made a big investment in its WorkForce high-end inkjets. Until today, another competitor in this area was Lexmark's OfficeEdge line. Kodak, emerging out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is the outlier; and it's hardly a bellwether, having recently announced that it would be holding on to its consumer inkjet business.

User patterns are probably changing faster than the printer makers are. Businesses print less as more office tools move online.

Students, families, and small businesses live and work almost exclusively online now, using their smartphones and tablets. Every user who posts photos straight to Instagram or Facebook, or who prints them through a retail outlet or online service, deprives a printer maker of a profit-heavy ink sale.

Why then are inkjet multifunction printers still so popular? Perhaps because people need the scanner as much as or more than they need the printer these days.

Advice for Lexmark Inkjet Owners

Are people who bought Lexmark printers going to be abandonedand if so, when? Lexmark says that it will honor existing warranties and continue to sell supplies, but the duration of that commitment is by no means certain.

I can see Lexmark continuing to sell ink through the end of its longest inkjet warranties, which would be three years from today. After that, we might well see a rapid phase-out.

Lexmark's best inkjets right now are those aimed at small businesses, but few small businesses will want to stick with a product that could lose manufacturer support within a few years' time.

The other open question is this: What will happen to Lexmark's printer partnership with Dell? Dell did not respond to PCWorld's request for information on this subject.

Lexmark exited from the inkjet printer business in order to jettison a money-losing operation. From an industry standpoint, considering Lexmark's branding and quality challenges in the past, this development could be seen as a simple matter of thinning the weak and the sick from the herd.


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