June 19, 2007

Industry Expert Jim Lyons Discusses HP, its Competitors, and the Future of Printing

By Databazaar Blog

Printer Pundits: Jim Lyons on the Inkjet Versus Laser Debate, Lessons Learned During His Career at HP, His Favorite Printers, and More

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After leaving HP in 2005 after 24 years as a marketer, manager, and strategic business executive, Jim Lyons didn't stray too far from his roots. He currently employs his expertise as an independent consultant, educator, and journalist. Regarding the latter, he pens the monthly Observations column in The Hard Copy Observer, and also publishes his own lively blog, Jim Lyons Observations. We thank Jim for sharing his unique perspective on the printing and imaging industry with us during Printer Pundit Week. His interview below constitutes the second installment in our new Printer Pundits feature.

Databazaar Blog: You've covered both Memjet and Edgeline extensively in your blog. Given these developments, will inkjet printers someday replace laser printers in the office?

Jim Lyons: Yes … and no. Zooming way way out — look at the printing industry historically and you'll see it's always been about "ink." It may be this is returning. Who knows? Toner may be seen as a temporary aberration in the long view. I'm still not giving up my LaserJets just yet though!

Databazaar Blog: What is the most valuable lesson you learned at HP?

Jim Lyons: Tough to come up with "the most valuable" because who knows when that will change? I think one worth highlighting though, is that when you're too close to the business, and focused on nothing but early adopters, it's easy to misjudge market readiness. Products often are in reality way ahead of their time, even if it doesn't seem like it.

An example — I remember working hard on trying to see into the future and knowing what changes to printing would be wrought by the Internet and the very beginnings of the World Wide Web, and trying to get ahead of the trends, but feeling like we were behind. This was starting in about 1994. Just this May and June we're seeing HP make a huge push ("Print 2.0") with the same kinds of initiatives. Learning patience and perspective is what I'd call it.

Databazaar Blog: What is the most valuable advice you could give to HP regarding its printer business for the next five years?

Jim Lyons: I like the things HP printer leader Vyomesh Joshi has been saying lately — things like "it's about printing, not printers." I do have a skeptical side though. I think with all HP's success, management needs to keep the troops from becoming too comfortable with the status quo. Assuming printing behavior and attitudes will remain unchanged in the future requires the belief that those things haven't changed in the past — which is clearly an incorrect observation! In the June issue of The Hard Copy Observer I write about a number of these changes — for example, in higher education these days, a "paper" may never be printed!

Databazaar Blog: In a recent Hard Copy Observer column, you noted that the printer industry "goes about its business quietly." It seems that the paper industry is even quieter. Is all the printer paper out there pretty much equivalent or do some brands actually make better paper?

Jim Lyons: Great question though I'm not the one to ask about this having spent most of my time on the hardware and solutions sides of the business, and not supplies. One thing I find historically of interest though — one of my first jobs on the LaserJet business in the mid-80's was recruiting partners, and we had numerous paper companies coming forward wanting to align with us (this was of course long before HP had any brand of paper in the market). My proposals for aligning with them were shot down, however — printing on plain paper was too important of a product characteristic to be compromised by playing favorites.

Certainly there's a big difference in paper today — especially when taking a global view. I remember when certain LaserJet models we'd introduced at HP ran into print quality and paper feeding problems when used with paper made of fibers other than wood, and with high talc content.

Databazaar Blog: HP sells more PCs than any other company. Canon sells more digital cameras than any other company. Both devices go hand in hand with printers and both companies sell printers. You would think that brand bundling would provide a huge boost yet Epson and Lexmark sell lots of printers while Dell has struggled to do so. What really sells printers?

Jim Lyons: If I really knew that answer, I wouldn't be wasting my time as a journalist/blogger, would I? But despite all the emphasis on it, great technology is often no more than a hygiene factor (necessary but not sufficient), and outstanding distribution and support can't be overestimated.

Databazaar Blog: Of all the major printer-related developments this year, which one is the most important? Why?

Jim Lyons: Competition! Rather than identify a single competitor like Edgeline, Memjet, Kodak, or Zink, I think the combination of those is the story of the year. I've written about the industry discovering the Small Business market this year, and also the interesting developments HP is lumping under "Print 2.0," but it's the competitive juices that are flowing around new hardware and ink systems that's got the business buzzing. Of course, let's hope that all this upstream work will be worth it in the end, with the nature of print and printing changing so drastically.

Databazaar Blog: Which printers do you personally use at home and work and why?

Jim Lyons: I guess as a printer guy, I'd be expected to manage my own "fleet" and this is the case, even though I'm not a heavy user of print these days (and now waste far fewer pages by using GreenPrint on all my PCs).

I own an HP Color LaserJet 2550 (I'll  upgrade to a newer model one of these days but have a good supply of toner remaining, so will hold off for now). I "eat my own dogfood" by using the 2550 to print business cards and marketing materials. I also have an HP LaserJet 1320 — with duplexing, it's the workhorse in my home office. Our family computer uses a Photosmart C3140 All-in-One, which I got recently for "free" with the purchase of an HP PC. Recipes and driving directions are the main printing chores for this machine, along with the occasional copy via its flatbed scanner and one button, mono or color copy function. My HP PhotoSmart 335 photo appliance printer is rarely if ever used — when I need photo "prints" I'm a dedicated user of the Snapfish/Walgreen's connection. It's cheaper and, more importantly, far less hassle especially when printing a "stack" of photos.

At the downtown office that I share with a partner, it's an HP LaserJet 1020 and HP PSC 1410 All-in-One, again for the crisp, fast prints the former provides, and the color and copying versatility of the latter.

Yes, I'm an HP printer fan. But I did switch, finally, to a Canon digital camera recently (PowerShot S2) and am very pleased with it.

About Printer Pundits
We spend most of our time here at Databazaar Blog on printer gear, but this impressive technology doesn't just appear by magic. With Printer Pundits, we bring you interviews with some of the luminaries in the printer industry — senior executives, analysts, journalists, inventors, and others. Of course, in today's world everyone is a pundit so please share your insights below.

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