Year in Review: Print Industry’s Triumphs and Challenges of 2023

Continuing change

As 2023 draws to a close, it is a traditional time to look back over the previous 12 months. For the print sector, it has been a year of continuing change, with ever-increasing emphasis on sustainability and cost-effectiveness.

And so another year is over. While this year may have lacked the global events of some of the recent past – thankfully – it has nevertheless not been plain sailing for businesses in the print sector.

While the UK economy avoided recession – just – for many businesses it was about doing more with less, and resellers often came in with cost-effective print solutions, be they managed print services or devices.

Likewise, there were opportunities for resellers to capitalise on the greater demand for sustainable solutions for their print fleet. Print OEMs have been working for years to develop products that contain more recycled materials, use less electricity and resources and have longer lifespans and resellers can go with confidence to customers with these.

That, along with continuing technical advances, means that it has been a year of progress for the print channel.

Below, a range of experts and thought leaders from the print channel give their opinions on how the year was for them, some of the trends they saw over the past 12 months and their take on what 2024 may hold.

Steve Holmes, head of global sales and Channel, Papercut

Like many in the print and IT sector, PaperCut entered 2023 with quiet optimism. The first quarter was as challenging as expected, with the slowdown across Silicon Valley and the tech sector creating shockwaves everywhere. There was some evidence of the ‘green shoots of recovery’ though, as reflected in a broader market turnaround in the second half of 2023.

In fact, in the year that PaperCut celebrated its 25th anniversary, we enjoyed strong growth. Our customers renewed and extended their MPS contracts, and we maintained our loyal partner base, which we’re very grateful for. PaperCut was named IDC Market Share leader for the third year running, which put a further spring in our step this year.

In comparison to 2022, we’re most encouraged to see that the chip crisis is almost over, and that the production of printers and MFPs is now meeting market demand; what’s good for hardware demand often fuels demand for print software solutions. Additionally, the move to cloud-based print continued in 2023, as organisations of all sizes work to simplify their internal IT, services and applications; this was positive for ISVs offering cloud-based print solutions and services and it bodes well for PaperCut in 2024.

This year, it was exciting to see that the transition to cloud continued to pick up pace. We’ve seen how yesterday’s ‘cloud first’ organisations are becoming ‘cloud only’ organisations, and we’re seeing customers who weren’t embracing cloud now become ‘cloud first’. As we look ahead, we’re especially interested to see if, as end users move to cloud, they will kick-start a transition to subscription models in 2024. That’s certainly a development to watch.

More broadly in 2023, we continued to see a strong focus on security, not least in the adoption of modern authentication and MFA to get access to documents and systems, as well as how documents are transmitted and where and how they are stored; for sure, the ‘where’ was especially important for government organisations. The now-normal hybrid working model requires robust security solutions, products and policies in order to mitigate risk as much as possible, and I think security will be even more sharply focused on this as 2023 spills into 2024.

Another big influence this year has been that, as you would expect during an economic crisis, customers are more interested than ever in value, scalability, flexibility and security, especially in the context of helping to accommodate hybrid working. Perhaps unsurprisingly, sustainability – both PaperCut’s and our solutions’ – has been front of mind for many of our customers, and we’re really pleased to see it hasn’t taken a back seat despite the challenges customers are facing in the market.

As we look toward 2024 though, there’s a sense of deja vu; we predicted 2023 would have an uncertain start to the year, but with the current geopolitical and economic situation, we think that uncertainty may also slip into the first half of 2024. That said, customer needs continue to evolve and the transition to cloud gathers pace, so naturally we’re working closer with our partners to help them deliver cloud-based solutions for their customers to make print easier and more secure, while delivering tangible value, ROI and sustainability benefits for today’s hybrid workforce. We continue to be adaptable and flexible – yet consistent in our values – to work with our partners to respond effectively to the demands that we anticipate 2024 will place on all businesses globally.

Rowan Jeffreys-Hoar, director, partner channel, Ricoh

The hybrid work model remained a core feature for businesses in 2023 with employees and electronic devices spread across multiple offices and remote locations. Businesses are being increasingly diligent when evaluating their requirements and are aware of the need to accommodate the transition to, and new demands of, home-to-office working. As a result, we have seen an increase in new sales, as more buyers are investing in innovative and new technology to facilitate hybrid working.

In addition, over 2023 we have seen a sharp increase in the demand for sustainable products, but also solutions that provide visibility and transparency when it comes to ESG reporting. More and more businesses are demanding greater accountability for green products from cradle to grave. The launch of our latest IM C range of A3 multifunctional printers in June generated great interest with its market-leading sustainability features.

Low running costs have also been high on customers’ agenda this year as we have seen a dramatic increase in commercial utility costs. This is where our latest MFP represents a seed change for the industry, with the lowest energy consumption in the market today.

In terms of office print, partners are increasingly looking at trusted suppliers to help them accelerate their own and their customers’ digital transformation. It is essential that we continue to work with partners to help them embrace and invest in digital transformation and ultimately reap the numerous benefits of automation.

Going into 2024, it is vital that print infrastructures actively support flexible working practices and support the continuously evolving workplace, as well as positively boosting ESG credentials.

Elsewhere, the reduction of pricing from tier one suppliers looking to obtain larger market share has had a significant effect on trading this year. Customers evaluating their existing print fleet has also been a huge driver in 2023. With more businesses embracing hybrid working, we have seen a large reduction in fleet sizes across the board, as the blend of home and office working has reduced a demand for office print.

Looking to 2024, the Ricoh portfolio is getting stronger year on year, generating new opportunities with our existing partners, but also with new partners outside of the regular office print environment.

Our new IMC range, Ricoh Smart Integration and Docuware will help us to create a document workflow bridge in the home and office working environment. This will ensure our customers can electronically manage and share documents seamlessly and efficiently, regardless of their location. These are key prerequisites for a successful digital transformation.

Our ambition for 2024 is to continue driving growth for our partners – existing and new – reinforcing our position in the market as a workspace integrator with innovative and sustainable workspace solutions.

LeAnne Foley, head of indirect sales, Toshiba Tec

Overall, 2023 has been a progressive year for Toshiba. We’ve had the opportunity to reset and refocus our business; developing new go-to-market strategies that are largely focused on our growing software solutions portfolio. This has enabled us to continue to support partners through challenging times and maintain relationships. The past 12 months has also seen us launch a whole new hardware portfolio of A3 and A4 devices – all geared up to supporting solutions seamlessly.

In terms of trends, we are seeing an increase in customers wanting to explore cloud-based solutions as they anticipate migrating their infrastructure to the cloud over the next few years – this was a key driver to our investing in our new cloud print software; and e-BRIDGE Global Print. Sustainability is also a hot topic and high on customer agendas and our new product ranges, in addition to our Carbon Zero initiatives help us deliver top sustainable solutions to our customers and channel partners.

Elsewhere, I think hybrid working has had the biggest impact on our business, not only for our own employees, with a better work/life balance, but as we see more end users adopt remote working, we have seen increased interest in digital transformation, which is allowing us to showcase the expertise and products sets we have in our business to help partners respond and diversify their businesses.

We are confident about 2024. We’re very lucky to have such great partners in the Toshiba channel network. I’m excited to go into 2024 and continue the great work with the dealers, helping them diversify into new solutions and grow their businesses. We’ve got some new and exciting ideas on how to continue to add value and develop our partnerships further. Watch this space.

Chris Bates, business unit director – print and supplies, UK, TD SYNNEX

For much of 2023, economic challenges meant softer demand for hardware products right across the market – and that affected print as much as any other category, although in recent months we have started to see a return to growth on unit shipments. Interest in managed services and sustainability have grown and I think these two trends will continue to be important over the next 12 months.

More end user businesses are willing to look at managed print options now. If partners can offer a service that is simple to understand and administer, cost-effective for the customer and profitable for them, they can start to build up this area of their business into one that will generate a good, regular and predictable income.

The desire to be more energy-efficient and to reduce consumption is driving higher levels of interest in printers with refillable ink tanks. These typically sell for a higher price and, as customers will want to keep them running for an extended period, most customers will also purchase extended warranty cover for these devices.

We have seen the print market experience a resurgence of confidence and demand in the last few months, after a period of decline from early 2023. This trend is expected to continue and even accelerate in the near future, as businesses and home users resume their normal activities and invest in new or upgraded print solutions. Reseller partners need to be ready now to take advantage of this opportunity to support growth in their sales and profits.

Andy Muskett, general manager – UK channels and managed print services, Xerox UK & Ireland

2023 has been a year of growth in our digital services and solutions proposition. We have continued to spend valuable time educating our channel partners on our proposition, focusing on our three key pillars of security, productivity and sustainability and supporting them as they evolve their business models to adjust to the changing needs of our mutual clients. We’ve seen significant progress in multiple areas of our business, and our ambition is to build on this momentum as we move into 2024.

I believe we have continued as we have over the last few years on focusing on the core values of our people, our sustainability credentials and our re-invention to ensure we are capable of meeting the changing needs of clients in the market through well-educated, confident and motivated channel partners.

Over this year, demand for cloud-based services has been growing as customers have accelerated their digital transformation projects. We have seen a customer shift to a desire for a greater understanding of their document environment and solutions such as Xerox Workplace Cloud have helped them gain control, reduce their IT overheads, and provide them a unique platform to drive productivity, security and sustainability.

The channel in the UK remains integral to our value proposition to SMB clients. We are very confident we have a strong lineup that will help us to deliver on our objectives in the years to come.

Jay Kim, managing director, BIXOLON Europe GmbH

The business landscape is changing, we have seen that the way people purchase and use our printing products continues evolve throughout all our associated industries. We have been faced with the same challenges as all our competitors, but we have made several exciting new product launches across our complete mobile, PoS and label printing solutions, which have filled many gaps within the market. We have also resolved to nurture our sales and customer service offerings, growing our sales team on the ground across the UK and Europe, while taking on more in-country service centres for technical speciality and repairs to increase our global reach.

Companies are now recognising the need to be more environmentally aware, as they look to bolster their eco credentials. As a result, we have seen a push in demand for printing alternatives, such as linerless label printing or blue receipting technology.

We’ve also seen more customers looking for bundles when purchasing a printing solution. Combining all elements from software to the hardware, resellers are now looking to work with trusted manufacturers with comprehensive in-country tech support.

There also continues to be a growth in e-commerce as companies make sales online, which has led to the need for efficient, clear labelling and receipting solutions. As online shopping continues to rise, business have sought printers that cater to the demands of the expanding digital retail landscape.

Secondly, we’re still seeing the effect of compliance regulatory changes from laws such as Natasha’s Law in the UK and food compliancy labelling regulations in Europe, where it is mandatory to provide a label list of all ingredients within pre-packed foods.

Finally, data security has also influenced our sales this year with the need for secure labelling to encrypt data on packages using technologies such as QR codes or RFID printing and encoding while tracking and tracing packages.

Looking towards 2024, we see the product shortages that were brought on by supply chain disruptions from the pandemic are now over. The channel is becoming more buoyant with key products in stock ready to be shipped. We are also noticing how distributors are also flexing their product portfolios, as they are no longer only stocking the household names but becoming more inclusive working with a range of reliable brands that offer a broader scope of applications at a range of price points that we see continuing into 2024 and beyond.

Michael Field, managing director, Workflo Solutions

2023 has been a pivotal year for Workflo Solutions and our clients. Despite the challenges posed by the evolving business landscape, our focus on delivering innovative solutions has allowed us to navigate successfully. We’ve observed a positive trend, with businesses showing resilience and adaptability. Our customers have embraced technology to streamline operations, in turn enhancing productivity and contributing to a more prosperous year compared to 2022.

A prominent trend in customer demand throughout 2023 has been an increased emphasis on digital transformation. Businesses are seeking comprehensive solutions that integrate managed print services, digital workflow solutions and cloud computing. The demand for unified communication tools, efficient document management and secure IT infrastructure has been particularly pronounced. The shift towards sustainable and cost-effective print solutions has also been a notable aspect of customer trends.

In the managed print services sector, the convergence of technology and sustainability has played a significant role in shaping trading dynamics. The integration of scan technology, cloud migration and electronic document management software has redefined how businesses approach print solutions. The emphasis on eco-friendly practices and cost-effective printing solutions has been pivotal in influencing trading patterns within the managed print services sector.

Workflo Solutions is highly confident in the channel’s trajectory, both in the current scenario and looking ahead to 2024. Our commitment to delivering tailored solutions, coupled with our expertise in complete managed services positions us as a reliable partner for businesses. The optimism among resellers and the continued technological advancements in the print channel reinforce our confidence in sustained growth and success going into 2024.

Arjan Paulussen, managing director, Western Europe & English-speaking Africa, Lexmark

We’ve seen increased stability and a resurgence of optimism among our resellers in 2023. The technological advancements in the print channel have played a pivotal role in enhancing our services and meeting evolving customer needs. Moreover, the improved economic conditions have positively impacted our customers, fostering a more supportive business environment.

The major trends in customer demand have revolved around the adoption of managed print services and cloud services. Businesses are increasingly seeking third-party providers for the cost-efficiency and operational advantages they offer. More print services were moving to the cloud, allowing for easier management, remote printing, and improved scalability.

Additionally, there has been a heightened focus on security and data privacy, driving the demand for print IT solutions with robust security features. Print IT was expected to incorporate more robust security features to protect sensitive information from breaches.

Sustainability is another key aspect, as organisations aim to align their print infrastructure with internal sustainability goals – looking at how a sustainable print infrastructure can play a major role in helping businesses meets these goals and reflecting the broader environmental consciousness. Moreover, our customers are now more aware of environmental issues than ever before and demand to reduce energy use and waste.

Of course, artificial intelligence and machine learning went mainstream in 2023. AI was being used to optimise print workflows, predict maintenance needs and improve print quality. The increased use of data and analytics in managing fleets, maintenance and replenishment aim to reduce waste, downtime and money spent. This will accelerate business and operations further in 2024.

While the channel has experienced challenges since recovering from the pandemic, recent technological advancements and the evolving needs of our customers has instilled confidence by increasing productivity. Sustainability, security, and AI are dominating the commercial printing landscape and will be key drivers of innovation and growth in 2024.