Xerox Aims for Cheap and Green With New Color Printer

inside_xerox_colorqube-_9200_series1Printing color pages is so expensive that it’s practically frowned upon by businesses. The problem is that something with even the smallest streak of color costs as much as a full-color print. That’s why today’s announcement of a new printer from Xerox (s xrx), with a three-level color pricing plan that can cut printing costs down to black-and-white prices, is a welcome development in the industry, though it’s not entirely a solution.

The price thresholds for the new printer, called the ColorQube 9200, are quite specific. Printing colors in a letter-size page (up to about 186,000 color spots), costs a penny. The second level, which costs 3 cents, can use up to 1.9 million spots, or, by our estimate, about 8.6 percent of the total area of a page (to its edges). Anything over that is charged as an 8-cent, full-color print. Because ranges are determined by an online system, any price gouging is minimized.

The printer boasts some high-speed and energy-friendly improvements as well. Xerox says the ColorQube 9200 produces 90 percent less overall waste than its previous printers, and its clients will receive an unlimited license to use GreenPrint’s quality print-management, waste-tracking software. And the machine itself has a smart power-saving mode.

This initiative might work, considering that 2.24 trillion pages were printed by companies last year, suggesting paper is still an indispensable material. Most businesses aren’t yet ready to move all their documents to the cloud.

But there are reasons why it’s going to be a hard sell. At $23,500, it’s out of the price range of many small-to-medium-sized businesses, even if the efficiency initiatives eventually pay for themselves. Many companies will likely delay purchasing it (or even leasing it) until prices go down or the economy rebounds. Inventory and equipment orders fell 30 percent in the first quarter of 2009.

Furthermore, businesses are investing more in online document creation. Want a secure business document? There’s Adobe and EDI. Want to share docs with co-workers? Web apps like Google Docs and Zoho do a fine job. Need a hard-copy back-up plan? There are plenty of storage services and external drives. Even law firms are thinking about going the full paperless route. And long-term, the number of gadgets that make digital documents easier to read in transit keeps growing. Bottom line, more color for a better price is great, but only the companies that can afford it will benefit at first.