Bundling Printers With Computers: Did Coleco Answer A Need?
Selby Bateman, Features Editor
Coleco made headlines late last year when it introduced the new Adam computer system, complete with a letter-quality daisy wheel printer, all for under $700.
Since that time, industry leaders and observers have waited and watched to see if Coleco's bundling was a brilliant idea whose time had come or merely a gimmick that would fail to catch on. The results, according to a number of industry leaders, have been a little bit of both.
"There's a definite trend toward bundling," says Craig Ringuette, merchandising manager for Okidata, a leading printer manufacturer. He admits, however, that he is dissatisfied with Coleco's effort.
"The Coleco printer is a 12 cps (characters per second) daisy wheel. You can almost type as fast as that. You can't print graphics. That thing has so many limitations, I don't know how anybody could be satisfied with it for any type of real computer application. You'd be spending your whole life waiting for the printer to get caught up."
Consumers like Bundles
Despite Ringuette's assessment of the Coleco printer, he's convinced that bundling is attractive to most buyers of personal computers. "Say I'm Joe Consumer. I buy an Apple computer, and if there's an Apple printer sitting there, it's going to be a lot easier to sell me that than it is an Okidata or an Epson or anybody else.
"It may not be the wisest move you can make, but you're seeing a trend toward it," he says.
Opinions differ on the success of bundling, however. "I have not seen that to be a trend," says Rick Osgood, national technical support manager for Star Micronics. "It's something a marketing group will try, to see what the reaction is; and based on the reaction, decide to go whole hog or not. But across the industry, I have not seen that to be a large idea that has taken hold."
A Question Of Profits
"From a marketing standpoint, your peripherals are your bread and butter. You can undercut (the retail pricing) on your main system—your CPU (central processing unit). You're not as likely to bundle your add-ons: printers, modems, disk drives," Osgood says.
While some manufacturers have tried bundling in one form or another, it can create problems for dealers who sell to the public, says Ron Ockander, director of sales for Epson America, Inc. "We did a bundle last July. You could walk away with a printer and a computer, for the price of the computer. And Apple is doing it now with its Image-Writer [the printer that is a part of the Macintosh system]," he says.
"But we have to be very careful that we don't alienate the dealer. If he wants to sell a different type of bundle, he likes to have that prerogative. And if you take that away from him by forcing him to buy in bundles, it takes away some of his merchandising capability," Ockander says.
Experience Is A Factor
For many first-time computer users, a bundled system is as attractive for a computer as it is for a stereo system, notes Jim Hafer, supervisor of product evaluations for Micro D. "It's going to have its place. There are certainly people who are going to want to buy a bundled package. But the people who are really dedicated to using computers, and getting the most out of them, will buy their original accessories separately."
Market researcher Ken Bosomworth believes that bundling will be attractive to consumers in the future. "Particularly as the home user gets more into using his computer to do teleshopping and electronic banking and so forth, he's really going to want a running paper record of transactions that he's initiated.
"And I think you'll find that computer manufacturers are going to respond to this by both bundling and building in printers in many future home computers," he says. "But they will not necessarily be full 80-column printers. They may be little calculator-type strip printers."