Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts, March 17, 2023
Most Americans use a printer at home, school, or in a workplace. However, market penetration has sagged over the last five years, and the divide between printer users and non-users has widened.
This TUPdate looks at the long-term trend of printer usage among each generation of Americans. It addresses the question of whether people born around the same time and having grown up with certain technology are increasing or decreasing their printer usage more or less than other generations. The analysis is based on twelve years of TUP user surveys (TUP 2011 through 2022) as each successive generation grows, evolves, and chooses the technology products and services that they use.
The next generation will not save printers
Not all Americans behave the same. Many pundits espouse that each next-younger generation will be the savior, the ones to quickly adopt any newest technology products and services. However, history has not borne this out, especially concerning printer usage.
Although Gen Z came out of the gate strongly upon reaching adulthood, with 82% using a printer upon reaching maturity, their penetration rate only slowly climbed until 2018. TUP uses the widely accepted definition of Generation Z as adults aged 18 or higher who were born in 1997 or later. As this younger generation met the pandemic and recession, many encountered roadblocks in the workplace and in schooling. Along with those blocks came reduced printer usage.
Millennials, well, are being millennials. Their printer usage crested in 2015 at 87% and has slid steadily ever since. At only one brief point since 2011 has this group of Americans used a printer as often as the next-older generation – Gen X. Millennials have experienced many technological advances in their lifetimes and found ways to leverage what they know in newer ways.
In fact, in only a very few cases has a younger generation used a printer more than their older counterparts.
Unlikely rescuers? Seniors and inertia are saving printing
An indexed comparison between generations reveals that the highest relative share of printer use is among Americans born earlier than other Americans. Experience matters in printing. In 2011, when anyone in the Silent + Greatest generation was age 66 or older, these Americans had a printer usage index 8% higher than the average online Americans. There was only a slight shift with the onset of the pandemic, as Gen X increased their printer usage in 2020 to be barely above average. That shift was only momentary and insignificant, and Gen X has dropped again into unremarkable obscurity while the Silent + Greatest generation has increased its relative position.
The use of a personally owned home printer among Americans follows a similar pattern of use (or non-use) of any printer. Although a home printer comprises the main printer that online Americans use, some use an employer-provided work printer, and others use ones owned by their educational institution, library, copy shop, or cybercafé.
As with the penetration of any printer above, with few exceptions, the earlier generations have higher home printer usage than those Americans born later.
A passing pool of home printer users
Gen Z, millennial, and Gen X adults use a home printer at much lower rates than their elders, even lower than their lower levels since 2011. A home printer simply isn’t in the everyday consciousness of many of these later-born Americans. Among Gen Z and millennial adults, the home printer penetration rate has dropped into the vicinity of one half of these Americans.
Not home printers only
Home printers are just one of many home technology devices that hardly captured the active attention of recently born Americans. Home PC use has declined substantially since 2011 among all American generations.
Gen Z and millennials are the biggest early (dis)adopters
Although Gen Z and millennials are often depicted as early adopters, seeing them as having lower inertia than the average American would be more accurate – their willingness to change cuts both ways. Nearly one-half of Gen Z and millennial Americans actively use a home PC, a rate down substantially from 2021. The trend is clear; all generations of online Americans are moving away from using home PCs, and the earlier generations are dropping home PCs less quickly than those born after them.
Cut the cord and keep the paper
Around one in five online Americans print directly from their smartphone or tablet. The share is relatively uniform within generational age groups. The youngest and oldest online Americans have the lowest share of using a mobile device to print photos or documents. Although Gen Z Americans surveyed in 2019 showed some initial exuberance, their share is now the lowest among any age group.
Most of the old home favorites still reign
The top five activities Americans use home printers for have remained largely the same since 2019. As Americans limited their in-person activities during the pandemic, they also reduced their home printer use for printed coupons and tickets. Staying in touch became more important, and printing letters grew to be a top five home printing activity, rising to number three. Also, as they stayed home more often, recipe printing persisted.
Gen Z unvaried in home printer use
Gen Z adults have hardly changed how they use a home printer except to reduce their printing activity. Printing tickets dropped from being a second-ranked activity to fifth place, as in-person events were curtailed during the pandemic. Also, this generation is especially smartphone-savvy and increasingly likely to find ways to use on-phone tickets instead of printed ones where they are accepted. What may be surprising is that printed photos remain strong among this otherwise social network-focused generation. In other respects, the list of top five home printing activities in 2019 has continued through 2022.
Millennials moving away from printed commerce
Before the pandemic, American millennials had been integrating home printers into their shopping and entertainment activities. Since 2019, printing coupons and tickets has disappeared as a top-five home printing activity. When this group uses home printers now, it is primarily for pedestrian activities.
Gen X embraces domesticated home printing
Among Gen X Americans, coupon and ticket printing dropped while recipe printing lingered. Social connection through letters has slightly increased in ranking and its share of printing activities, even as the number of American Gen X adults regularly using a home printer has dropped below pre-pandemic levels.
Boomers/Silent stay the course
The Boomer/Silent generations represent the largest generation of American home printer users. As this group has become more tech-savvy and finally adopted smartphones, printing maps or directions has fallen from a third-ranked home printing activity to not being among the top five. Printing coupons has persisted as a top-five activity even as in-person activities were curtailed. Habit energy is strong among this group.
Home printer manufacturers will continue to have challenges. Users continue their integration of digital transformation into their everyday lives and away from hard copy. An additional and mostly unspoken challenge is cultural within the technology industry – ageism and the gleam of the “new and improved” next innovation. The most persistent, loyal, and productive printer users are not the youngest adults. Much technological innovation has been focused on the sizzle and gleam of the newest technology. Meanwhile, most customers who have integrated printing into their lives place more value on a handful of ordinary activities. Printer and supplier manufacturers who focus on the fundamentals, as unsexy as that may seem, will likely meet with the greatest market acceptance and durability.
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Lenses: Printers, User Profile, Activities, PCs
Tables: ANYPRINTERxTUPYY, HOMEPRINTERxTUPYY, KEYDEVSxTUPYY, HOMEPCxTUPYY, MOBPRINTxTUPYY, HPRACTxTUPYY
Tags: Activities, Age, Age groups, Boomers, Coupons, Gen X, Gen Z, Graphics, Home printers, Maps, Millennials, Mobile printing, Penetration, Presentations, Printer activities, Printers, Printing, Recipes, Reports, Smartphone printing, Trends, Wireless printing, Work-related activities
Waves: TUP 2011, TUP 2012, TUP 2013, TUP 2014, TUP 2015, TUP 2016, TUP 2017, TUP 2018, TUP 2019, TUP 2020, TUP 2021, TUP 2022