A brief history of the photocopier industry
A photocopier (which is also known as simply a copier, copy machine or photocopy machine) is a machine that can make paper copies of documents quickly and cheaply. Most current model photocopiers use a technology called ‘Xerography’. This uses a dry copying process using toner and heat. Copiers can also use other output technologies, such as ink-jet, but xerography is the standard technology for office copying. Inkjet technology tends to be used more in the lower end home-use copiers. The technology is cheap to purchase, although the consumables (ink) costs are high in terms of cost per page.
Xerographic photocopying was introduced by a now well-known company called Xerox in 1949, and over time it replaced technologies and processes such as by Verifax, Photostat, carbon paper, mimeograph machines, and other duplicating machines.
The sheer prevalence of its day to day use in the office is one of the main factors that has put off and slowed down the whole idea of the ‘paperless office’ - an idea much talked about early on in the digital revolution. There have been many predictions that copiers will eventually become an obsolete technology, as digital document creation and distribution continues to increase, thereby relying less and less on the distribution of actual pieces of paper.
Photocopying is used throughout the world in business, education, and government.
The Invention of the Photocopier
The year was 1937. And a patent attorney in New York by the name of Chester Carlson, also a part-time researcher and inventor, invented a process called ‘electrophotography’.
His job at the patent office in New York required him to make a large number of copies of important papers. Frustrated by the difficulty and expense of copying documents, motivated him to conduct experiments with photoconductivity. He invented a method of transferring images from one piece of paper to another using static electricity. It took Carlson 15 years to establish the basic principles of electrophotography, and he patented his developments every step along the way. He filed his first preliminary patent application on October 18, 1937. His early experiments, conducted with sulphur in his apartment kitchen, were smoky and smelly and he was soon encouraged to find another place. At about the same time, he developed arthritis of the spine, like his father. However, he pressed on with his experiments in addition to his law school studies and his regular job.
His patented process was later renamed ‘Xerography’. The first known photocopy was the "10-22-38 Astoria".
During the 20th century, the Xerography copying process became one of the most well-known inventions, and Chester Carlson received worldwide acclaim. He became extremely wealthy, as his invention created the billion-dollar copier industry. Before his death in 1968, it has been estimated that Carlson gave away almost $100 million to various charities and foundations.
Development of Xerography
At first, Xerography was not a popular invention. It took ten years for Carlson to find a company to develop his Xerography process. A New York based photo-paper manufacturer, called The Haloid Company finally took up the challenge. The Haloid Company later went on to become the Xerox Corporation.
The first Office Copier
In 1955, Haloid - by then called Haloid Xerox, had produced Copyflo, the first automated xerographic machine. But it wasn't until 22 years after the process of electrophotography had first been invented that the first true office photocopier was produced. In 1958, the first-ever commercial push button plain paper photocopier, the Xerox 914, was introduced and ended up selling in the thousand’s.
Good times for Xerox
The Xerox 914 was a phenomenal success. In just three years, Haloid Xerox's income went from $2 million in 1960 - when the first 914 was sold - to over $22 million by 1963.
Haloid Xerox shortened its name to Xerox in 1961 and its stocks were listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Their phenomenal success with the initial Xerox 914 continued as they introduced 24 new products over the next 20 years.
A changing market
The Xerox domination was about to change, however. New manufacturers appeared on the horizon, all gearing up to challenge Xerox and try to re-brand what was now known in the world as a “Xerox machine” to a "photocopier". One of the greatest marketing battles of the 20th century was about to be unleashed.
Xerox vs. ‘The Copier’
It was as early as 1955 when Ricoh emerged as a potential competitor against Xerox, as they developed the RiCopy 101 Diazo copier. The coveted RiCopy DT 1200 hit the shelves in 1975 and made the position of Xerox uncomfortable. The next decade would see a surprising change as companies who were traditionally known for photography, began to break into the lucrative office equipment market. Brands such as Minolta, Panasonic, Toshiba, Sharp, Konica and Canon started the production of small office copiers and challenged Xerox's then domination of the business photocopier market.
Meanwhile, Kodak and Océ, who were developing new models of high volume copiers, started to challenge Xerox's domination of the high-volume copier market.
The new brands were not trusted
However, manufacturers quickly realised that Xerox held very strong customer loyalty. This was difficult to break down, so to do this, smaller copier dealerships were founded. In each country, small local dealerships opened up that offered a "local service", sold by local people. This was a classic guerrilla marketing move and attacked Xerox in a way they had not anticipated - Xerox were a global corporation and the one thing they couldn't offer was the ‘personal feel’ of a small, local business.
The most successful copier company to use this tactic were probably Canon, who by 1985 had become the world's leading photocopier company. Canon invested very heavily in research and development and went on to produce the very first colour copier.
Re-branding the Xerox Machine as “The Photocopier”
The Xerox rivals always encouraged their sales people to correct their customers whenever they referred to a photocopier as a "Xerox machine". Terms such as "Xeroxing", which had become generic names, were corrected to "copying" and the "Xerox Machine" became the "photocopier machine". All of this was aimed at breaking down the impact and hold that the Xerox brand had created.
The copier industry of today
Today in 2010, Xerox is still one of the world leaders and a hugely influential and trusted brand name. However, they are no longer the market leaders. Whilst the main marketing battle in the photocopier industry was being fought from 1975 to 1985, Xerox neglected the development in their core business - instead they invested millions into the computer market. This new line extension was difficult, despite developing revolutionary technology such as an operating system which was actually a forerunner to Windows. They also invented the computer mouse. Between 1975 and 1985, Xerox was up against another well-known brand name, which has already made a huge impact in the computer market - IBM. If Xerox had continued to defend and develop their core business during the formative years of the industry, the photocopier market today might have looked very different.
The Xerox 914 was the world's first one-piece, plain paper photocopier and sold in the thousands.
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