When you think Dunkin’ Donuts, you think coffee, right? Well, that wasn’t always the case.

Dunkin’ Donuts was known for being the most popular donut business until Krispy Kreme came around and stole its thunder with its sweet treats.  Sadly, the Atkins’ carb-free diet gained popularity soon after Krispy Kreme’s expansion to the market, putting both of these companies into troubled waters.  Why is Dunkin’ Donuts still found on every block in the East Coast, while Krispy Kreme closed stores as fast as it opened them? Adaptation.

Dunkin’ Donuts transformed its focus from donuts to coffee.  By concentrating on beverages and offering them at a decent price, Dunkin’ Donuts came out on top.  Rather than accepting the demise of the high-fat and calorie-ridden donut as the end of the company, Dunkin’ Donuts found another area to gain market share and appeal to consumers.

As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”  Although Darwin originally created his theory of evolution to the animal kingdom, Social Darwinism applies to society, and in this case an industry’s survival and evolution in the global marketplace.

What do donuts have to do with the printing industry?  Demand for paper is on the decline and printing consumables have never received more criticism for their high prices or subjected to so much competition from third parties.  While many people predict that the printing industry will fall further down the hole to irrelevancy and eventually disappear altogether, the answer to saving the industry is simply: adaptation.

The challenges facing the printing industry do not discriminate – they range from the consumer market all the way up to the commercial printing space.  Among the most wide-spread challenges for the commercial printing market are initiatives such as President Obama’s proposed Electronic Medical Records bill.  While the transition to electronic medical records has the potential to greatly improve the way we are cared for, the impact to the printing industry will be substantial.  This bill will be the first major initiative to collectively reduce the nation’s printing needs by millions of dollars.  Some estimates show that if the US healthcare industry switched from paper to an electronic system, the country could save $30 billion annually.

Another government mandate that is posing obstacles to the commercial printing business is California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recently proposed Free Digital Textbook Initiative.  The proposal will remove all text books from the state’s school system and replace them with digital alternatives.  The goal of the initiative is to help California avoid bankruptcy as the state estimates that it spends approximately $350 million annually on text books.

The office printing segment is challenged to find ways to stay relevant as society pushes for the paperless office.  Similarly, consumers are shying away from printing every email and note and saving them to hard drives.  Even photo printing, which was expected to revive the consumer printing market has declined with the tough economy and the onset of online photo sharing sites.

Within both the consumer and office-focused printing segments, several companies are attempting to find ways to continue to grow print, even when it means changing.

Xerox has commented on the inevitable shift from paper to digital in the office.  The company stresses that it is a document company and if documents change so will it.  This is exactly the type of behavior that is necessary for the industry to maintain its size and relevance.  While the average consumer may think Xerox is a copier company, Xerox defines itself as a document company.  Xerox is working to develop tools to help companies with Paperless Document Management, an extension of the increasingly popular and important concept of Managed Print Services (MPS).  As demand moves further away from the printed document and closer to digital, software surrounding Paperless Document Management will become increasingly more important and a core advantage of Xerox.

HP is the most recent printer company to take a leap of faith and bring new ideas to the consumer marketplace.  Most recently, HP unveiled its latest inkjet printer, the Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart, which is the first printer to directly connect to the web without the need of a computer.  The printer is among the most inventive devices to come out of the inkjet printer industry since its introduction in 1971.

The TouchSmart is the first device to offer HP’s App Store, which enables users to print various documents at the touch of a button and without the use of a PC.  The open-source HP App Store, very similar to the Apple App Store, will give thousands of programmers the opportunity to create inventive applications and potentially give users new ways to use their printers.  And that’s exactly what the consumer printer industry needs in order to survive: bring further ease of use and a fresh face to inkjet printing.  Although this first generation product may not become the most popular printer on the block, it is sure to get HP’s competition to think about how they will compete with this latest innovation.

With the introduction of the new HP printer with TouchSmart, the entire way we think of printing may change in a way that is similar to how the iPhone changed the cell phone.  The printer’s 4.33-inch LCD screen gives countless possibilities to the types of apps that will soon be available.  While HP included such apps as ticket printing from Fandango and maps from Google, programmers will think of things to do with this printer that no one has thought of before.  Since users do not need to use a PC to access certain documents, they may be more inclined to print something they may not otherwise.  If it takes 25 seconds to pull up a recipe and print it compared to 3 minutes to start up the computer and get to the proper website, printing will be the more desirable action.

The most notable aspect of the innovation that was introduced with this new printer is that it really has nothing to do with the printer itself.  The HP App Store does not promise the usual things that new printers bring such as faster print times, new ink formulations, larger paper trays, or the ability to easily fit different paper sizes.  The technology HP introduced is not specific to printing, which may seem strange, but is actually HP’s entire strategy.  The printer is simply the vehicle to introduce the HP App Store and this new way of making life easier to the general public.  HP’s initial $399 offering is not going to appeal to the most basic printer customer, but it will start to make people see what is available and what they will eventually want.  HP may make its App Store available on all of its devices in the future.

The Touchsmart is a sign that HP does not plan to lose its spot as the top inkjet printer company in the world.  The company continues to bring new products, adapt, and innovate at a time when sales are not at their highest and consumer confidence remains low.  The Photosmart Premium with Touchsmart will bring HP an exceptional amount of attention and while it will not be the company’s best seller, the Touchsmart will be the beginning to something great.  If nothing else, the Photosmart Premium with Touchsmart is innovation at its best.  HP is gambling with its App Store by offering this product first.  The product may flop, but most likely it will lead to further innovation and get the industry moving once again.

The printing industry needs to find its sweet spot – it must identify ways to remain relevant in a changing society.  The shift to digital format will bring other needs including data management, security, transport of the digital documents, etc.  The industry has an opportunity to grow and prosper if it can identify its strengths, rid itself of its weaknesses, and adapt.

“Change is the only constant.”  – Heraclitus