It should be fun to watch the printer market over the next six months or so.

Dell wants to market printers under its own name, instead of reselling everybody else’s printers – but Dell doesn’t particularly want to do its own research, development, or manufacturing, so it’s looking for a partner that will sell printers cheaply to Dell and let Dell put its own logo on the outside. Dell probably approached Hewlett Packard at one time but got nowhere. In fact, recently the talk about Dell’s rumored printer business got so heavy that HP abruptly quit supplying Dell directly with printers, although Dell will probably keep offering HP printers that it obtains from other channels.

Yesterday Canon announced that it had been approached by Dell but it had no intention of being Dell’s partner in the printer business. One of its stated reasons surprised me – Canon said it was quite happy manufacturing laser printers for HP’s business division. I didn’t know Canon was building laser printers for HP. I thought HP did all that stuff by itself. No particular significance, just interesting to know.

So Lexmark continues to be the most likely partner with Dell, or at least the most heavily rumored. HP harrumphed loudly that Dell didn’t stand a chance in the market – and it made an interesting point. In some sense, HP and Canon and Epson are not in the printer business. They’re in the consumable business. The huge profits are in the ink cartridges and toner drums. And HP argues that consumers are not going to want to order ink cartridges ahead of time by mail from Dell; they’re going to want to go down to Costco or Office Depot and buy them when needed, and Dell doesn’t have hooks to fill the retail channels with cartridges. Might be true, although it’s not clear people would think about that ahead of time.

And finally, keep an eye on HP’s product line – the new HP Deskjet 5550 is only the first arrival in a complete refresh of HP’s printer line, with more than 50 new models to be introduced between now and the early part of next year.

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